An outcrop Dr. Judge would love (Upper Cretaceous of southern Israel)

July 5th, 2013

WadiHavarimDragFold070513MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–Wooster Geologists Oscar Mmari’s Independent Study project on the Late Cretaceous phosphorites in the Negev has become multidimensional. His most interesting section is in Wadi Hawarim, where we returned today with Yoav Avni for additional observations and measurements. We are now doing a bit of structural geology that Dr. Shelley Judge would appreciate. In this view above, the dark resistant unit on the left is the lower silicified portion of the Mishash Formation (Upper Cretaceous). Even though it looks like an igneous intrusion, these are sedimentary beds folded so that they are vertical in attitude. On the right you may be able to make out Oscar standing on Mishash beds that are almost horizontal. How does this make sense?

What happened was faulting on the farthest left in this view above. A normal fault perpendicular to this screen has its upthrown block on the left and downthrown block on the right (where Oscar is standing). The Mishash silicified rocks are part of a drag fold as the blocks moved against each other. It appears that this faulting took place while the rest of the Mishash was still accumulating because debris from the silicified layers was spread over the phosphorites as they developed. There may also have been a shallowing of sealevel indicated by a layer colonized by shrimp who made Thalassinoides burrow systems that became inundated with siliciclastic sediment likely derived from the fault scarp.

OscarWadiHavarim070513In this view into Wadi Havarim, the whitish phosphorite beds of the Mishash Formation are in the center above a dark conglomerate and below the yellowish Ghareb Formation.

OscarAtWork070513Oscar is sitting on Mishash conglomerate taking careful notes on this complex geological scenario. He’s going to need his skills in structural geology, sedimentology, stratigraphy and paleontology for this project!

Phosphate success while Jurassic bryozoans remain elusive

July 4th, 2013

OscarOZsection070413MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–Oscar Mmari celebrated on his second outcrop today the completion of his stratigraphic columns for his project on the phosphate-bearing portions of the Mishash Formation in the Negev of southern Israel. It is certainly the least pretty section we’ve worked with because it is in the industrialized mining zone near the eastern outlet of Makhtesh Gadol, but we got the work done. This particular place is at N 30.94072°, E 35.03784° (for those of you following along). Look at this place on Google Earth and you’ll see how extensive the phosphate mines are here. Oscar is not yet done with fieldwork because we will come back to his sections for further observations and collecting.

LizzieStephMatmor070413Later in the afternoon we visited outcrops of the Matmor Formation in the northern part of Makhtesh Gadol. Just above Lizzie Reinthal’s right shoulder above (she’s in the center) the outlet from the makhtesh is visible as a break in the surrounding walls. Steph Bosch on the right is bravely hiding her disappointment because after lots of careful peering at the encrusted undersides of beautiful fossil corals, the four of us failed to come up with a single bryozoan. This is curious in itself. The encrusters are well preserved and diverse. (Olev Vinn and I wrote a paper on the various serpulid and sabellid worm tubes; Cezary Krawczynski and I have a paper on the thecideide brachiopods from here.) Every place we think we will see bryozoans we find instead worm tubes and calcisponges. The few Matmor bryozoans collected on previous field trips have been on echinoderm ossicles and holdfasts. Since echinoderms are common where corals are not, and vice versa, it may be that the bryozoans preferred the same conditions the crinoids and echinoids did. Later on this trip we will thus have a full-court press in the crinoid thickets and echinoid-rich beds.

PrettyCorals070413Still, the corals here are gorgeous. Here are two varieties of typical colonial scleractinians we saw today. The one on the right has all sorts of encrusters in the nooks and crannies between its corallites. The corals here are remarkably well preserved considering that their original aragonitic skeletons have been replaced by calcite. These are a bit of consolation for the missing bryozoans!

A long, hot day with Cretaceous phosphorites in the Negev

July 3rd, 2013

OscarHawarimOutcrop070313MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–This was one of Oscar’s big field days. He is shown above at his first exposure of the phosphatic zone of the Mishash Formation (Campanian, Upper Cretaceous) exposed at Wadi Hawarim (N 30.84423°, E 34.75742°). We see here the entire section from the top of a phosphate-cemented conglomerate to the base of the overlying Ghareb Formation (the brown marls at the top of the image). Oscar is working to understand the complicated stratigraphy and origin hypotheses for these phosphorites. You may be able to make out some of the red ribbons we placed while measuring the section.

HawarimMishash070313This is another view of the Mishash phosphorites at Wadi Hawarim, with the Ghareb Formation in the upper left. We have six measured, sampled and described members in just under eight meters of section here. The phosphates are finely disseminated in some of the chalky units and bound up in a layer of nodules at the top.

ParticleDinosaur070313A conglomerate within the phosphate zone of the Mishash has an interesting collection of clasts, including this large chunk of reptile bone, possibly from a dinosaur. (Which is what we always say about large bone bits from the Mesozoic!)

SharkTeeth070313While Oscar and I worked on his measured section, Lizzie and Steph looked for shark teeth in the conglomerate unit. They did very well. Above is a sample of what they found. So Andrew Retzler — any ideas about what kind of sharks are represented by these tiny teeth? It looks like a small tooth in the lower row is Squalicorax kaupi.

RotemAmfertNegevMeeting070313Near the end of the day we went to one of the phosphate mine and enrichment plant owned and operated by Rotem Amfert Negev Ltd. This was a treat for Oscar who has strong interests in the economic geology of mining. We heard an excellent presentation by the chief geologist of the mine about the value of phosphate, the main markets for the their products, and the geological setting of these Negev phosphorites.

PhosphateMine070313Afterwards we visited the active part of the mine, shown above. Since about 2005 the mine has been restoring land as fast as it mines it. On the right is the working face of the mine, the white unit on the floor has most of the phosphate in it and is being ground up by the vehicle slowing moving across it. On the far left are piles of overburden and “interburden” (unusable material between the three phosphate-rich layers) ready to fill in the pit once the phosphorite is removed. We also saw those parts of the area where the original topography and (they hope) cryptobiotic top soil has been restored.

It was a good day, though a long one. Tomorrow we will celebrate the Fourth of July with yet another Negev work day. Maybe we’ll have a special American-themed dinner afterwards.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Shark teeth! (Upper Cretaceous of Israel)

December 2nd, 2012

This week’s set of exquisite fossils is presented in honor of Andrew Retzler (’11) who has just had his Senior Independent Study thesis at Wooster published in the journal Cretaceous Research: “Chondrichthyans from the Menuha Formation (Late Cretaceous: Santonian–Early Campanian) of the Makhtesh Ramon region, southern Israel“. The above beauties are a mix of Scapanorhynchus teeth found in the southwestern portion of Makhtesh Ramon during Andrew’s study in the summer of 2010. We were ably assisted by Micah Risacher and Yoav Avni with these collections.

Andrew identified at least eight shark species and two other fish species in the Menuha Formation around Makhtesh Ramon. Most of the teeth are from a soft yellowish chalk with relatively few other fossils (mostly oysters, echinoids, foraminiferans and traces). They show that the Menuha was deposited in a shallow, open-shelf environment on the flanks of the developing Ramon anticline. So, they not only provide new information about Cretaceous sharks in the Middle East, they help sort out a complex stratigraphic-structural problem.

Well done, Andrew! (Andrew is currently a graduate student at Idaho State University. He is working on the Late Devonian Alamo Impact Event in Nevada with Dr. Leif Tapanila.)

Tooth of the shark Cretalamna appendiculata. Composite photo by Andrew Retzler.

Scapanorhynchus rapax, another shark species. Composite photo by Andrew Retzler.

An elegant Scapanorhynchus texana tooth.

Looking south at one of the productive exposures of the Menuha Formation (shown as the red dot) at Makhtesh Ramon. This is one of those amazing Google Earth images.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A new crinoid species from the Middle Jurassic of southern Israel

November 11th, 2012

About a year ago I showed my good friend Bill Ausich (The Ohio State University) hundreds of crinoid pieces from the Matmor Formation (Jurassic, Callovian) exposed in Hamakhtesh Hagadol, southern Israel. We knew the crinoid represented by all these pieces belonged to the genus Apiocrinites Miller, 1821, but we could not place the species. Bill, crinoid genius that he is, then figured out this was a new species. We now have the pleasure of introducing Apiocrinites negevensis Ausich & Wilson, 2012.

This species of Apiocrinites, the first described from Jurassic tropical latitudes, is distinguished by features in its calyx (or crown or head). A. negevensis has a narrow radial facet and adjacent arms are not in lateral contact. It also has large aboral cup plates. (And it is gorgeous.) In the above image from Figure 1 of our paper, the A. negevensis holotype is shown as 1-3; 1 is a lateral view, radial plate missing from either side of the single preserved radial plate; 2, radial facet; 3, inside of cup with cavity extending to proximale; 4, a partial cup with proximale, one complete and one broken basal plates, and one broken radial plate (note numerous barnacle borings, Rogerella Saint-Seine, 1951, on this specimen).

A holdfast of Apiocrinites negevensis that was attached to the underside of a coral. (From Figure 1 of Ausich and Wilson, 2012.)

Apiocrinites negevensis parts in the  field (Matmor Formation, Hamakhtesh Hagadol, southern Israel). See this post for a discussion of our fieldwork.

The taxonomic category we know as the Crinoidea was established in 1821 by J.S. Miller, who separated the stalked echinoderms from all the others. At the same time he erected the genus Apiocrinites.

Cover of Miller’s 1821 book describing the crinoids, including the new Apiocrinites.

Miller’s (1821) illustrations of Apiocrinites.


Ausich, W.I. and Wilson, M.A. 2012. New Tethyan Apiocrinitidae (Crinoidea; Articulata) from the Jurassic of Israel. Journal of Paleontology 86: 1051-1055.

Feldman, H.R. and Brett, C.E. 1998. Epi- and endobiontic organisms on Late Jurassic crinoid columns from the Negev Desert, Israel: Implications for co-evolution. Lethaia 31: 57-71.

Miller, J.S. 1821. A natural history of the Crinoidea or lily-shaped animals, with observation on the genera Asterias, Euryale, Comatula, and Marsupites. Bryan & Co, Bristol, 150 pp.

Wilson, M.A., Feldman, H.R. and Krivicich, E.B. 2010. Bioerosion in an equatorial Middle Jurassic coral-sponge reef community (Callovian, Matmor Formation, southern Israel). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 289: 93-101.

Wilson, M.A., Feldman, H.R., Bowen, J.C. and Avni, J. 2008. A new equatorial, very shallow marine sclerozoan fauna from the Middle Jurassic (late Callovian) of southern Israel. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 263: 24-29.

Patchiness and ecological structure in a Middle Jurassic equatorial crinoid-brachiopod community (Matmor Formation, Callovian, southern Israel) — An abstract submitted to the Geological Society of America for the 2012 annual meeting

August 6th, 2012

Editor’s note: The Wooster Geologists in Israel this spring wrote abstracts for the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, this November. The following is from student guest blogger Melissa Torma in the format required for GSA abstracts:

TORMA, Melissa, WILSON, Mark A., Department of Geology, The College of Wooster, Wooster, OH 44691 USA; FELDMAN, Howard R., Division of Paleontology (Invertebrates), American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY 10024

The Matmor Formation is a Middle-Upper Jurassic (Callovian-Oxfordian) marl and limestone unit entirely exposed in Hamakhtesh Hagadol in the Negev of southern Israel. It was deposited in shallow marine waters very close to the paleoequator in the Ethiopian Province of the Tethyan Faunal Realm. It is very fossiliferous throughout most of its 100 meters of thickness. The Matmor Formation has been well described stratigraphically, and several of its fossil groups have been taxonomically assessed (notably the brachiopods, ammonites, crinoids and sclerobionts), but there is yet no community-level analysis of the entire fauna. This work is part of that larger paleoecological project. We systematically collected from the most fossiliferous unit of the Matmor (SU 51 in the local stratigraphy; upper Callovian; Quenstedtoceras (Lamberticeras) lamberti Zone) over several kilometers. The community in this marl is dominated by abundant crinoids (a new species of Apiocrinites), rhynchonellid (Somalirhynchia and Burmirhynchia) and terebratulid (Bihenithyris and Digonella) brachiopods, echinoids (mostly rhabdocidarids), calcisponges and scleractinian corals. Mollusks, other than small attached oysters, are relatively rare, and bryozoans are represented by only a few encrusters. The fossils are concentrated in patches a few tens of meters in diameter separated from each other by featureless, unfossiliferous yellow marl. The patches share many of the same common taxa (especially the crinoids and brachiopods) but differ in the relative abundance of corals. No infauna has been found in this unit, either as trace or body fossils. The environment appears to have been a shallow water embayment with a muddy substrate. Patches of epifauna developed as shelly islands across this seafloor. Crinoids and small corals may have been the pioneers on this soft bottom, providing increasing amounts of skeletal debris to facilitate the settlement of brachiopods and other invertebrates. A periodic influx of fine sediment during storms limited the diversity of this assemblage by smothering patches under several centimeters of mud. This community was thus kept in its early successional stages by periodic disturbance.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A calcareous sponge with a crinoid holdfast (Matmor Formation, Middle Jurassic, Israel)

April 8th, 2012

The Class Calcarea of the Phylum Porifera is a group of sponges characterized by spicular skeletons made of calcium carbonate (calcite in this case). The spicules (small elements of the skeleton) are often fused together, causing the sponges to look a bit like corals or bryozoans. They are among the most common fossils in the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic, Callovian) of southern Israel. Melissa Torma and I collected this particular fossil on our expedition last month. It is another indication that the Matmor Formation was deposited in very shallow waters.
This is the underside of the Matmor calcareous sponge. (I wish we had a name for it, but the taxonomy is in considerable flux right now.) You can see the way it grew radially around an encrusting center. In the lower right a circular oyster attachment is visible.
A close view of the top surface of the calcareous sponge showing radiating canals called astrorhizae. They were used to channel water currents for the sponge’s filter-feeding system.
This crinoid holdfast (the base of an attaching stem) locked onto the calcareous sponge after its death. We can tell this because it is bound to the spicular skeleton itself, which was only exposed after the sponge’s soft tissues rotted away. It is not possible to identify the crinoid, but it is likely in the genus Apiocrinites.
The Class Calcarea was named by James Scott Bowerbank in 1864. Bowerbank (1797-1877) was an English naturalist born in London. He helped run a distillery with his brother, making enough money to support his diverse interests in natural history. He collected many fossils in his life, specializing in the London Clay (Eocene). His various publications gained him membership in the Royal Society in 1842. His greatest work was probably a four-volume set titled “A Monograph of the British Spongidae”. (You can read at least part of this work online.) He was well known as a strong supporter of young scientists, opening his home and collections (and use of his valuable microscopes) to all those seriously interested in natural history. I like to think he would have been happy as a liberal arts geology professor!

Last day of 2012 fieldwork in Israel by Wooster Geologists

March 18th, 2012

MITZPE RAMON–Today we finished our exploration of the Upper Cretaceous near Mitzpe Ramon, and then met some old friends for a different project near Ar’arat an-Naqab in the northernmost part of the Negev. This gave me the chance to take a picture of my three favorite Israeli geologists. (Yes, actually getting them to turn around for the camera would have been a bit too much stage management on my part!) On the left is Shlomo Ashkenazi, a retired geological technician and superb field assistant who still volunteers for the Geological Survey of Israel. In the center is Amihai Sneh, also retired from the survey (retirement doesn’t mean much for geologists!) and a mapping genius, and then Yoav Avni, who you met earlier in these posts. At their knees you see a light brown unit that was the subject of our meeting. It is a dolomite, apparently from the Miocene, that has structures in it that may be trace fossils. They wanted my opinion.

Here they are on a bedding plane of the dolomite. Yes, they are trace fossils. My work here is done.

We explored the area around a Bedouin city, one of three in Israel. This is Ar’arat an-Naqab. A “Bedouin city” would have been a contradiction in terms a generation ago. The Bedouin were a nomadic people in this region. The Israeli government set aside land for the settlement of Bedouin, and these modern cities are the result. There is still considerable tension, though, with Bedouin who remain in tents and other structures on what is officially government land. The motivation for them to leave several acres of land they have claimed so that they can live in apartments is, as you can imagine, rather low. We talked to several Bedouin today as we looked for outcrops. Since we were in a government vehicle, there was some suspicion that we were plotting to take their land, but once we explained our geological mission, all was well.

Thus ends the 2012 Wooster Geology expedition to Israel. All our goals were met, and we were once again surprised by how many new things we saw and learned. It has been a wonderful adventure! Thank you again to The College of Wooster and donors and granting agencies who have made such trips possible.

Nabataean water management in the northern Negev (circa 2nd Century BCE)

March 18th, 2012

MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–We had an earlier post about water management techniques by Iron Age peoples in the northern Negev. Today during our last period of fieldwork on this trip we ran into a complex Nabataean system in a valley a few kilometers north of Mitzpe Ramon. Nabataeans were an Arab people based in Jordan who spread in influence and settlement through this region from roughly the third century BCE to the third century CE. They are most remembered here for their water systems to support their small villages. The infrastructure they built is still used in many places by the Bedouin.

Today while exploring more Upper Cretaceous sites, we came across the cistern pictured at the top of this entry. It is a Nabataean structure because it is cut into solid rock (the Iron Age equivalents were mostly in clays) and it had a roof held up by the central pillar and interior walls. There are also steps cut into the rock for climbing in and out. The Nabataeans inherited the earlier Iron Age technology and improved on it by better water retention in the container, and reduced evaporative loss.

The cistern we just saw is pictured here from a distance. It is indicated by the tailings of rock debris produced in its construction. On the left hand side you can see a diagonal line of rock indicating part of the water catchment system. There is a similar line on the right, but it is very hard to see.

This even more distant image shows the cistern again as a cone of tailings in the upper left. The valley below is where the irrigated fields were. They are a bit complicated by a series of trenches dug across them recently. (This is an Israeli Army training ground.)

The low rock wall here held in soil for an irrigated field on the left side. The soil has been modified by the original farmers, who built it up with water-holding loess deposits. Some of these fields are still in occasional use by Bedouin who plant wheat in the ancient ground.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A curving scleractinian coral (Middle Jurassic of Israel)

March 18th, 2012

Since Melissa Torma and I recently returned from our expedition to southern Israel (see immediately previous posts), I thought our weekly fossil highlight should be one of our specimens collected from the Middle Jurassic Matmor Formation of Makhtesh Gadol.

This is a colonial scleractinian coral, a group that first appeared in the Triassic. It was originally made of aragonite and is now recrystallized to calcite. The exterior is well preserved, but the interior is coarsely crystalline. You can just make out faint outlines of the individual corallites that make up the colony.

The distinctive feature of this specimen is that it shows different growth directions. Apparently it was disturbed on the seafloor as it grew, so it periodically had to change its direction to keep growing upwards towards the sunlight. It needed the light because it had photosynthetic symbionts in its tissues.

This coral is one of many indications of the shallow paleoenvironment we’ve proposed for the Matmor Formation. It is also encrusted by a variety of sclerobionts, so it is a bit of a community all on its own.


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