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Abstract

The Lagerstätte at Ashfall Fossil Beds—the result of supervolcanic eruption—preserves a mass-death assemblage of articulated skeletons of reptiles, birds, and mammals in a 3-m-thick pure volcanic ash near the base of the Cap Rock Member of the Ash Hollow Formation in Antelope County, Nebraska. The ash originated from the Bruneau-Jarbidge caldera in southwest Idaho, some 1600 km away, and it is geochemically matched with the Ibex Hollow tuff (11.93 Ma).

Ashfall is a critical Clarendonian North American Land Mammal Age locality. More than 20 taxa—predominantly medium- and large-sized ungulates preserved in three dimensions—are buried in a late Miocene paleodepression (waterhole) filled with tephra reworked from the landscape by wind and water. Smaller taxa, such as birds, turtles, and moschids, died shortly after the pyroclastic airfall event and their remains are preserved in the basal ash. Remains from the medium-sized ungulates (equids and camelids) are separated from the underlying smaller skeletons by several centimeters of ash, indicating that these animals died at a slightly later time. In turn, more than 100 mostly intact skeletons of the barrel-bodied rhinoceros, Teleoceras major, overlie the remains of the medium-sized taxa. Pathologic bone on the limbs and skulls of the horses, camels, and rhinos suggests short-term survival and slow death several weeks or months after the pyroclastic airfall event. Exquisite preservation in an information-rich context allows aspects of the behavior, social structure, intraspecific variability, and pathology of extinct species to be reconstructed.

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