Two amateur paleontologists have discovered nearly 400 exceptionally well-preserved fossils dating back 470 million years in southern France. This new fossil site of global importance has been analyzed by scientists from the University of Lausanne, in collaboration with the CNRS and international teams. This discovery provides unprecedented information about the polar ecosystems of the Ordovician period.
Paleontology enthusiasts have unearthed one of the world’s richest and most diverse fossil sites from the Early Ordovician period (about 470 million years ago). Located in the Black Mountain, in the French department of Hérault, this deposit of more than 400 fossils is distinguished by an exceptionally well-preserved fauna. In addition to the shell components, it contains extremely rare soft elements, such as the digestive system and cuticles, in a remarkable state of preservation. Furthermore, this biota was once located very close to the South Pole, revealing the composition of the southernmost Ordovician ecosystems.
At the Faculty of Geosciences and Environment of the University of Lausanne (UNIL), scientists have collaborated with the CNRS and international teams to carry out the first analyzes of this deposit, known as the Cabrières Biota. The results are published in Nature, Ecology and Evolution.
Ordovician climatic refuges
Analysis of the new biota reveals the presence of arthropods (a group that includes millipedes and shrimp) and cnidarians (a group that includes jellyfish and corals), as well as a large number of algae and sponges. The high biodiversity of the place suggests that this area served as a refuge for species that had escaped the high temperatures that prevailed further north at that time.
“At that time of intense global warming, animals were effectively living in refuges at high latitudes, escaping extreme equatorial temperatures,” says Farid Saleh, researcher at the University of Lausanne and first author of the study. “The distant past allows us to glimpse our possible near future,” adds Jonathan Antcliffe, researcher at the University of Lausanne and co-author of the study.
For their part, Eric Monceret and Sylvie Monceret-Goujon, the amateurs who discovered the place, add enthusiastically: “We have been prospecting and looking for fossils since we were twenty years old,” says Eric Monceret. “When we came across this surprising biota, we understood the importance of the discovery and went from amazement to excitement,” adds Sylvie Monceret-Goujon.
This first publication marks the beginning of a long research program that includes large-scale excavations and in-depth fossil analysis. Using innovative methods and techniques, the aim is to reveal the internal and external anatomy of organisms, as well as deduce their phylogenetic relationships and ways of life.
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