Charnwood Forest is one of the few parts of England where there are exposures of ‘basement’ rocks dating back to Precambrian time. Its locally rugged topography is caused by these highly resistant rocks protruding as craggy knolls through a surrounding cover of Triassic-age Mercia Mudstone strata and Quaternary deposits. Past workers have viewed Charnwood Forest as a ‘fossil’ hill range that was carved by erosion dating from the late Carboniferous (end-Variscan) block uplifts, was subsequently buried beneath Triassic and younger strata, and is now in the process of being exhumed.\ud The ‘hard rock’ outcrops and distinctive scenery of Charnwood Forest, exemplified by Bradgate Park, have attracted much interest over the centuries, and Watts (1947) charts a number of publications stretching back to 1790. The lithostratigraphy of the Charnwood Forest succession was formalised after the detailed mapping and thesis of Moseley (1979), and a subsequent paper by Moseley and Ford (1985). Figure 1 shows that the Charnian Supergroup sensu stricto is divided into two principal groupings, of which the youngest, the Maplewell Group, will be visited today (localities and route are shown in Figure 2). In Swithland Wood, the strata to be visited belong to the Brand Group. This overlies the Maplewell Group, and as it is now referred to the Lower Cambrian, rather than to the Precambrian as previously thought, it is no longer included as part of the Charnian Supergroup.\ud A Precambrian age (i.e. older than the start of the Cambrian Period, 543 million years ago) for the Charnian rocks was hinted at as long ago as 1865. It was finally confirmed following the work of Lapworth (1882), although his observation was based on similarities between Charnian rocks and the Caldecote Volcanic Formation, which is demonstrably overlain unconformably by Lower Cambrian strata at Nuneaton, 30 km to the west. Lapworth’s discovery had major implications for something that happened much later - the finding of fossils in the Charnian strata by a schoolboy, Roger Mason, when out climbing near Woodhouse Eaves in 1957. Since then, several more fossiliferous localities have been found in Charnwood Forest (eg. Boynton and Ford, 1995), including the important exposure in Bradgate Park. Their significance to Precambrian geology, and to the understanding of the early evolution of organized life, will be discussed later on.\ud Much still remains to be clarified about the precise age of the Charnian Supergroup, in terms of a figure expressed in millions of years. Estimates of 560 - 566 Ma (Compston et al., 2002) have been determined for the fossil-bearing upper part of the Maplewell Group on the basis of isotopic analyses that measure the decay of uranium to lead in rock-forming minerals such as zircon. Given the exposed thickness of 3000 m for the Charnian sequence, however, it is clear that more isotopic determinations will be needed in order to constrain the entire age-range of the succession
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