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Mass Grave in China Shows Animals Were Fried by Large Eruption

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Mass Grave in China Shows Animals Were Fried by Large Eruption

animal pompeii

Northeast China’s archaeological treasure trove from the Early Cretaceous Period was created and preserved by a volcanic eruption. Scientists are comparing the eruption and subsequent preservation to that of Mt. Vesuvius in Italy that sent volcanic ash over the entire city of Pompeii. The volcanic ash preserved Pompeii, including the death poses of the people trapped in the blast of the pyroclastic flow.

Known as the Jehol Group, the mass animal grave site in China reveals an equally massive amount of fossils so well-preserved that scientists are rushing to examine them. The fossils have been protected against degradation by layers of volcanic sediments, indicating other volcanic events occurred on top of the first one that killed all animal and plant life in the region.

Jehol Group Preserved by Powerful Pyroclastic Flow from Volcanic Eruption

The ancient ecosystem of Jehol Biota existed around 120 to 130 million years ago. Recently, fossils found in the Jehol Group were loaned to a team of scientists to examine. The team determined that the fossils were indicative of creatures being embedded in the sediment as a result of a fast moving pyroclastic flow(s).

A pyroclastic flow is comprised of hot ash and deadly gas, just like the Pompeii pyroclastic flows that entombed the remains of people in solidified ash forms. Pyroclastic flows can move as fast as 450 mph. The toxic gas temperatures can reach as high as 1,830°F.

A Pyroclastic flow typically travels via gravity that pushes it down volcano hillsides. The gas and hot rock continue to move away from the eruption force in that lateral direction. The rate of speed of the pyroclastic flow depends of the “density of the current, the volcanic output rate, and the gradient of the slope”.

Because the fossils have what appear to be splatter marks of black that streak out from around the bones, researchers surmised the heat was so intense that the animals literally burned to a crisp at the moment of impact.

Like Pompeii, the intense blast of heat captured the animals in “death poses” within the ash that solidified as it cooled. The quality of fossil preservation is being attributed to the subsequent volcanic activity that buried the remains beneath layers and layers of sediment.

ancient ecology

Jehol Beds Discovered over 130 Years Ago

The discovery of the Jehol beds was made public over 130 years ago when the fossil finds were first reported in the 1880s by Arthur Smith Woodward (Natural History Museum in London). His report garnered very little global attention and over the next decades papers would occasionally be published about a specific fossil find.

Still, no one seemed to pay much attention to the amazing size and quality of the fossil bed until the 1990s. That’s when a series of papers were published about the incredible quantity of preserved fossils that were identified as being from a Late Jurassic Age.

The significance of such a find meant that many of the dinosaurs and other fossils at Jehol predated previously discovered dinosaur fossils. The news that dinosaurs existed earlier than believed created a scientific buzz that swept the world.

Soon after, the claim was proved incorrect with the correct age of the fossils being that of a later period. Still, the Jehol Group is highly significant since it covers a duration period of almost 11 million years (between 120-131 million years ago). Some scientists feel confident that this span of time will eventually be extended as more of the massive fossil beds are explored.

The extensive grave site unearthed so far contains:

–> 1,000 invertebrate species
–> 140 vertebrate species.
–> 60 floras and faunas species

These fossils include feathered dinosaurs, early mammals and birds, as well as pterosaurs, amphibians, angiosperms and pollinating insects. Along with animal life, a highly-valued collection of floras and faunas have been identified. That cache is considered one of the best preserved of plant life specimens. Many of the fossils are of species and plant specimens rarely found.

At the time of the volcanic eruption and subsequent creation of the fossil beds, it is believed that the area was located along the Pacific Rim. The lake beds have produced some extraordinarily well-preserved fish and other aquatic specimens also. Most scientists agree that there is more to come and that this is just the beginning of deeper exploration among the Jehol fossil beds.

Image Credits:
(1) Live Science
(2) Ali Catterall via Compfight cc

Originally published on

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