In 1859, in On the Origin of Species, Darwin broached what he regarded to be the most vexing problem facing his theory of evolution-the lack of a rich fossil record predating the rise of shelly invertebrates that marks the beginning of the Cambrian Period of geologic time (-550 million years ago), an "inexplicable" absence that could be "truly urged as a valid argument" against his all embracing synthesis. For more than 100 years, the "missing Precambrian history of life" stood out as one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in natural science. But in recent decades, understanding of life's history has changed markedly as the doc-umented fossil record has been extended seven-fold to some 3,500 million years ago, an age more than three-quarters that of the planet itself. This long-sought solution to Darwin's dilemma was set in motion by a small vanguard of workers who blazed the trail in the 1950s and 1960s, just as their course was charted by a few pioneering pathfinders of the previous century, a history of bold pronouncements, dashed dreams, search, and final discovery.
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