Mammalian fossils from the Eppelsheim Formation (Dinotheriensande) have been a benchmark for Neogene vertebrate palaeontology since 200 years. Worldwide famous sites like Eppelsheim serve as key localities for biochronologic, palaeobiologic, environmental, and mammal community studies. So far the formation is considered to be of early Late Miocene age (~9.5 Ma, Vallesian), representing the oldest sediments of the Rhine River. The stratigraphic unity of the formation and of its fossil content was disputed at times, but persists unresolved.
Here we investigate a new fossil sample from Sprendlingen, composed by over 300 mammalian specimens and silicified wood. The mammals comprise entirely Middle Miocene species, like cervids Dicrocerus elegans, Paradicrocerus elegantulus, and deinotheres Deinotherium bavaricum and D. levius. A stratigraphic evaluation of Miocene Central European deer and deinothere species proof the stratigraphic inhomogenity of the sample, and suggest late Middle Miocene (~12.5 Ma) reworking of early Middle Miocene (~15 Ma) sediments. This results agree with taxonomic and palaeoclimatic analysis of plant fossils from above and within the mammalian assemblage. Based on the new fossil sample and published data three biochronologic levels within the Dinotheriensand fauna can be differentiated, corresponding to early Middle Miocene (late Orleanian to early Astaracian), late Middle Miocene (late Astaracian), and early Late Miocene (Vallesian) ages.
This study documents complex faunal mixing of classical Dinotheriensand fauna, covering at least six million years, during a time of low subsidence in the Mainz Basin and shifts back the origination of the Rhine River by some five million years. Our results have severe implications for biostratigraphy and palaeobiology of the Middle to Late Miocene. They suggest that turnover events may be obliterated and challenge the proposed ‘supersaturated’ biodiversity, caused by Middle Miocene superstites, of Vallesian ecosystems in Central Europe.
Böhme, M., Aiglstorfer, M., Uhl, D., Kullmer, O. (2012): The Antiquity of the Rhine River: Stratigraphic Coverage of the Dinotheriensande (Eppelsheim Formation) of the Mainz Basin (Germany), PLoS ONE, dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0036817