The fossil finds include tens of thousands of marine invertebrates called echinoderms and include the ancient ancestors of modern sea stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and lacy-legged sea lilies, the researchers said in a statement.
The huge fossil assemblage was trapped when a cataclysm triggered by an earthquake buried the entire animal for 167 million years.
“What we got here is sort of Jurassic Pompeii,” said Neville Hollingworth, a hunter fossil amateur who found cache while hiking with his wife Sally to BBC.com.
“The creatures tried to protect themselves but all was in vain, they were pushed into the sediments and buried alive,” Tim Ewin, paleontologist and senior curator at the Natural History Museum of London, told the BBC. BBC.com.
The site dates back to the middle Jurassic period, roughly 200 million to 145 million years ago, when giant sauropods and bloodthirsty theropod dinosaurs ruled the land. The seabed site is likely quite shallow, measuring about 20 to 40 meters, the team said.
With thousands of diverse specimens to examine, the researchers hope to learn more about the evolution of echinoderms during the Jurassic, including descriptions of several new species.
Beside fossil animals, the team also found samples of wood and pollen preserved in the rocks, which could reveal more details about climate change at the time.
“We will describe in detail the new species and describe the variability of the plants and animals we find at the site,” Ewin said in a statement.