A Sino-German group of paleontologists has reported the discovery of a large paleontological site in China’s northwest province of Xinjiang with about 1,800 fossilized freshwater aquatic turtles from the Jurassic.
“Bones upon bones, we couldn’t believe our eyes,” said Dr Oliver Wings, a paleontologist with the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, lead author of a paper describing the discovery in the journal Naturwissenschaften.
“This site has probably more than doubled the known number of individual turtles from the Jurassic,” added Dr Walter Joyce, a fossil turtle specialist with the University of Tübingen, Germany. “Some of the shells were stacked up on top of one another in the rock.”
The team has made several expeditions to the region since 2007, finding fossil sharks, crocodiles, mammals and several dinosaur skeletons. Today one of the world’s driest regions, 160 million years ago Xinjiang was a green place of lakes and rivers, bursting with life.
The turtles had gathered in one of the remaining waterholes during a very dry period, awaiting rain. Today’s turtles in Australia for instance do the same thing. But for the Xinjiang turtles, the rain came too late. Many of the turtles were already dead and their bodies rotting. When the water arrived, it came with a vengeance: a river of mud, washing the turtles and sediments along with it and dumping them in one place.
The discovery will allow the paleontologists to make a first statistical analysis of Asian turtles in the Jurassic period.
Bibliographic information: Oliver Wings et al. An enormous Jurassic turtle bone bed from the Turpan Basin of Xinjiang, China. Naturwissenschaften, published online before print 20 October 2012; doi: 10.1007/s00114-012-0974-5