'Huge volcano' gave China its dinosaur trove

2014-02-05 10:30
Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences engineer Renzo Dario Arce puts together the skull replica of dinosaur

Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences engineer Renzo Dario Arce puts together the skull replica of dinosaur

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Paris - A treasure trove of fossilised dinosaurs and other long-extinct species in north-eastern China was created, Pompeii-style, by an erupting volcano, scientists said on Tuesday.

A seam of rock known as the Yixian and Jiufotang formations, in western Liaoning province, is the burial ground of an astonishing array of creatures that lived around 120 million years ago in the Early Cretaceous.

Called the Jehol Biota, it is the richest and widest source of fossils ever found.

It has yielded the remains of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, early birds and mammals, as well as turtles, lizards, freshwater fish, frogs, plants and insects, which inhabited a long-gone vista of lakes and conifer forests.

Many of the specimens are astonishingly well preserved, revealing even scales, feathers, hair or skin - a precious find indeed for palaeontologists.

Big killer

The secret of the preservation, according to a study led by Baoyu Jiang of Nanjing University in Jiangsu, lies in a brutal volcanic episode that extinguished life all around and then buried it in dust, locking it away for eternity.

Jiang's team looked closely at 14 bird and dinosaur fossils and the thin layer of darkish sediment in which they were found, at five locations.

The big killer, they believe, was pyroclastic flow - a vicious outpouring of hot, suffocating gas and superfine dust, moving at gale-force speed.

Under the microscope, debris from plants showed blackened carbon streaks, and in the fossilised skeletons, hollow bones were filled with fine quartz grains.

But the biggest indicator of all came from crisscrossed cracks at the bone edges, caused by heat stress.

This phenomenon was also found in the bones of victims at Pompeii, the Roman town that was buried by an eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE (Common Era), the authors said.

Previous researchers had noted that the Jehol Biota sediment was volcanic.

They surmised that there had been a mass die-out as so many different species - terrestrial, aquatic and avian - were all clustered in one area.

But suspicions that an eruption was to blame lacked hard evidence until now.

The dust flow from the volcano swept many dead creatures into lake beds, where they were immediately buried in oxygen-starved conditions, according to the new study.

"Terrestrial vertebrate carcasses transported by and sealed within the pyroclastic flows were clearly preserved as exceptional fossils through this process," said the paper, published in the journal Nature Communications.
Read more on:    volcanoes  |  palaeontology

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.