Ashfall Fossil Beds

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This article is about the protected area. For the volcanic phenomenon, see Volcanic ash.
Coordinates: 42°25′30″N 98°09′31″W / 42.42500°N 98.15861°W / 42.42500; -98.15861
Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park
Nebraska State Historical Park
USA ne creighton ashfallshp2.jpg
Hills surrounding the fossil beds
Country  United States
State  Nebraska
County Antelope
Location Royal
 - elevation 1,720 ft (524 m) [1]
 - coordinates 42°25′30″N 98°09′31″W / 42.42500°N 98.15861°W / 42.42500; -98.15861
Area 360 acres (146 ha)
Founded 1991
Management Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
IUCN category III[citation needed]
Location of Ashfall State Historical Park in Nebraska
Website: Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park
Designated: 2006

The Ashfall Fossil Beds of Antelope County in northeastern Nebraska are among the rare preservation sites called lagerstätten, which preserve ecological "snapshots" from a moment in time, due to extraordinary local conditions that have preserved a range of fossilized organisms undisturbed. Ash from a Yellowstone hotspot eruption 10-12 million years ago created this ashbed.

The Ashfall Fossil Beds are especially famous for fossils of mammals from the middle Miocene geologic epoch. The Ashfall Fossil Beds are stratigraphically part of the Serravallian-age[2] Ogallala Group.

Bruneau-Jarbidge event[edit]

The Ashfall deposit preserves the fossilized remains of ancient animals that perished in a dense volcanic ash fall which occurred during the late Miocene, approximately 12 million years ago; the animals had come to a waterhole seeking relief. The fall of ash drifted downwind from the Bruneau-Jarbidge supervolcano eruption (in present-day Idaho), nearly 1,000 miles (1,600 km) west of the Ashfall site. A large number of very well preserved fossil rhinos, small three-toed and one-toed horses, camels, and birds have been excavated. Many animals were preserved with their bones articulated; one rhino still bears her unborn fetus, while others retain the contents of their last meal.

The bones of the animals show features that indicate that the animals died of lung failure induced by inhaling volcanic ash. The smaller animals with smaller lung capacity were the first to die, and the larger animals were the last. Bite-marks on some bones show that local predators (the carnivorous bone-crunching dog Aelurodon) scavenged some of the carcasses, but no predator remains have yet surfaced. There are also abundant clues to the region's ecology, indicating a savanna of grassland interspersed with trees that luxuriated in a warmer, milder climate than today's.

The rapidly accumulating ash, windblown into deep drifts at low places like the waterhole site, remained moderately soft. The ash preserved the animals in three dimensions; not even the delicate bones of birds or the carapaces of turtles were crushed. Above the layer of ash, a stratum of more erosion-resistant sandstone has acted as "caprock" to preserve the strata beneath.

Fossil of a Teloceras in volcanic ash.
Paleontologists working on the site

Preservation[edit]

The first hint of the site's richness was the skull of a juvenile rhinoceros noticed in 1971 eroding out of a gully at the edge of a cornfield. The Ashfall site became Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park in 1991. Newly uncovered fossils are being left exactly as they are found: specially constructed walkways afford visitors an unobstructed close-up view of paleontologists at work during the summer field season. The site was declared a National Natural Landmark on May 9, 2006[3]

Species[edit]

The remains of Teleoceras are so numerous and concentrated that the main section of Ashfall is called the "Rhino Barn". Other fossils at the "Rhino Barn" include the remains of horses and camels. Taxa discovered in the Ashfall deposits include:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]