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Richest marine reptile fossil bed along Africa's South Atlantic coast is dated at 71.5 mya
Date:5/15/2014

Paleontologists at Southern Methodist University have measured the carbon isotopes in marine fossils to precisely date for the first time 30 million years of sediments along Africa's South Atlantic shoreline.

The researchers matched the pattern of ratios of carbon-13 and carbon-12 isotopes in marine fossils from Africa's South Atlantic shoreline to known patterns of carbon ratios in fossils found elsewhere in the world. From that they determined the age of the coastal sediments at a fossil locality near the southern Angolan village of Bentiaba, said paleontologist Christopher Strganac, lead author on the study.

The analysis focused on a sequence of shoreline sediments totaling 140 meters thick. Their age spans a timeline of nearly 30 million years, from 95 million years ago to 68 million years ago. That period was about 40 million years after Africa and South America split, allowing the South Atlantic Ocean to slowly emerge.

The analysis revealed that the richest marine reptile fossil bed on Africa's South Atlantic dated to 71.5 million years ago, he said. This new date at the Bentiaba locality is more than 2 million years older than the estimated date of about 69 million years previously assigned to those marine beds by earlier researchers.

Africa's South Atlantic coast is remarkable in plate tectonics as the place where part of the prehistoric supercontinent Gondwana split 130 million years ago into what we now call Africa and South America.

"The precise age for these rocks allows better understanding of the ancient life and environments at Bentiaba by placing them accurately within the history of the ancient South Atlantic," said Strganac, a doctoral student in SMU's Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences. "It's a benchmark now from the Southern Hemisphere with which we can better understand ancient life at that time."

The precise dating was made possible by new scientific dating techniques. The a
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Contact: Margaret Allen
mallen@smu.edu
214-768-7664
Southern Methodist University
Source:Eurekalert  

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Richest marine reptile fossil bed along Africa's South Atlantic coast is dated at 71.5 mya
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