The period was established as "Cambrian series" by Adam Sedgwick, who named it after Cambria, the Latin name for 'Cymru' (Wales), where Britain's Cambrian rocks are best exposed. Sedgwick identified the layer as part of his task, along with Roderick Murchison, to subdivide the large "Transition Series", although the two geologists disagreed for a while on the appropriate categorization.
The Cambrian is unique in its unusually high proportion of lagerstätte sedimentary deposits, sites of exceptional preservation where "soft" parts of organisms are preserved as well as their more resistant shells. As a result, scientific understanding of the Cambrian biology surpasses that of some later periods.
The Cambrian marked a profound change in life on Earth: prior to the Cambrian, the majority of living organisms on the whole were small, unicellular and simple (Ediacaranfauna and earlier TonianHuainan biota being notable exceptions). Complex, multicellular organisms gradually became more common in the millions of years immediately preceding the Cambrian, but it was not until this period that mineralized – hence readily fossilized – organisms became common.
^Sedgwick and R. I. Murchison (1835) "On the Silurian and Cambrian systems, exhibiting the order in which the older sedimentary strata succeed each other in England and Wales," Notices and Abstracts of Communications to the British Association for the Advancement of Science at the Dublin meeting, August 1835, pp. 59–61, in: Report of the Fifth Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science; held in Dublin in 1835 (1836). From p. 60: "Professor Sedgwick then described in descending order the groups of slate rocks, as they are seen in Wales and Cumberland. To the highest he gave the name of Upper Cambrian group. ... To the next inferior group he gave the name of Middle Cambrian. ... The Lower Cambrian group occupies the S.W. coast of Cærnarvonshire,"
^Maloof, Adam C.; Rose, Catherine V.; Beach, Robert; Samuels, Bradley M.; Calmet, Claire C.; Erwin, Douglas H.; Poirier, Gerald R.; Yao, Nan; Simons, Frederik J. (17 August 2010). "Possible animal-body fossils in pre-Marinoan limestones from South Australia". Nature Geoscience. 3 (9): 653–659. Bibcode:2010NatGe...3..653M. doi:10.1038/ngeo934.