New era sparks dispute

June 4, 2004

An international dispute has broken out over the first naming of a new geological period in more than a century.

After eight years' deliberation, a decision by the International Commission on Stratigraphy - recently ratified by the International Union of Geological Sciences - has named a 58 million-year slab of time the Ediacaran Period.

The new name for the period, previously lumped under the Terminal Proterozoic System, comes from rocks in the Ediacara Hills of Southern Australia's Flinders mountain range, which best typify a post-glacial period, when simple multi-celled organisms began to populate the earth.

But the decision angered Russian geologists who use the term Vendian Period, coined by Boris Sokolov 50 years ago. Mikhail Semikhatov, of the Russian Academy of Science's Institute of Geology and Mikhail Fedonkin of Moscow's Palaeontological Institute said the decision had "little in common with the basic principle of scientific tradition" and was more to do with the "personal composition" of the voting commission.

Harvard University's Andrew Knoll, chair of the ICS subcommission that established the new name, dismissed the controversy as a local matter.

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