, Volume 99, Issue 11, pp 925–935 | Cite as

An enormous Jurassic turtle bone bed from the Turpan Basin of Xinjiang, China

  • Oliver WingsEmail author
  • Márton Rabi
  • Jörg W. Schneider
  • Leonie Schwermann
  • Ge Sun
  • Chang-Fu Zhou
  • Walter G. Joyce
Original Paper


A spectacular new terrestrial Konzentratlagerstätte is introduced from the Turpan Basin of Xinjiang, China that probably belongs to the late Middle Jurassic Qigu Formation. It contains a mass accumulation of “xinjiangchelyid” turtles preliminarily identified as Annemys sp. In the zone with the highest turtle concentration, complete and articulated turtle skeletons are tightly packed at a density of up to 36 turtles per square meter. The fossiliferous layer is thickened here and shows an erosional base. This high concentration zone outcrops approximately 10 m in length and shows no decrease in turtle density after exposing 2 m of the layer into the hillside. Adjacent is a more expansive zone of at least 10 m by 30 m. In this region, the fossiliferous layer is evenly thick, and approximately five, fully disarticulated turtles are present per square meter. A conservatively estimated 1,800 turtles may, therefore, have been deposited at this site. It is likely that these aquatic turtles gathered in a retreating water hole in a riverine environment during a drought, much as some aquatic turtles will do today, but perished when the habitat dried up completely. A following catastrophic rainfall event caused a debris flow, possibly channelized in a dry river bed, which transported complete turtles, disarticulated turtles, and mudstone clasts and deposited them after a short distance. This taphonomic model is consistent with previous environmental reconstructions of the Turpan Basin during the late Middle Jurassic in predicting the episodic breakdown of regional monsoonal circulation resulting in a seasonally dry climate with severe episodic droughts.


Middle Jurassic Taphonomy Debris flow Konzentratlagerstätte Testudines Xinjiangchelyidae 

Institutional abbreviations


Geological Institute, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia


Palaeontological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia


Sino-German Cooperation Project



We would like to thank Annette Richter for her participation in discovering this site and Simone Hoffmann, Marianne Koch, Dong Man, Verena Régent, Rico Schellhorn, Achim Schwermann, and Ben Thuy for their sedulous help during excavation and preparation. For collaboration and organization, we are deeply indebted to Hans-Ulrich Pfretzschner (Tübingen) and to personnel from the Geological Survey No. 1 and the Geological Surveying Institution in Urumqi, and the Jilin University in Changchun, especially Du Qing. Arthur Georges (Canberra, Australia) is thanked for sharing his valuable insights into extant turtle ecology. Daniel Gacek (Berlin, Germany) helped with the preparation of ESM Fig. 3. WGJ would like to thank Don Brinkman, Tyler Lyson, and Jim Parham for useful insights. MR would like to thank the MTA-ELTE Lendület Dinosaur Research Group for support. The 2008 and 2009 field seasons, including OW, were funded by a grant to Hans-Ulrich Pfretzschner (PF 219/21) of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). The 2011 field season, including MR, was funded by a DFG grant to WGJ (JO 928/2). Finally, thanks for the kind support of Project “111” of China at Jilin University.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Oliver Wings
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Márton Rabi
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Jörg W. Schneider
    • 5
  • Leonie Schwermann
    • 6
  • Ge Sun
    • 7
    • 8
  • Chang-Fu Zhou
    • 9
  • Walter G. Joyce
    • 2
    • 10
  1. 1.Museum für Naturkunde BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Department of GeosciencesUniversität TübingenTübingenGermany
  3. 3.Department of PaleontologyEötvös Loránd UniversityBudapestHungary
  4. 4.MTA – ELTE Lendület Dinosaur Research GroupBudapestHungary
  5. 5.Lehrstuhl Paläontologie, Geologisches InstitutTU Bergakademie FreibergFreibergGermany
  6. 6.Steinmann-Institut für Geologie, Mineralogie und PaläontologieUniversität BonnBonnGermany
  7. 7.Jilin UniversityChangchunChina
  8. 8.Shenyang Normal UniversityShenyangChina
  9. 9.Paleontological InstituteShenyang Normal UniversityShenyangChina
  10. 10.Yale Peabody Museum of Natural HistoryNew HavenUSA

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