In Australia a number of rare and fragile fossils have been recently excavated by paleontologists. This region in New South Wales was famously called the “dead heart of Australia” over 100 years ago, due to the numerous fossil sites of ancient species found all over the area. The results of the dig were published in Science Advances in January 2022.
Researchers found the remains of many exceptional fossils such as giant cicadas, tiny fish, trapdoor spiders, and a feather from an ancient bird. It is thought these date back to the Miocene Epoch period 23 – 5.3 million years ago. Gathering this information allows a snapshot of this transient period to be taken, when rainforests covered the now barren landscape.
What makes this excavation special is the fact that only larger fossils, such as bones and teeth, have previously been found from this period. The conditions in this area were just right for more delicate organisms to be preserved, uncovering ancient flora and insects from the rainforest. “I find the spider fossils the most fascinating,” said lead author Matthew McCurry, a paleontologist at the Australian Museum to Live Science.
Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) was used to study fine details of the structures, revealing information such as the organism’s last meal. “This site gives us unprecedented insight into what these ecosystems were like,” stated McCurry. “We now know how diverse these ecosystems were, which species lived in them and how these species interacted.”
Gaining this knowledge allows for a deeper understanding of the world and how it evolved, maybe giving us clues on how it will also change in the future.
Source study: Science Advances – A Lagerstätte from Australia provides insight into the nature of Miocene mesic ecosystems