By Mr Ma Tongchun, a local resident and senior English-speaking tour guide with over 30 years of professional experience.
On 1 July, 1984, Mr Hou Xianguang, a renowned Chinese paleontologist, discovered the paleontological fossil site in Maotianshan Mt of Chengjiang County (70 km from Kunming). A massive, systematic collecting work was then launched.
According to the geological survey in 1984 and 1985, Chengjiang zoolites had been found to widely distribute and they can date back to the early Cambrian Period (about 520 million years ago).
These fossils cover a complete range of marine life, and they are currently considered the best-preserved paleontological fossils in the world. Most importantly, these fossils shed light on the wonder and pristine features of marine life during the Cambrian Period. They are pretty valuable proofs for study into the origin of life, organic evolution, and ecology in the early stage of the planet Earth.
The discovery of Chengjiang zoolites has shocked the science circle of the world, and it has been claimed as "one of the most amazing discoveries in the 20th century".
The significance of the discovery of the zoolites
The Chengjiang biota came into being during the Cambrian Explosion. Most representatives of the existent animals can be found here.
Before the discovery of Chengjiang zoolites, the oldest fossil site had been the Burgess Shale Fossil Beds of Canada, which can date back to the middle Cambrian Period and is in fact 10 million years younger than Chengjiang zoolites.
Chengjiang fossil site convincingly unveils the original look of the oldest marine animals, making people realise that various animals have been living in the sea since the Cambrian Explosion.
The zoolites have depicted a panoramagram of the complete and oldest marine biota-for which there had been little knowledge before. To date, the zoolites have offered not only knowledge of what animals appeared as a result of the Cambrian Explosion of Life, but also the first understanding of how different animals lived and their feeding habits.
Furthermore, these fossils are most likely to reveal the cause of the Cambrian Explosion and more information about the later organic evolution.
The World Natural Heritage Status of the zoolites
On 1 July, 2012, at the 36th World Heritage Conference held in St Petersburg, Russia, Chengjiang fossil site was inscribed into the World Natural Heritage List. A brand new museum is under construction and will be open to visitors during 2017-2018.
Maotianshan Mt in Chengjiang County is about 70 km from Kunming, you can take organised tours by local travel agents, Or take bus ride from Kunming South Bus Station to Chengjiang then transfer.
UNESCO Sites in Yunnan