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Department of Earth Sciences



Research: Early Metazoan Evolution


The oldest known fossil fish, Myllokunmingia from the Lower Cambrian Chengjiang Lagerstätte of South China. Clearly visible are the anterior gills, dorsal fin and trunk myomeres. The specimen is about 2 cm in length.

My focus of research concerns the study of the constraints on evolution, and the historical processes that lead to the emergence of complexity, especially with respect to the construction of the major animal bodyplans in the Cambrian explosion. My work is central to palaeobiology, but is also of great interest to biologists and bioastronomers, as well as the wider community.

Cambrian Explosion

In the last few years we have made a series of major contributions to our understanding of the evolution of metazoan body plans, especially with respect to the lophotrochozoans and deuterostomes. The latter super-phylum is the group to which we belong, and in addition to documenting the earliest known fish we now have key data on the earliest evolution of the deuterostomes. Much of this work is based in China, but I also have continuing interests in equivalent material from North America.

Evolutionary Convergence

Arising from my interest in the Cambrian “explosion”, my book “Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), on the broad topic of evolutionary convergence, emphasizing the parallel evolution of sensory systems e.g. vision, olfaction, echolocation, and also intelligence, especially in the primates and cetaceans. This book has made a considerable impact, as it throws severe doubt on a number of fashionable presuppositions in evolution. More recently I have published “The Runes of Evolution: How the Universe Became Self-Aware” (Templeton Press, 2015), which extends many of the themes seen in “Life’s Solution”.

Wider aspects of evolution

In addition to my work on the Cambrian “explosion”, I am developing a wide portfolio of interests across the entire field of evolution, including the question of animal cognition (including numerosity) and extra-terrestrial life.


Key publications: 

Recent publications can be found in the publications database here


Han, J., Conway Morris, S., Ou, Q., Shu. D-G. and Huang, H. Meiofaunal deuterostomes from the basal Cambrian of  Shaanxi (China). Nature 542, 228-231.

Conway Morris, S. Three explanations for extraterrestrials: sensible, unlikely, mad. International Journal of Astrobiology, 1-7.


Conway Morris, S. It all adds up….Or does it? Numbers, mathematics and purpose. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, Part C. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 58, 117-122.

Nanglu, K., Caron, J-B., Conway Morris, S. and Cameron, C.B.  Cambrian suspension-feeding tubicolous hemichordates. BMC Biology 14, e56.


Conway Morris, S. The runes of evolution: How the universe became self-aware. Templeton Press.

Conway Morris, S. Bioastronomy. In 52 things you should know about palaeontology (eds A. Cullum and A.W. Martinius), pp. 30-31. AgileLibre.

Conway Morris, S., Halgedahl, S. Selden, P.A. and Jarrard, R. Rare primitive deuterostomes from the Cambrian (Series 3) of Utah. Journal of Paleontology, 89, 631-636.

Conway Morris, S., Hoyal Cuthill, J. F. and Gerber, S. Hunting Darwin’s snark: which maps shall we use? Interface Focus 5, 20150078.

Conway Morris, S., Selden, P.A., Gunther, G., Jamison, P.G. and Robison, R.A. New records of Burgess Shale-type taxa from the Middle Cambrian of Utah. Journal of Paleontology, 89, 411-423.


Conway Morris, S. If the evolution of intelligence is inevitable, then what are the metaphysical consequences? In The science and religion dialogue: Past and future (ed. M. Welker), pp. 217-231. Peter Lang. Also translated into Spanish, ?Y si la vida volviera a empezar? Los caminos convergentes de la biología evolutiva (Fliedner Ediciones).

Conway Morris, S. and Caron, J-B. A primitive fish from the Cambrian of North America. Nature 512, 419-422.

Hoyal-Cuthill, J. and Conway Morris, S. Fractal branching organizations of Ediacaran rangeomorph reveal a lost Proterozoic body plan. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 111, 13122-13126.

Whittington, Harry Blackmore. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, [].

Emeritus Professor
Professor Simon  Conway Morris

Contact Details

Email address: 
Downing Street
+44 (0) 1223 333414