Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.


Decay distorts ancestry


Experiments with simple chordate animals show how decay may make the resulting fossils seem less evolved. The consequence is to distort evidence of the evolution of the earliest vertebrates and their precursors.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: 'Stem-ward slippage.'
Figure 2: Early Cambrian yunnanozoan.



  1. Sansom, R. S., Gabbott, S. E. & Purnell, M. A. Nature 463, 797–800 (2010).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Hou, X.-G. et al. The Cambrian Fossils of Chengjiang, China: The Flowering of Early Animal Life (Blackwell, 2004).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Caron, J.-B. & Rudkin, D. (eds) A Burgess Shale Primer: History, Geology, and Research Highlights (Burgess Shale Consortium, 2009).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Briggs, D. E. G. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 31, 275–301 (2003).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Gabbott, S. E., Hou, X., Norry, M. J. & Siveter, D. J. Geology 32, 901–904 (2004).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Donoghue, P. C. J. & Purnell, M. A. BioEssays 31, 178–189 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Schäfer, W. Ecology and Palaeoecology of Marine Environments (Chicago Univ. Press, 1972).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Briggs, D. Decay distorts ancestry. Nature 463, 741–742 (2010).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing