Abstract

Vertebrate fossils are remarkably abundant and exceptionally well preserved within the Upper Cretaceous Maevarano Formation of northwestern Madagascar. The vast majority of these fossils, including all of the currently known bone beds, are entombed within deposits of fine-grained cohesive debris flows. These deposits are typically massive and are characterized by very poor sorting and a significant montmorillonite-dominated silt-clay (mud) fraction ranging from 17% to 46% by weight. Deposition is attributed to recurrent exceptional rainfall events that prompted erosion and flooded ancient channel belts with sediment-laden flows. These extraordinary burial events shielded vertebrate remains from destructive surface processes and also afforded protection for soft tissues. Taphonomic attributes of associated bone concentrations suggest that debris flows had limited transport potential and generally entombed subaerially exposed bone assemblages. The remarkable and recurrent association of bone beds and debris-flow deposits likely reflects marked seasonality in this Late Cretaceous terrestrial ecosystem, with prolonged dry spells prompting mortality and subsequent rains setting debris flows in motion.

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