World-Class Fossil Sites
Looking Back Through Lagerstätten
Introducing these world-class fossil sites and what they mean for science.
Ediacara Hills, Australia (600 Ma)
From the University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP), an introduction to the soft-bodied fossils of the latest Precambrian.
Mistaken Point, Canada (570 Ma)
Organisms of Vendian age lived in an ancestor of the Atlantic Ocean where Newfoundland sits today. Yale University has some images of these strange creatures.
Mistaken Point: The Discovery
The man who discovered the Mistaken Point fauna, S. B. Misra, presents his original papers and images. A must for Vendian scholars.
Chengjiang, China (Mount Maotian) (545 Ma)
A few pictures of the perfectly preserved Early Cambrian fossils of this important locality are in this article from GSA Today.
The International Commission on Cambrian Stratigraphy hosts this informative page on the Chengjiang locality and its fossils.
Emu Bay, Australia (~540 Ma)
Chris Nedin presents photos from this deposit on Kangaroo Island, South Australia.
Burgess Shale, Canada (530 Ma)
A good central site about this famous deposit by Andrew MacRae of the University of Calgary.
The Burgess Shale: Hidden Treasure in the Canadian Rockies
A straightforward description of the Burgess Shale from the Hooper Virtual Museum with many pictures of the creatures as they appeared in life.
Fossils of the Burgess Shale
Some of Yale University's collection is available for viewing.
"Orsten" Stones, Sweden (500 Ma)
These nodules preserve tiny eggs and larvae of Late Cambrian crustaceans. A hard-core research page from the University of Ulm, Germany, includes 3D images.
Winneshiek, Iowa (~465 Ma)
A newly discovered lagerstätte with conodonts, jawless fish, worms and many other well-preserved organisms, reported by the Iowa Geological Survey.
Beecher's Trilobite Bed, New York (ca. 450 Ma)
Ordovician trilobites with all their limbs and muscles visible, preserved in pyrite, are shown at Yale University's site.
Soom Shale, South Africa (435 Ma)
The same Late Ordovician rocks that make up Table Mountain yield whole conodonts, eurypterids, soft-shelled trilobites and other rarities.
Rochester Shale, England (425 Ma)
The city of Dudley was famous for its Silurian trilobites ("Dudley bugs") at the dawn of geology. The city put up this page.
Rhynie Cherts, Scotland (395 Ma)
A Scottish meadow hides this site of the very first land ecosystem from Early Devonian time. The Web site, full of photos and information, is at the University of Münster.
Hunsruck Slate, Germany (390 Ma)
Early Devonian sea creatures are perfectly preserved here in pyrite in the Hunsrückschiefer.
Crawfordsville, Indiana (ca. 340 Ma)
Early Mississippian crinoids and trilobites are preserved in pyrite. Yale University has an important collection.
Bear Gulch, Montana (318 Ma)
Fishes, sharks, coelacanths, sponges, worms and many other inhabitants of a tropical Mississippian sea are preserved in limestone. A scholarly article (PDF) by James Hagadorn.
Mazon Creek, Illinois (300 Ma)
This famous locality has yielded thousands of beautiful fossils of soft-bodied organisms from the Upper Carboniferous. Lots of pictures.
Mazon Creek Fossils
Part of Yale University's collection.
Bickershaw/Westhoughton, England (ca. 290 Ma)
Lyall Anderson is excavating spiders, eurypterids, and other exceptional Carboniferous fossils from these sites in northwest England.
Wellington Formation, Kansas and Oklahoma (~280 Ma)
More than 150 Lower Permian insect species have been documented here, as reported by researcher Roy Beckenmeyer.
Holzmaden, Germany (190 Ma)
Some exquisite Jurassic sea fossils are shown at the Hauff Museum site in Holzmaden. Poke around this site to see all that's available. The public can dig at the Holzmaden quarry.
Solnhofen Limestone, Germany (155 Ma)
A quick introduction, with lots of pictures, of this classic Jurassic fossil site from the UCMP site.
Solnhofen in Detail
The Hooper Virtual Museum hosts this more expansive site about the Solnhofen deposits and their fossils.
Auca Mahuevo, Argentina (80 Ma)
Thousands of Cretaceous dinosaur eggs, complete with embryos, were found here in 1997. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County's scientists published this paper on them.
Fox Hills, South Dakota (70 Ma)
Ammonites and other Cretaceous mollusks are still shiny with nacre thanks to their unique preservation. Images from Yale University's collection.
Green River Formation, Wyoming-Colorado (50 Ma)
Large lakes supported Eocene fish and other life where the middle Rocky Mountains rise today. Fossil Butte National Monument in Wyoming preserves a good chunk of these fossil beds.
Green River Formation Insect Fossils
Collector David Kohls gave the Smithsonian a huge collection of Green River material. The slide show of insects is endless.
Green River Fish
Dig your own at Warfield Quarries in Wyoming.
Green River Insects
More than a dozen of these rarities from the Worldwide Museum of Natural History.
Axel Heiberg Island, Canada (50 Ma)
Perhaps the most amazing fossils on Earth, the Eocene treetrunks of this Arctic island can still be burned. An exhibit from the Hooper Virtual Natural History Museum.
Messel Oil Shale, Germany (49 Ma)
This locality, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, preserves even microscopic Eocene fossils.
Online show of early Cenozoic fossils from the Messel pit (in German).
"The treasures of Messel"
Patrick Barkham of the Guardian visits the Messel pit and posts an engaging account of this scientific treasure.
Florissant, Colorado (35 Ma)
Another great lake in the Rockies preserved amazing insect and plant fossils. The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument site has a good online museum.
These beautiful specimens from Yale University's collection make up for the lack of pictures at the National Monument site.
Fossil Lake Enspel, Germany (26 Ma)
Results from this recently discovered lagerstatt are still behind the paywall in scientific journals, but Brian Switek gave us a glimpse of one highlight: perfect frog skeletons with their last meals intact.
Ashfall, Nebraska (10 Ma)
Where a huge volcanic eruption buried whole herds of Miocene animals, a new state park houses their perfectly preserved remains.
Fairmead Landfill, California (0.8-0.5 Ma)
A growing collection of Irvingtonian fossils from near Fresno.
La Brea Tar Pits, California (0.04 Ma)
The Ice Age fossils of Los Angeles are a longtime tourist attraction. This is the site of the Page Museum, which sits next to the pits.
Petroleum Soup: The La Brea Tar Pits
A clear, well-illustrated exhibit from the Hooper Virtual Natural History Museum.
The La Brea Tar Pits
The University of California Museum of Paleontology also has an extensive exhibit.