Ancient winds are responsible for both the life that once lived in the region around the Table Mountains in South Africa nearly half a billion years ago, as well as the instrument for their preservation.
“Near Table Mountain in South Africa lies one of the world’s most mysterious rock layers,” said Sarah Gabbot from the University of Leicester. “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.”
“The silt grains are sedimentary aliens – much bigger than the marine mud flakes in which they are embedded,” note the authors in their report. “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.”
Source: University of Leicester
Image Source: Alan Male