Small fossils are preserved as phosphatic (carbonate fluorapatite) micro-steinkerns (∼ 0.5 mm diameter) in Upper Ordovician beds of the Cincinnati area. Mollusks are common, along with bryozoan zooecia, echinoderm ossicles, and other taxa. Similar occurrences of Ordovician micromorphic mollusks have been interpreted as ecologically dwarfed and adapted to oxygen-starved conditions, an interpretation with implications for ocean anoxia. An alternative explanation for small phosphatic steinkerns is taphonomic. Stable carbonate fluorapatite selectively filled small voids, thus preserving small fossils, including larval/young mollusks. Reworking concentrated small phosphatic steinkerns from multiple generations while larger, unfilled calcareous shells were destroyed, resulting in small fossils progressively replacing larger fossils. With thin sections and insoluble residues, we document evidence that many of these steinkerns are incomplete (“teilsteinkerns”) recording small parts of larger, normal-sized animals, or juveniles, along with smaller species. This finding suggests that these fossil assemblages are taphonomically, not ecologically, size-limited. Based on the ecology of modern oxygen minimum zones in which shelled mollusks are rare, the presence of abundant shelled organisms actually argues against severe oxygen stress. Our results also imply that the process by which the “small shelly fossils” of the Cambrian were preserved continued into the Ordovician.

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