Monday, 25 January 2021


This beautiful slab of well-preserved Triassic, Carnian, upper Tuvalian ammonoids hails limestone outcrops near the salt-mining town of Hallstatt, Salzburgerland, Austria.

This area of the world boasts one of the richest deposits of Triassic ammonite units — more than five hundred magnificent ammonite species are found here along with a diversified selection of cephalopod fauna  — orthoceratids, nautiloids, ammonoids — we also see gastropods, bivalves (esp. halobiids), brachiopods, crinoids and a few corals. For microfauna, we see conodonts, foraminifera, sponge spicules, radiolaria, floating crinoids and holothurian sclerites —  polyp-like, soft-bodied "wormy" invertebrate echinozoans. On the left, you can see two specimens of Jovites bosniensis MOJS. The ammonoid in the middle of the plate is Juvavites sp. The right side of the block shows two Hypocladiscites subtornatus MOJS.

The larger specimen (15cm) is a phragmocone. Within its badly crushed body chamber (removed during prep) there are two washed in specimens of Disotropites plinii (MOJS.) You can see them visible in the side view on the top right. The Disotropites plinii subzone is the lower ammonoid subzone of the Tuvalian III.

The second picture here shows Hypocladiscites subtornatus from when it was first described as Arcestes subtornatus, in Mojs, 1873.

In the North American literature (after Tim Tozer) the Tuvalian is split into three Zones; starting with the Dilleri Zone, then the Welleri Zone and finally the Macrolobatus Zone on the very top.

The Dilleri zone is characterized by the rise of the genus Tropites sp. together with later members of the genus Neoprotrachyceras sp.

In the Welleri zone, Neoprotrachyceras sp. disappears and Tropites becomes a very common faunal element. The Macrolobatus zone is named after Klamathites macrolobatus, an endemic ammonite of the North American strata. Other genera of this zone are comparable to the time frame of the latest Tuvalian and the earliest Norian of the Alps. In the Hallstatt (Tethys) realm the following Division is made:

Dilleri Zone= Tuvalian I (literature gives little evidence for this zone). Subbullatus Zone = Tuvalian II — corresponding in most parts to the North American Welleri Zone. These are followed by the Anatropites Zone or Tuvalian III — corresponding in part to the North American Macrolobatus Zone.

In the Alps, the strata are divided between Tuvalian II and Tuvalian III. It is up for debate if all three North American zones can be included in these two alpine zones. It has been postulated by Spatzenegger that there is little evidence for a time gap in the lower Tuvalian of the Alpine strata.

Discotropites sandlingense is in the North America zone — a clear Dilleri faunal element. In the Alps, it is ranged into Tuvalian II (Welleri Zone). The same is true for the genus Traskites sp. — corresponding to alpine Sandlingites sp. Some ammonites of the upper part of the Macrolobatus zone are also placed within the alpine Norian stage. The correlation between the North American and Alpine zones is problematic and matching up the Tuvalian fauna is a tricky business.

Sirenites sp., Upper Triassic, Lower Carnian Julian Zone
Tuvalian 1 is recognizable in the Alps by the composition of the faunal spectrum — the quantity of some special genera. We see more of some, less of others, and this gives us a general sense of time.

In some strata, Trachysagenites sp. Sagenites inermis, Sandlingites sp. occur frequently together, with scarce Tropites sp. and Sirenites sp. and (very rarely) Neoprotrachyceras cf. thyrae.

The transition from Tuvalian to the Norian is confirmed only in one location in the Hallstatt limestone. Clustered onto blocks, the ammonoids show us the faunal mix and allow us to place them in time. The bedded profile of Tuvalian fauna (which is overlain by a Norian fauna) hails from the Feuerkogel near Hallstatt. Here we also find the lower transition of Julian to Tuvalian. Not far from this site are limestone outcrops that show the transition between the Carnian and Norian. Here the latest Tuvalian and lowermost Norian are confirmed only by the microfossil fauna.

The Hallstatt Limestone is the world's richest Triassic ammonite unit, yielding specimens of more than 500 ammonite species. Along with diversified cephalopod fauna — orthoceratids, nautiloids, ammonoids — we also see gastropods, bivalves (esp. halobiids), brachiopods, crinoids and a few corals.

Along with an amazing assortment of macrofossils, we see microfauna that are incredibly helpful in teasing out the geologic history of the area. Fossil conodonts, foraminifera, sponge spicules, radiolaria, floating crinoids and the bizarre holothurian sclerites — polyp-like, soft-bodied invertebrate echinozoans often referred to as sea cucumbers because of their similarities in size, elongate shape, and tough skin over a soft interior — can be found here.

Eduard Suess, Gondwana / Tethys Sea
Franz Ritter von Hauer’s exhaustive 1846 tome describing Hallstatt ammonites inspired renowned Austrian geologist Eduard Suess’s detailed study of the area’s Mesozoic history.

That work was instrumental in Suess being the first person to recognize the supercontinent of Gondwana (proposed in 1861) and the existence of the Tethys Sea, which he named in 1893 after the sister of Oceanus, the Greek god of the ocean.

Suess Land in Greenland, as well as the lunar crater Suess and Suess crater on Mars, are named after him.

The Hallstatt-Meliata Ocean was one such back-arc basin. As it continued to expand and deepen during the Triassic, evaporation ceased and reefs flourished; thick limestone deposits accumulated atop the salt. When the Hallstatt-Meliata Ocean closed in the Late Jurassic, the compression squeezed the low-density salt into a diapir that rose buoyantly, injecting itself into the Triassic limestones above.

This area has a rich and interesting geological and human history. I'm sure more studies will be done on the fossil marine fauna to untangle and standardize the Carnian subdivisions. For now, we'll muddle along with regional stratigraphies employing a two-substage subdivision, the Julian and Tuvalian. Others will continue to employ a three-substage organization of the stage: Cordevolian, Julian and Tuvalian. As I've pieced together this interesting Tuvalian tale, I have to thank Andreas Spatzenegger from Salzburg, Austria for his insights, work and amazing photos of the area. Kudos to you, my friends. I'd be mesmerized but still well confused about the Carnian subdivisions if not for you!

The genus Hypocladiscites ranges from the base Carnian to the lower Norian stage of the Upper Triassic. Photos and collection of the deeply awesome Andreas Spatzenegger of Salzburg, Austria.

Superfamilia: Arcestaceae MOJSISOVICS, 1875; Familia: Cladiscitidae ZITTEL, 1884; Subfamilia: Cladiscites GAMSJÄGER, 1982; Genus: Hypocladiscites MOJSISOVICS, 1896

Photo: A spectacular example of Sirenites sp., Upper Triassic, Lower Carnian, Julian Zone of Trachyceras aonoides. From Hallstatt Limestone of Austria. This specimen is about 5cm. Photo and collection of the deeply awesome Andreas Spatzenegger.

Photo: Eduard Suess (1831–1914), lithograph by Josef Kriehuber (1800–1876) c. 1869 by Josef Kriehuber - File:Eduard Sueß.jpg (cropped), Public Domain