Reconstructing the Christian Malford ecosystem in the Oxford Clay Formation (Callovian, Jurassic) of Wiltshire: exceptional preservation, taphonomy, burial and compaction
The Christian Malford lagerstätte in the Oxford Clay Formation of Wiltshire contains exceptionally well-preserved squid-like cephalopods, including Belemnotheutis antiquus (Pearce). Some of these fossils preserve muscle tissue, contents of ink sacks and other soft parts of the squid, including arms with hooks in situ and the head area with statoliths (ear bones) present in life position. The preservation of soft-tissue material is usually taken as an indication of anoxic or dysaerobic conditions on the sea floor and within the enclosing sediments. Interestingly, in the prepared residues of all these sediments there are both statoliths and arm hooks as well as abundant, species-rich, assemblages of both foraminifera and ostracods. Such occurrences appear to be incompatible with an interpretation of potential sea floor anoxia. The mudstones of the Oxford Clay Formation may have been compacted by 70 %–80 % during de-watering and burial, and in such a fine-grained lithology samples collected for microfossil examination probably represent several thousand years and, therefore, a significant number of foraminiferal life cycles. Such samples (even if only 1–2 cm thick) could, potentially, include several oxic–anoxic cycles and, if coupled with compaction, generate the apparent coincidence of well-preserved, soft-bodied, cephalopods and diverse assemblages of benthic foraminifera.