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The Rhynie chert is an Early Devonian Lagerstätte found near the village of Rhynie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, containing exceptionally preserved plant, fungus and animal material petrified in three dimensions by covering with fast-setting volcanic minerals. The bulk of the fossil bed consists of primitive plants (which had water-conducting cells and sporangia, but no true leaves), along with arthropods: Collembola, Opiliones (harvestmen), pseudoscorpions, Acari (mites), and the extinct, spider-like trigonotarbids. Fungi and lichens have also been found.
This fossil bed is remarkable for two reasons. Firstly, the age of the site (Early Devonian, formed about 396 million years ago) makes this one of the earliest sites anywhere containing terrestrial (as opposed to marine) fossils, coinciding with the earliest stages of the colonisation of land by plants and animals. Secondly, these cherts are famous for their exceptional state of ultrastructural preservation, with individual cell walls easily visible in polished specimens. Stomata have been counted and lignin remnants detected in the plant material, and the breathing apparatus of trigonotarbids (known as book lungs) can be seen in cross-sections. Threads assumed to be fungal hyphae can be seen entering plant material, either acting as decomposers or mycorrhizal symbionts.
It seems that silica-rich water rose rapidly and petrified this early terrestrial ecosystem in situ almost instantaneously. Although the fossils are famous, the actual fossil bed lies under at least 1 metre of overburden, in a single small field (which is also protected by being an SSSI), so is effectively inaccessible to collectors.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Rhynie_chert". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|