Two amateur paleontologists have uncovered an important fossil site in southern France. The site contains around 400 fossils from around 470 million years ago. Scientists from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland have studied the site, called the Cabrières Biota, along with teams from around the world. Their research provides new insights into polar ecosystems from the early Ordovician period.

Eric and Sylvie Monceret have been fossil hunting as a hobby for over 20 years. In a mountain region called Montagne Noire in southern France, they made their most significant discovery. The site contained over 400 exceptionally well-preserved fossils from the early Ordovician period, around 470 million years ago.

Many of the fossils show fine details of soft body parts that are rarely preserved. This includes digestive systems and outer skins. Because the fossils are so complete, scientists can learn much about what these ancient animals and plants actually looked like. The location of the site also provides clues about past environments.

At that time in history, this area was very close to the South Pole. Therefore, the fossils reveal what life was like in one of Earth’s most southern regions during the Ordovician period. Conditions were also very warm globally at this time.

Dr. Farid Saleh from the University of Lausanne led a team studying the fossils. They worked with researchers from the French National Center for Scientific Research and groups around the world.

In a paper published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, the scientists described finding arthropods, cnidarians, algae and sponges at the site.

The diversity of species suggests this area served as a refuge for organisms escaping the extreme heat nearer the equator. Dr. Saleh notes Animals back then lived in high-latitude refuges to avoid the extremely hot equatorial temperatures, much like what may be our near future as global warming increases.

This remarkable fossil site will continue to be studied to reveal details of the anatomical structures and relationships between these ancient species.

Using innovative imaging techniques, researchers aim to better understand how these organisms lived 470 million years ago and what they can teach us about climate change in Earth’s deep past.


University of Lausanne | CNRS | Saleh, F., Lustri, L., Gueriau, P. et al. The Cabrières Biota (France) provides insights into Ordovician polar ecosystems. Nat Ecol Evol (2024).

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