Abstract

The Furongian Orsten-type fossil Lagerstätte in the Alum Shale Formation of Sweden is an extraordinary deposit known for its detailed, three-dimensional preservation of the soft parts of small animal carcasses which have been replaced by calcium phosphate and occur in organic-rich nodular limestone. The exact cause and mechanism of this unusual fossil preservation, however, particularly the source of phosphorus, which plays a key role, remains unknown. Detailed observation in the Agnostus pisiformis Zone in the Backeborg section (Kinnekulle district) reveals that the phosphatocopine crustaceans showing soft-part preservation occur only in a few thin (<3 cm) layers containing abundant fecal pellets (pellet beds). Development of cross lamination suggests that the pellet beds were formed by low density sediment-gravity flow. Orsten-type preservation has been attributed to high phosphate levels in global marine waters during the Cambrian period; however, wavelength-dispersive X-ray and X-ray diffractometry analyses reveal that the Orsten limestones and surrounding shale were generally poor in phosphorus, which was mostly concentrated in the fecal pellets. The small animal carcasses preserved in such deposits were phosphatized during early diagenesis owing to the high local phosphorus levels of the accumulated fecal pellets. Searches for such cesspool-type preservation may yield further discoveries of Orsten-type fossil Lagerstätten in other strata of various ages.

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