Fossilized spiders, cicadas, wasps, plants and fish, dating back between 11 million and 16 million years ago during the Miocene Epoch, paint a vivid picture of Australia’s rainforest ecosystems.
said Matthew McCurry, a paleontologist at the Australian Museums Research Institute, who was the author of a study of the site published in Science Advances on Friday.
“The Miocene was the point in time when most modern Australian environments were created, so this fossil site is really the origin story of Australia.”
During the Miocene, reduced rainfall caused rainforests worldwide to shrink, resulting in increasingly arid landscapes, the study said.
McCurry said the site, called McGraths Flat and located in the middle of the Tablelands, near the town of Gulgong, was discovered by a local farmer, who found petrified leaves in one of his fields.
McCurry and his colleagues visited and excavated the site seven times.
A cache of well-preserved fossils
“The fossils are amazingly beautiful, and with a microscope we can look at the details of the surfaces of the amazingly well-preserved fossils,” he said by email.
“Features such as individual cells and even intracellular organelles can be seen. This level of detail allows us to say a lot about what these ecosystems look like.”
For example, melanosomes discovered in fossilized feathers mean that scientists can determine feather color. In this case, they think it was dark brown to black.
McCurry said the site, made up of iron-rich rocks, was destined to be seen as Lagerstätte, a German term used by paleontologists to describe an exceptional site with many perfectly preserved fossils.
Plants and creatures were petrified when the iron-rich groundwater drained into a water pit.
McCurry said his favorite fossil was a type of spider, which was the most well-preserved spider fossil ever found in Australia.
“It’s a very beautiful specimen.”
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