Incredible fossils tell the story of Australia’s origins

Incredible fossils tell the story of Australia's origins

Fossilized spiders, crickets, wasps, plants and fish, dating back between 11 million and 16 million years ago during the Miocene, paint a vivid picture of Australia’s rainforest ecosystems.

said Matthew McCurry, a paleontologist at the Australian Museum Research Institute, who authored a study of the site published Friday in Science Advances.

“It was the Miocene when most of the 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 see the amazingly well-preserved surface detail of the 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, the discovery of melanosomes in fossilized feathers means that scientists can determine the color of the feathers. In this case, they think it was dark brown to black.

Paleontologist Matthew McCurry (above) of the Australian Museum Research Institute and colleagues visited the fossil site seven times.

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.

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Plants and creatures petrified when iron-rich groundwater flowed into a watering hole.

McCurry said his favorite fossil was a type of spider, the best-preserved spider fossil ever found in Australia.

“It’s a very nice specimen.”

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