Once again it was trilobites that provided the clue—in particular that seemingly mystifying appearance of different types of trilobite in widely scattered locations around the globe, all at more or less the same time.
On the face of it, the sudden appearance of lots of fully formed but varied creatures would seem to enhance the miraculousness of the Cambrian outburst, but in fact it did the opposite. It is one thing to have one well-formed creature like a trilobite burst forth in isolation—that really is a wonder—but to have many of them, all distinct but clearly related, turning up simultaneously in the fossil record in places as far apart as China and New York clearly suggests that we are missing a big part of their history. There could be no stronger evidence that they simply had to have a forebear—some grandfather species that started the line in a much earlier past.
And the reason we haven't found these earlier species, it is now thought, is that they were too tiny to be preserved. Says Fortey: "It isn't necessary to be big to be a perfectly functioning, complex organism. The sea swarms with tiny arthropods today that have left no fossil record." He cites the little copepod, which numbers in the trillions in modern seas and clusters in shoals large enough to turn vast areas of the ocean black, and yet our total knowledge of its ancestry is a single specimen found in the body of an ancient fossilized fish.