Upper Neoproterozoic successions in the North China and nearby Chaidam blocks are poorly documented. North China successions typically consist of a diamictite unit overlain by siltstone, sandstone, or slate. Similar successions occur in Chaidam, although a cap carbonate lies atop the diamictite unit. The diamictites in both blocks have been variously interpreted as Cryogenian, Ediacaran, or Cambrian glacial deposits. In this paper, we describe problematic macrofossils collected from slate of the upper Zhengmuguan Formation in North China and sandstone of the Zhoujieshan Formation in Chaidam; both fossiliferous formations conformably overlie the aforementioned diamictites. Some of these fossils were previously interpreted as animal traces. Our study recognizes four genera and five species—Helanoichnus helanensis Yang in Yang and Zheng, 1985, Palaeopascichnus minimus n. sp., Palaeopascichnus meniscatus n. sp., Horodyskia moniliformis? Yochelson and Fedonkin, 2000, and Shaanxilithes cf. ningqiangensis Xing et al., 1984. None of these taxa can be interpreted as animal traces. Instead, they are problematic body fossils of unresolved phylogenetic affinities. The fundamental bodyplan similarity between Horodyskia and Palaeopascichnus, both with serially repeated elements, indicates a possible phylogenetic relationship. Thus, at least some Ediacaran organisms may have a deep root because Horodyskia also occurs in Mesoproterozoic successions.
Among the four genera reported here, Palaeopascichnus Palij, 1976 and Shaanxilithes Xing et al., 1984 have been known elsewhere in upper Ediacaran successions, including the Dengying Formation (551–542 Ma) in South China. If these two genera have biostratigraphic significance, the fossiliferous units in North China and Chaidam may be upper Ediacaran as well. Thus, the underlying diamictites in North China and Chaidam cannot be of Cambrian age, although their correlation with Ediacaran and Cryogenian glaciations remains unclear. As no other Neoproterozoic diamictite intervals are known in North China and Chaidam, perhaps only one Neoproterozoic glaciation is recorded in that area.