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Definition: Lagerstätten

At a Glance

Lagerstätten (sing. lagerstätte) are fossil localities which are highly remarkable for for either their diversity or quality of preservation; sometimes both. Sometimes the phrase konservat-lagerstätten is seen in all its polysyllabic glory, though this seems like somewhat pretentious over-kill to me.


There are two famous Cambrian age lagerstätten known to almost everybody with an interest in paleontology – the Burgess Shale in Canada, and Chengjiang in China.

Other very well-known lagerstätten include the Green River Formation of Wyoming, USA, which has produced countless fossil fish for the commercial fossil market, the Solnhofen Limestone of Germany, famous primarily for the Archeopteryx fossils found there.

However, there are many more and I shall attempt to describe, or at least list, some of them on this site.

Listing by Age

The following table lists a few basic facts about some well-known lagerstätten. It is arranged in usual geological fashion: age increases down the table.


Related Topics

Further Reading

  • Paleobiology II - Briggs & Crowther

Related Pages

Other Web Sites

15-45 Ma ?Eocene to Miocene Dominican Amber Dominican Republic; small animals, mostly arthropds, and plant fragments preserved in amber; Poinar & Poinar 1999
  Eocene Grube Messel Shale Frankfurt, Germany; lacustrine (lake deposits); fossil plants, vertebrates and insects; Franzen 1990
52 Ma Eocene Monte Bolca (Mt. Bolca) Near Verona, Italy; tropical marine lagoon. Exceptional preservation of fishes (>200 different kinds), plants, leaves and rare insects. Known since the 17th century. Also see the Musei della Lessinia web page (in Italian). [With thanks to Giorgio Bertoni for this information.]
  Eocene Green River Formation Wyoming; lacustrine (lake deposits); fossil fish (~18 different kinds) and other vertebrates; Grande 1984
150-120 Ma Cretaceous (Barremian?) Yixian Formation Barremian? of Sihetun, Liaoning Province, China; true birds, dinosaurs, and several of the so-called ‘feathered dinosaurs’
  Cretaceous Hajoula Limestone Lebanon; sublithographic limestone; fossil arthropods and fish
  Cretaceous (Campanian) Pierre Shale North Dakota, USA; arthropods, vertebrates, including mosasaurs
  Cretaceous Sierra de Montsech Spain; fossil spiders, insects, crustaceans and vertebrates; Selden 1989
  Cretaceous Santana Formation Brazil; fossil fish and pterosaurs (with wing preservation); Martill 1988, 1990
  Early Cretaceous Jehol Group Northeastern China; finds include the famous "feathered" dinosaurs, early birds, putative basal angiosperms, and primitive mammals. Detailed soft-tissue preservation of organisms is known.
  Late Jurassic
(Lower Titonian)
Solnhofen Limestone Altmuhl Valley, Bavaria, Germany; fine-grained lagoonal sediments; most famous for the Archeopteryx and Compsognathus fossils found there, though these two together amount to only nine out the many thousands of specimens known from the Solnhofen; Barthel et al. 1990, Viohl 1985.

(Read more.)

  Late Jurassic Morrison Formation North American states of Wyoming and Colorado
  Late Jurassic Purbeck Beds England, esp. near Drulston Bay; essentially modern, temperate insect fauna including dragonflies, locusts, grasshoppers, butterflies, ants and aphids; elsewhere ("Beckel’s Mammal Pit") numerous mammal species representing five orders and having similarities with those of the contemporaneous Morrison Formation of Wyoming and Colorado
  Middle Jurassic Stonefield Slates Stonefield, Oxfordshire, England; bed of sandy slate 30-45 cm thick; surface occurrences exhausted and the underground mine is now closed; most important for a large number of small mammal jaws and teeth representing three orders: Multituberculata, Triconodonta and Pantotheria; also pterosaurs, crocodilians, invertebrates and a possible dicotyledonous angiosperm
  Middle Jurassic Christian Malford England; soft-body preservation of squids; Allison 1988
  Early Jurassic Holzmaden Holzmaden, approx. 30 km east of Stuttgart, Germany; fossil reptiles - noteably ichthyosaurs, crustaceans, cephalopods; Hauff & Hauff 1981
  Early Jurassic Posidonia Shale Germany
Triassic Solite Quarry Notable for fish, reptiles and, especially, insect fossils; Fraser & Henderson 2006
  Triassic Gres à Voltzia France; deltaic deposits; terrestrial plants, insects, plus aquatic crustaceans and fish; Briggs & Gall 1990; Fraser & Henderson 2006
  Early Permian Wellington Shale Near Elmo, Kansas; insects
  Late Carboniferous to Triassic Karoo System Southern Africa; various taxa, most famously a rich mammal-like reptile fauna from the Beaufort Sandstone (~middle Permian to near the end of the Triassic).
  Late Carboniferous Mazon Creek Illinois; deltaic and near-shore marine
318 Ma Late Early Carboniferous Bear Gulch Montana; estuarine; notable for fish and arthropod fossils
  Early Carboniferous Loch Humphrey Burn Southern Scotland; an exceptionally well-preserved Lower Carboniferous terrestrial ecosystem, containing several successive plant bearing horizons within a volcanic terrain.
  Early Carboniferous Scottish ‘Shrimp Beds’ Scotland; crustaceans, conodont animals, tomopterid worms, fish; Briggs & Clarkson 1983, 1985, Briggs et al. 1991
  Early Carboniferous East Kirkton Scotland; hot spring deposits; plants; arthropods (scorpions); amphibians and reptiles; Rolfe 1988
360 Ma Late Devonian (Fammenian) Cleveland Shale Near Cleveland, Ohio, USA; a vertebrate lagerstätte containing articulated specimens of the cladodont sharks Cladoselache (several species), Ctenacanthus compressus, and the coronodontid shark  Diademodus hydei (the holotype and only specimen of this shark); although some fossils occur in the shale itself, most occur in flattened discoidal dolomitic concretions which preserve soft tissues, such as muscle fibers, outlines of the dermal membrane of the body and fins, and ingested prey. Two Cladoselache specimens, one of C. fyleri and one of C. kepleri, also have preserved kidneys. Two specimens of the arthrodire Dunkleosteus terrelli, an articulated specimen from a concretion and one in cone-in-cone, also have a pectoral fin partially preserved. (Thanks to Douglas Dunn, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, for the detailed information.)
Late Devonian Canowindra Read more.
  Late Devonian (Early Frasnian) Escuminac Bay Eastern Canada, near the village of Miguasha; anaspids, placoderms, and other fishes including Eusthenopteron; Schultz & Cloutier 1996, Clack 2003 (p. 87)
  Middle Devonian Gilboa New York State; spiders and pseudoscorpions; Shear et al. 1984, Selden et al. 1991
  Early Devonian (Late Pragian to Early Esmian) Hunsrück Slate (Hunsrückschiefer) Rhine and Moselle Valleys, Germany, especially around Bundenbach and Gemünden; diverse marine organisms, notably some spectacular asteroids and arthropods, including the famous problematic forms Mimetaster hexagonalis and Vachonisia rogeri (both marrellomorphs), preserved by pyrite replacement, are periodically encountered in the course of mining for roofing slate; Bartels et al. 1998.
  Early Devonian Rhynie Chert Scotland; hot spring deposits; early terrestrial ecosystem; Selden & Edwards 1989
  Middle Silurian Lesmahagow Scotland; arthropods and fish; Ritchie 1985
  Early Silurian Waukesha Wisconsin; arthropods and conodont animals; Mikulie et al. 1985
425 Ma Early Silurian Herefordshire Herefordshire, England; soft bodied animals, arthropods including a sea spider (Siveter et al. 2004); Briggs et al. 1996
425 Ma Early Silurian Fiddler’s Green Formation New York; eurypterid beds
  Early Silurian Much Wenlock Limestone The Much Wenlock Limestone Formation of Britain reveals one of the most diverse, and well-preserved fossil assemblages known, with well over 600 species of invertebrates recorded. The Much Wenlock Limestone Formation of Wales and the Welsh Borderland contains a diverse fauna of well over 600 species (mainly crinoids, corals, brachiopods, trilobites, algae and bryozoans) deposited during the early Silurian when this area was covered by a relatively warm, shallow shelf sea. The Crinoidea account for around 10% of this number with an estimated 35 genera and 56 species.
  Late Ordovician Soom Shale  
  Early Ordovician ‘Beecher’s Bed’ Utica, New York State; pyritised trilobites with appendages; Cisne 1972
  Late Cambrian ‘Orsten’ Beds Sweden; Walossek & Müller 1997; Maas & Waloszek 2001
‘Orsten’ is a special type of anthraconitic, organic-rich, concretionary limestone which is intercalated in the Upper Cambrian Alum Shale of southern Sweden (Västergötland and Isle of Öland). In most localities it contains abundant megafossils, mostly trilobites.
  Middle Cambrian Andrarum Limestone Late Middle Cambrian, Sweden; trilobites; Hou et al. 1999
  Middle Cambrian Wheeler Shale House Range, Millard County, Utah; trilobites
"The slopes of Swasey Peak in the House Range ... are composed of a rock layer known as the Wheeler Shale, with the overlying Marjum Formation forming the top of the peak. The Wheeler Shale and Marjum Formation, strata of Middle Cambrian age, are exposed throughout the House Range and nearby mountain ranges west of the town of Delta, Utah. ... Much of the Wheeler Shale is quite unfossiliferous, but certain layers contain abundant trilobites and other shelly fossils. The Wheeler Shale and Marjum Formation also contain a diverse biota of soft-bodied fossils, including many of the same taxa found in the more famous Burgess Shale" (University of California, Berkeley, web page).
~505 Ma Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale British Columbia, Canada; near-shore marine; arthropods
The the Burgess Shale fauna "demonstrates that the animals lived in distinct communities characterized by predator/preyrelationships seen today; when combined with the Chengjiang fauna it reveals the intermittent tempo ofevolution; and when compared to animals living today, it provides an indication of the effects of massextinction over the past half billion years" (Collins: Geology and Biology of the Burgess Shale).

(Read more.)

515-520 Ma Early Cambrian Chengjiang (Read more.)
515-520 Ma Early Cambrian Sirius Passet (Read more.)
570 Ma Vendian Doushantuo Formation (Read more.)
Table 1: List of well-known lagerstätten by age.
Concluding remarks ....


Bartels, C.; Briggs, D.E.G.; Brassel, G. 1998: The fossils of the Hunsrück Slate - Marine life in the Devonian. Cambridge, p. 1-309.

Barthel, W.; Morris, S.C.; Swinburne, N.C. 1990: Solnhofen, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press.

Briggs; Clark; Clarkson 1991

Briggs; Clarkson 1983

Briggs; Clarkson 1985

Briggs; Gall 1990

Briggs, Derek E.G.; Siveter, David J.; Siveter, Derek J. 1996: Soft bodied fossils from a Silurian volcaniclastic deposit. Nature 382: 248-250.

Cisne 1972

Clack, Jennifer A. 2003: Gaining Ground. Indiana University Press, 369 pp.

Franzen 1990

Fraser, N.; Henderson, D. (illus.) 2006: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Indiana University Press, 1-307.

Grande L. 1984: Paleontology of the Green River Formation. Bulletin of the Geological Survey of Wyoming no. 63, 333 pp.

Hauff; Hauff 1981

Hou et al. 1999

Maas, Andreas; Waloszek, Dieter 2001: Cambrian Derivatives of the Early Arthropod Stem Lineage, Pentastomids, Tardigrades and Lobopodians - An 'Orsten' Perspective. Zoologischer Anzeiger 240: 451-459.

Martill 1988

Martill 1990

Mikulie et al. 1985

Poinar, George Jr.; Poinar, Roberta 1999: The amber forest: A reconstruction of a vanished world. Princeton, 239 pp.

Ritchie, A. 1985: Ainiktozoon loganense Scourfield, a Protochordate? from the Silurian of Scotland. Alcheringa 9: 117-142.

Rolfe 1988

Schultz & Cloutier 1996 (full ref. in Clack 2003)

Selden 1989

Selden; Edwards 1989

Selden et al. 1991

Shear et al. 1984

Siveter, Derek J.; Sutton, Mark D.; Briggs, Derek E.G.; Siveter, David J. 2004: A Silurian sea spider. Nature 431: 978-980.

Viohl, G. 1985: Geology of the Solnhofen Lithographic Limestone and the Habitat of Archeopteryx. In Hecht, M.K.; Ostrom, J.H.; Viohl, G.; Wellnhofer, P. (eds.) 1985: The Beginnings of Birds. Eichstatt. Freude des Jura-Museums Eichstätt, Willibaldsburg, pp. 31-44.

Walossek, D.; Müller, K.J. 1997: Cambrian ‘Orsten’-Type Arthropods and the Phylogeny of Crustacea.  In Fortey, R.A.; Thomas, R.H. (eds.) 1997: Arthropod Relationships. Systematics Association Special Volume Series 55, pp. 139-153.

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