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470 Million Year Old Fossil Site Uncovered in France

Artistic reconstruction of the Cabrières Biota
Artistic reconstruction of the Cabrières Biota from a 470 million year old fossil site. Credit: Christian McCall (Prehistorica Art) / Nature Ecology & Evolution / CC BY 4.0

Two amateur paleontologists stumbled upon almost 400 really well-preserved fossils in Southern France. These fossils are around 470 million years old.

Scientists from the University of Lausanne, along with teams from CNRS and other countries, checked out this new fossil site. They say it’s especially important globally.

This find provides us with many new details about what life was like in the polar regions during the Ordovician period, as reported by Astrobiology.

The site contains exceptionally well-preserved fauna

In Montagne Noire, France, this new fossil site is one of the richest and most varied in the world. What’s more important is the exceptional condition of the fossils. They include not only hard shells but also rare soft parts such as digestive systems and outer coverings, which have been preserved remarkably well.

Moreover, Astrobiology reports that these fossils were once located near the South Pole. Researchers from the Faculty of Geosciences and Environment at the University of Lausanne (UNIL) teamed up with the CNRS and scientists from around the world to study the Cabrières Biota. This is the name given to the fossil deposit. Their findings are now published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

The analysis of the new biota shows the existence of arthropods, which include creatures such as millipedes, shrimp, and cnidarians, a group that encompasses jellyfish and corals. Additionally, there are plenty of algae and sponges found in the area.

The significant diversity of species indicates this place likely acted as a safe haven for organisms seeking refuge from the hotter temperatures of the northern regions during that era.

“At this time of intense global warming, animals were indeed living in high latitude refugia, escaping extreme equatorial temperatures,” said Farid Saleh, a researcher at the University of Lausanne and first author of the study. “The distant past gives us a glimpse of our possible near future,” added Jonathan Antcliffe, co-author of the study.

Preservation mode of Cabrières Biota

Fossils found in the Cabrières Biota often display hues of brown, red, or orange and are embedded within a siliciclastic matrix consisting of mudstone and siltstone. This matrix may vary in color from blue and green to yellow.

Through scanning electron microscopy (SEM) analysis, it has been observed that the fossils are comprised of dense, shapeless iron oxide crystals, lacking distinct framboids or euhedral minerals. They are surrounded by a matrix of aluminium-rich phyllosilicates.

Further investigation using synchrotron-based techniques, specifically Fe K-edge X-ray absorption near edge structure (XANES) spectroscopy, reveals that iron is present in the form of Fe(III) oxides and hydroxides. Additionally, some fossils exhibit black films, likely representing carbonaceous material.

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