Ancient wind held secret of life and death

Nov 29, 2010
Reconstruction of eurypterid (sea scorpion) chasing a condont (early vertebrate). Artist credit: Alan Male.

(PhysOrg.com) -- The mystery of how an abundance of fossils have been marvellously preserved for nearly half a billion years in a remote region of Africa has been solved by a team of geologists from the University of Leicester’s Department of Geology.

They have established that an ancient wind brought life to the region – and was then instrumental in the preservation of the dead.

Sarah Gabbott, Jan Zalasiewicz and colleagues investigated a site near the Table Mountains in South Africa. Their findings are published in the latest issue of the journal Geology.

Sarah Gabbott said: “Near Table Mountain in South lies one of the world’s most mysterious rock layers. Just a few metres thick, and almost half a billion years old, it contains the petrified remains of bizarre early life-forms, complete with eyes and guts and muscles.

“We investigated why these animals are so marvellously preserved, when most fossils are just fragments of bone and shell? The answer seems to lie in a bitter wind, blowing off a landscape left devastated by a massive ice-cap.”

Ancient Wind held Secret of Life and Death
A Eurypterid (sea scorpion) from the Soom Shale, South Africa. This fossil is approximately 440 million years old. It is so well-preserved that you can see its muscle blocks, gills and paddles that it used for swimming.

Gabbott and Zalasiewicz added that microscopic analysis of the shale layers using a specially designed ‘Petroscope’, obtained with funding from the Royal Society, revealed remarkable and so far unique structures – myriads of silt grains, neatly wrapped in the remains of marine algae.

The authors state: “The silt grains are sedimentary aliens - much bigger than the marine mud flakes in which they are embedded. They could only have been blown by fierce glacial winds on to the sea surface from that distant landscape. Arriving thick and fast, they carried nutrients into the surface waters, fuelling its prolific life. The deep waters, though, were overwhelmed by rotting, sinking vegetation, becoming stagnant and lifeless – ideal conditions to preserve the animal remains, down to their finest details. A cold wind, here, was key to both life and death.”

Explore further: Clean air: Fewer sources for self-cleaning

More information: Gabbott, S.E., Zalasiewicz, J., Aldridge, R.J. & Theron, H. 2010. Geology 38, 1103-1106.

Related Stories

Oldest fossil shrimp preserved with muscles

Nov 09, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- One of America’s favorite seafood is shrimp. Did you know that they fossilize as well? Rodney Feldmann and Carrie Schweitzer (both Kent State University) report on the oldest fossil shrimp ...

Modern society made up of all types

Nov 04, 2010

Modern society has an intense interest in classifying people into ‘types’, according to a University of Melbourne Cultural Historian, leading to potentially catastrophic life-changing outcomes for those typed – ...

Recommended for you

Six Nepalese dead, six missing in Everest avalanche

8 hours ago

At least six Nepalese climbing guides have been killed and six others are missing after an avalanche struck Mount Everest early Friday in one of the deadliest accidents on the world's highest peak, officials ...

User comments : 6

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (8) Nov 29, 2010
Don't you just LOVE the heading? "At last, the secrets of life and death discovered!!!"

The deep waters, though, were overwhelmed by rotting, sinking vegetation, becoming stagnant and lifeless – ideal conditions to preserve the animal remains,

I always thought that fossils were the result of rapid burial, excluding the pernicious effects of oxidation. What does the wind have to do with it?

From the article I cannot for the life of me fathom out how the wind has anything to do with the fossil itself or even with the rotten, sinking vegetation. And then the fossil should have rotted along with the plant material unless the rotting, sinking vegetation was buried with the life-form in a rapid, cataclysmic fashion.
As for the lovely 1/2 billion years - sheer guess work, given the variables that have to be assumed to fix a date.

LariAnn
3.8 / 5 (4) Nov 29, 2010
Perhaps a more accurate description for the final paragraph would have been, "Due to depletion of oxygen by an abundance of rotting vegetation, followed by an abundance of unrotted vegetation, animal remains were able to be preserved in much finer detail than otherwise would have been possible."
barakn
5 / 5 (5) Nov 29, 2010
From the article I cannot for the life of me fathom out how the wind has anything to do with the fossil itself or even with the rotten, sinking vegetation.

The article very clearly stated the relationship. You simply don't have any interest in understanding the underlying science.
Caliban
5 / 5 (1) Nov 29, 2010
Don't you just LOVE the heading? "At last, the secrets of life and death discovered!!!"


Apparently, you loved the meaning which you read into the article heading so much that you quote something entirely missing from it. This points to a pronouncedly delusional mindset. You should probably check yourself into a clinic for diagnosis and medication.
Donutz
5 / 5 (2) Nov 30, 2010
Don't you just LOVE the heading? "At last, the secrets of life and death discovered!!!"


"Ancient wind held secret of life and death", which has an entirely different meaning. Your intellectual dishonesty is so complete that you can't even get the quote right on the same page, and it doesn't even occur to you that someone will notice.

Please post evidence -- any evidence, any proof, anything at all -- to support your belief that your magic sky fairy actually created everything by sprinkling pixie dust.
Jimee
not rated yet Nov 30, 2010
...and continued sedimentation of fine silt particles.

More news stories

New research on Earth's carbon budget

(Phys.org) —Results from a research project involving scientists from the Desert Research Institute have generated new findings surrounding some of the unknowns of changes in climate and the degree to which ...

Continents may be a key feature of Super-Earths

Huge Earth-like planets that have both continents and oceans may be better at harboring extraterrestrial life than those that are water-only worlds. A new study gives hope for the possibility that many super-Earth ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Under some LED bulbs whites aren't 'whiter than white'

For years, companies have been adding whiteners to laundry detergent, paints, plastics, paper and fabrics to make whites look "whiter than white," but now, with a switch away from incandescent and fluorescent lighting, different ...