Oldest Multicellular Animals: Nilpena, South Australia

Wendy Taylor, Arizona State University at the Tempe Campus

Author Profile


Deep in the hills of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, fossils of the earliest multicellular animals, called the Ediacara fauna, appear in the rock record and evolve in three distinct stages. Then suddenly, just before the Cambrian Explosion they universally disappear. Take the journey and learn what is known about them, why they died out, and what mysteries remain.

This is a guided virtual field trip with an adaptive learning lab.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This resource is designed for use in freshman introductory geoscience courses (intro to physical geology, historical geology, paleontology), but can also be used in a wide array of formal and informal educational settings.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should be familiar with the concepts of geologic or deep time, weathering and erosion, the rock cycle, sedimentary rocks and sedimentation, and the basic types of fossils.

How the activity is situated in the course

This resource is a stand-alone activity that is designed to be used after students have been introduced to the concepts of geologic or deep time, weathering and erosion, the rock cycle, sedimentary rocks and sedimentation, and the basic types of fossils.

Activity Length

This virtual field trip contains a guided adaptive learning lab. Exploration of the virtual field site and completion of the lab (with associated videos, images and interactive gigapixel images) is estimated to take about 1 hour.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

This virtual field trip (VFT) with an online adaptive learning lab explores fossils of some of the earliest complex animals. Students make observations at field sites in South Australia, identify fossils using a dichotomous key, determine how they were fossilized, and build an early marine ecosystem.

The following predefined learning outcomes are built into this guided VFT:
Learning outcome #1: Explore and identify the oldest complex animals.
Learning outcome #2: Understand how early organisms were fossilized.
Learning outcome #3: Examine the first animal communities.
Learning outcome #4: Build a 560 million-year-old ecosystem.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Learners explore the virtual environments and make observations to help them understand what the first complex animals were like, how they were fossilized and what they reveal about early ecosystems.

Other skills goals for this activity

Make field observations, use a dichotomous key, arrange events in a chronological order, recognize patterns, build an ecosystem.

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity is accessible at https://vft.asu.edu/ through the Center for Education Through eXploration (https://etx.asu.edu/) at Arizona State University. They build adaptive digital learning experiences for K-12 education that engage learners in virtual environments and bring Earth and space science to life.

Technology Needs

Real-time Internet access is required to view this VFT. We recommend the use of the browsers Google Chrome or Firefox for the best results. It is not optimized for viewing on mobile devices.


This guided VFT possesses an embedded assessment within the online lab. The instructor can set up a free account to gain access to analytics for their class, or simply have learners take a screenshot of their final lab score.

Oldest Multicellular Animals: Nilpena, South Australia -- Discussion  

Join the Discussion

Log in to reply