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See the world’s oldest fossilised animals inside Australia’s new national park See the world’s oldest fossilised animals inside Australia’s new national park

Nilpena Ediacara National Park opened in South Australia at the end of April, and is home to fossils dating back half a billion years…
22 May 2023

The world’s oldest fossilised animals – dating back more than half a billion years – are now protected inside the world’s newest national park.

Nilpena Ediacara National Park, in South Australia’s Flinders Rangers, is a vast a dry landscape that once lay under a shallow sea.

Now, nearly 40 beds of Ediacaran biota have been discovered on its land, with palaeontologists continuing work onsite to find more.

An Ediacaran fossil up close (DEW/Tourism South Australia)

The fossils were first unearthed in the Ediacara Hills by geologist Reg Sprigg in the mid 20th century. The discovery was so momentous, the fossils and were named after the location they were found.

More recently in 2016, American palaeontologist Dr Mary Droser uncovered one of the most well-preserved beds in the park, known as Alice’s Restaurant Bed. It contains some of the rarest soft-bodied organisms – similar to modern-day jellyfish, seaworms or anemones – and provides evidence that the former seabed was once a habitat of mobility, feeding and reproduction.

How to see fossils in Nilpena Ediacara National Park

Visitors to the national park can now experience these prehistoric remains up close when joining a guided tour, and learn more about the Ediacaran period with an immersive animation inside the park’s restored Blacksmith’s Shop.

Due to its international significance and the park’s active status as a research site, entry to Nilpena is by guided tour only. These are currently run by Ross Fargher, who owns the nearby Prairie Hotel and was behind the discovery of several more of the fossilised animals in the 1980s.

Sunset in Nilpena Ediacara National Park (Robert Lang/Tourism South Australia)

Adding to its historical importance, Nilpena’s land once belonged to the Adnyamathanha – the Aboriginal Australian people of the Flinders Rangers. Traditionally, they would hold ceremonies and camp on the grounds here. Now, the South Australian Government has teamed up with the Adnyamathanhas people to ensure their cultural heritage, including their Yura Muda fossil stories, are respectfully preserved and represented.

Nilpena Ediacara was named a national park at the end of April 2023, as part of efforts by the South Australian government and the Flinders Ranges Ediacara Foundation to protect the macrofossils.

Tours here must be booked in advance. Go to parks.sa.gov.au to learn more.

One of the park’s fossil beds from above (Robert Lang/Tourism South Australia)

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