German Lagerstätten is Not an Imported Pilsner

No not beer. Lagerstätten, specifically Konservat-Lagerstätten, is a term used to describe fossils showing exceptional preservation usually including soft body parts. You are probably familiar with a number of these exceptional fossil deposits: Messel (Eocene), Solnhofen (Upper Jurassic), Burgess Shale (lowest Cambrian), and as described in this month's book, the Hunsrück Slate (Lower Devonian).

Cambridge University Press has issued Number 3 in the Cambridge Paleobiology Series, The Fossils of the Hunsrück Slate, Marine Life in the Devonian. The 1998 book was written by Christopher Bartels of the German Mining Museum, Derek E. G. Briggs of the Department of Geology, University of Bristol, and the retired Günter Brassel. Fossils of the Hunsrück Slate is updated and revised from the original German work Fossilien im Hunsrückschiefer. Documente des Meereslebens im Devon, 1990, by Bartels and Brassel. This 309 page hardcover book is priced at $68.00. You should be able to avoid the additional $4.00 shipping charge by ordering it through one of the better local book stores.

If you are unfamiliar with fossils from the Hunsrück Slate I'll try a brief description. The slate itself is a black slate which has been used for centuries as roofing slates. One of the oldest known sites using these slates for roofing is a 259 AD Roman dwelling near Koblenz. The most famous locality for exceptional preservation is around the towns of Bundenbach and Gemünden near the Rhine river in western Germany. Many of the fossils in this region are partially preserved in pyrite. Pyritic preservation and the use of x-rays has allowed for the discovery of soft body part preservation.

The most commonly seen fossils from the Hunsrück Slate in Museums and at fossil dealers are some of the more common(!) crinoids and asteroids. The largest number of species known from here are indeed echinoderms but sponges, corals, bryozoans, conulariids, ctenophores (comb jellies), gastropods, bivalves, nautiloids, ammonites, coleoids (squid), tentaculitoids, brachiopods, annelids (worms), arthropods (including trilobites and other very strange creatures), echinoderms (including homalozoans, blastoids, cystoids, crinoids, edrioasteroids, starfish, brittle stars, sea cucumbers, and urchins), vertebrates (four early types of fish - agnathans, placoderms, acanthodians, and sarcopterygerians), trace fossils, and plants. That's quite a list.

Part I of Fossils of the Hunsrück Slate covers history of the slate mining in chapter 1 along with the collecting localities. This is another "don't pack your bags yet" collecting area. The important sites are protected by the German government and are active or abandoned underground mines. It appears that you can't collect without a permit or connection. The slate does outcrop at the surface but weathering of the most important pyrite destroys the specimens. Chapter two describes paleogeography, plate tectonics, and the sedimentary environment. The last chapter in this section covers paleoecology and preservation. The detailed explanation of pyrite formation during fossilization is technical but well worth reading.

Part II is by far the largest portion of the book as it covers all of the fossils known from the Hunsrück Slate. Plants are dealt with in the eight page Chapter 4. Sponges through Bryozoans covers the thirty pages of Chapter 5. Chapter 6 describes the annelids and the arthropods in 47 pages. Echinoderms take up 71 pages. Vertebrates and trace fossils together only occupy 24 pages.

This long midsection is not presented as dry technical descriptions of fossils. Information is included about the animals and their life habits as well.

The final section, Part III, deals with collecting and preparation techniques and techniques for modern analysis. Preparation does require special techniques and skill to prevent destruction of the fossils. Many of the fossils with soft part preservation must be seen with x-radiographs.

Fossils of the Hunsrück Slate ends with a list of known taxa from the area and a lengthy bibliography.

Perhaps unfortunately (or not) this is a book intended for professionals and advanced amateurs. There is no glossary included but technical terms do pop up. Other than these technical words the remainder is written in easily understood language. There is much that can be learned from Fossils of the Hunsrück Slate even if you need to skip over a few tough words. Fossils of the Hunsrück Slate is full of outstanding black and white photographs and x-radiographs. Line drawings are included for the reader where needed to assist in interpreting the photographs. Sometimes these drawings appear to be used to show reconstructions when the known original fossils are fragmentary.

This is very readable account of this famous Lagerstätten and well worth your time. To my knowledge it is the only such book available on this very important site.

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