07 December 2015

7. The Quercy Phosphorites

"Mummy" of the frog Thaumastosaurus gezei
Denis Serrette, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle
Location: Quercy, France
Formation: Quercy Phosphorites Formation
Age: Eocene-Oligocene (39-27 Ma)

Phosphorites that outcrop throughout the historic region of Quercy in southern France document life in Europe from the middle Eocene through the later part of the succeeding epoch, the Oligocene.  The earliest of the fossils from Quercy tell a story similar to that told by Messel, though one based largely on remains of vertebrates rather than plants and invertebrates.  Indeed, many of the Quercy specimens are close relatives of Messel taxa and the presence of animals such as parrots and primates shows that even later in the Eocene, Europe remained a much warmer, wetter place than it is today.  Also in common with Messel, the closest living relatives of several Quercy organisms are found today in far-flung locales (such as todies, found today only in the Caribbean and seriemas, now native to the pampas of South America), suggesting that migration between continents was more widespread in the Eocene.  I'm not able to give the Quercy Phosphorites the nuanced coverage they deserve, in large part because most of the published papers on them are in French.  However, I would be remiss if I didn't point out the most remarkable feature of the Quercy fossils, and the aspect of the formation that places it firmly in lagerstätte territory.  The phosphorites have, in several cases, preserved reptiles and amphibians as "mummies" (such as the frog seen in the picture here).  This is unusual and remarkable enough in and of itself, but recent studies that have scanned these "mummies" have shown that besides just skin, the specimens contain skeletons and organs, all preserved in three dimensions, providing insight on soft tissue and internal anatomy usually unavailable from the fossil record.

Visit: The language barrier makes it a bit difficult to confirm this, but as far as I know none of the Quercy localities are open to the public.
Fossils: The main repository for Quercy fossils (including the "mummies") is the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris.
Is there a relevant book full of gorgeous fossil photos that I can gift to a paleontologically-minded friend?: Oddly no, neither in French nor in English.

This post is part of my 2015 Paleontology Advent Calendar, a series of vignettes on lagerstätten - sites of exceptional fossil preservation - that document changes in climate and environments through the Cenozoic.  You can see the other posts here.

No comments: