Nature Ramble

A little different this week. Looking at extinction. It has been going on for millions of years, Mother Nature herself has been doing it.

‘Animal Pompeii’ wiped out China’s ancient creatures

The fossils of a dinosaur (l) and two primitive birds (m,r) show the creatures locked in their death throes

The puzzle of how a 120-million-year-old animal graveyard in China formed may have been solved.

Scientists believe that the creatures from the lower Cretaceous era were instantly killed by volcanic eruptions similar to the violent blast that hit the Roman city of Pompeii.

Much like the residents of the city, the animals were entombed in ash and frozen in their death throes.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Lead researcher Baoyu Jiang, from Nanjing University in China, said: “Scientists have been curious for a long time in how these animals were killed and became exceptionally preserved.”

The blast of hot gas, dust and ash from volcanic eruptions would have killed the animals instantly

The fossil beds of Liaoning province in north-east China, which date to 120-130 million years ago, have long baffled scientists.

An eclectic array of animals – known as the Jehol Biota – have been unearthed there: they include the first-known feathered dinosaurs, early mammals, birds, fish and insects.

The site is so rich in fossils and well preserved that it has transformed palaeontologists’ understanding of this ancient era, shedding light on evolution and the diversity of life at this time.

Buried together, they are remarkably well preserved – and the apparent victims of major deadly events.

Now scientists say eruptions were responsible.

The conifer forests and lakes where these animals once lived were surrounded by volcanoes, and the researchers believe deadly blasts would have sent a surge of incredibly hot gas, ash and rock – known as pyroclastic flow – across the landscape.

The team says this would have been similar to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, which wiped out Pompeii.

Like the people who lived in the city, the ancient animals would have been killed in an instant, and then buried under a dense layers of ash.

The creatures are captured mid-movement, with their limbs flexed and spines extended.

 

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