Amateurs find a world-class fossil site dating back 470 million years

Amateurs find a world-class fossil site dating back 470 million years

A pair of amateur paleontologists recently discovered a world-class fossil site containing the remains of creatures that lived about 470 million years ago.

The site, which contains nearly 400 exceptionally well-preserved fossils, is located in the Montagne Noire mountain range in the southern province of Hérault, France. The results of the first analysis of the site have now been published in the journal Nature ecology and evolution.

The rich and diverse fossil site, known as the Cabrières Biota, preserves organisms that lived in a marine ecosystem hundreds of millions of years ago. The organisms contain a variety of different remains – including shell components, as well as extremely rare soft elements, such as the digestive tract and cuticle – in a remarkable state of preservation.

Interestingly, the region in which the Cabrières Biota is located was very close to the South Pole when these organisms were alive, revealing the formation of Earth’s southernmost ecosystems during the Early Ordovician period (about 485 million to 470 million years ago). .

An artistic reconstruction of the organisms preserved in the Cabrières Biota in their original environment. The site, located in southern France, contains nearly 400 extremely well-preserved fossils.

Christian McCall/University of Lausanne

According to the researchers, the site is of global importance, providing unprecedented insights into such early Ordovician polar ecosystems.

“We have been excavating and searching for fossils since the age of 20,” Eric Monseret, one of the amateurs who discovered the site, said in a press release.

“When we encountered these amazing organisms, we understood the importance of the discovery and went from astonishment to excitement,” Sylvie Monseret-Gougeon, another amateur, said in the statement.

The first analysis of the Cabrières biota was carried out by an international team of researchers, including scientists from the Faculty of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Lausanne (UNIL) in Switzerland, in collaboration with the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

The analysis revealed the presence of arthropods, a highly diverse group of animals that have a hard shell known as an exoskeleton. This group includes spiders, insects, and crustaceans, among many others. These creatures must go through stages of molting to continue growing, during which they shed their old exoskeleton to reveal a new one.

The researchers have also identified cnidarians in the organisms, a group that includes jellyfish and corals, as well as a large number of algae and sponges.

The site’s high biodiversity suggests that the area served as a refuge for species that escaped the high temperatures found further north about 470 million years ago, according to the researchers.

“At this time of extreme global warming, animals were already living in high latitude regions, escaping extreme tropical temperatures,” UNIL researcher Farid Saleh, first author of the study, said in the statement.

The first analysis of the site represents the beginning of a long research program involving large-scale excavations and in-depth paleontological analyses. During this program, scientists hope to reveal more information about the anatomy of the preserved remains, as well as determine their evolutionary relationships and shed light on their behavior when they were alive.

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