SOLENHOFEN, GERMANY: Limestone quarries here yield some of the best fossils of many living things, anywhere on Earth.
About 155,000,000 years ago (near the end of the Jurassic epoch) much of what is now Germany was covered with a warm shallow sea in which there were a number of islands. Sponges and corals grew on these oceanic rises in this sea, forming reefs. The reefs then divided parts of this sea into isolated bodies of water or lagoons. These lagoons were isolated from the ocean. The run off of water from the land also did not for the most part flow into these lagoons.
These lagoons became increasingly salty. Probably the water was without much or any oxygen (anoxic). Because of the salinity and anoxic condition, the lagoons probably were probably toxic to most life forms. Nothing could probably survive in these lagoon for but a short time, except for cyanobacteria and things like foraminifera (forams) which are small protists.
While this was tough on life, it was excellent for fossil preservation. Any living thing which fell into the lagoon, either by flight, washed in by the ocean or that came into the water from land and died there, would have been buried by the fine CaCo³, i.e. carbonate silt and mud. The living things which fell into the water would not therefore, be likely to be torn apart by tides and currents, nor attacked and consumed by any predator or scavenger. The living thing just settled to the bottom, was covered by very fine mud to remain there unhampered as each turned into a fossil record of the living thing.
Solenhofen, Germany is considered by most scientists and collectors to be the best place on Earth to find fossils of insects, leaves and other fossils. The second best place for fossils insects are the Baltic ambers. The third best place is Florissant, Colorado. Click here to visit this last place.
In the German State of Bavaria (between Nuremberg and Munich) the action described above, left carbonate muds which formed a very fine-grained limestone, which has flat layers. In Germany this is call Plattenkalk. For centuries (since the Stone Age) this flat limestone has been quarried out of this area for use as floor tiles. Until very modern times, this very fine limestone was also used in art and bookmaking activities in the lithographic procedure (the stone is so very fine, that the surface could be etched to leave an impression for art and/or books, then inked and pressed onto paper to transfer the impression to the paper sheet or page).
In addition to this commercial use, those mining the Solenhofen Limestone noticed that within the very fine surface of the stone, there were on rare occasions not only fossils, but fossils with amazingly fine detail of every detail of the previously living thing.
Even soft bodied things, such as jelly fish, and very small organisms, showed up in the Solenhofen Limestone record. In short, things which are usually considered not capable of fossilization, did fossilize in the Solenhofen Limestone. This included invertebrate and vertebrate animals, as well as plant life. It included birds, fishes, terrestrial plants and protists. This is just an amazing collection of the World's finest fossils.
Lagerstatten, is the German name for location which have provided such excellent fossil preservation. Such sites have provided paleo-botanist and paleontologists with a great source of information for things which there may be no other source on Earth of such living things in the fossil record. Such scientists are able to see details like no other place on Earth and to be able to reconstruct these fossilized plants and animals as they could not do from any other site.
By such reconstruction, scientists study and learn more of the ecosystems by being provided with details for which there is no other source. This assists a more complete picture of the biodiversity of that time in the Earth's history.
One of the most amazing finds from the Solenhofen Limestone is the fossilized Archaeopteryx, which let us see for the first time, a reptile appearing creature, which also had feathers. This is the earliest known bird.