London: A newly-discovered treasure trove of ancient fossils has given a big boost to scientists` efforts to understand how life on the Earth recovered from the most catastrophic mass extinction of all time.
A haul of nearly 20,000 fossils that belonged to an entire ancient marine ecosystem have been found buried in a mountain in China.
The perfectly preserved skeletons of shellfish, sea urchins and bigger sea predators belong to an ecosystem that emerged in the wake of massive volcanic eruptions some 250 million years ago, a Daily Mail report says, quoting the research journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The sustained eruptions in the Permian geological period almost wiped out life on Earth and caused extreme global warming, the report says.
Only one in 10 species survived, and these formed the basis for the recovery of life in the subsequent Triassic period.
The fossil site at Luoping in Yunnan Province has provided a new window on that recovery. Studies found that it took over 10 million years for a fully-functioning ecosystem to develop.
The research is led by scientists from Chengdu Geological Centre in China. Professor Michael Benton, a palaeontologist from Bristol University, Britain, co-authored the study.
The fossils were found in a seam of limestone that was 50 feet thick and was created when ocean sediments solidified millions of years ago, the report says.
The fossils date to a period when south China was a large island just north of the equator with tropical climate. More than half of the fossils remain intact, including soft tissues protected by bacteria that sealed off the animals` bodies after they died.