Polzberg – a Konservat-Lagerstätte of international reputation

ÖAW Polzberg Lukeneder, Land NÖ K3-F-964/001-2020

An international team under the direction the NHM Wien palaeontologist Dr. Alexander Lukeneder investigates in the next 2 years one of the most severe environmental disasters in Earth History. A worldwide climate change resulted 233 million years ago to a gigantic mass ectiction in the Mesozoic oceans of the entire world. Known as the Carnian Pluvial Episode this phase and ist deposits can be observed in the vicinity of Lunz am See in Lower Austria.

Project leader: Priv. Doz. Dr. Alexander Lukeneder


Duration: 3/2021 – 12/2022

Funding: Austrian Acedemy of Science (ÖAW; Geo/Hydro Science Nationalkomitee) and Government of Lower Austria (Land NÖ)


Lukeneder, P. and Lukeneder, A. 2022. Comment on “Triassic coleoid beaks and other structures from the Calcareous Alps revisited” by Doguzhaeva et al. (2022). Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, 67, online 28. November 2022. https://doi.org/10.4202/app.01016.2022

Lukeneder, A. and Lukeneder, P. 2022. Taphonomic history and trophic interactions of an ammonoid fauna from the Upper Triassic Polzberg palaeobiota. Scientific Reports, 12, 7455 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-11496-y

Lukeneder, P. and Lukeneder, A. 2022. Mineralized belemnoid cephalic cartilage from the Late Triassic Polzberg Konservat-Lagerstätte (Austria). PLOS ONE, PLOS ONE, 17(4): e0264595.  https//doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0264595

Data associated with research paper in PLOS ONE – data repository:
Lukeneder, A. and Lukeneder P. 2021. The Upper Triassic Polzberg palaeobiota from a marine Konservat-Lagerstätte deposited during the Carnian Pluvial Episode in Austria. 
Nature Research, Scientific Reports, 11, 16644 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-96052-w

Lukeneder, A., Surmik, D., Gorzelak, P., Niedzwiedzki, R., Brachaniec, T. and Salamon, M.A. 2020. Bromalites from the Upper Triassic Polzberg section (Austria); insights into trophic interactions and food chains of the Polzberg palaeobiota. Scientific Reports 10, 20545 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-77017-x

Two Projects – one target

The main target area of the diverse and modern investigations is located in the north of Lunz am See. In this area of the Northern Calcareous Alps mostly deposits with sandstones of the Lunz Formation appear. This Formation is worldwide known due to the rich and diverse Lunz flora. Below this coal bearing deposits the fine laminated Reingraben Formation crops out. The black and argillaceous marlstones to clays comprise a Konservat-Lagerstätte of worldwide reputation. Konservat-Lagerstätten ara charecterised by entirely and well preserved fossil content. In the project finacialley supported by the Government of Lower Austria (Science and Research) and the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Geo/Hydro Sciences) the unique fossil site will be investigated in details. Since more than 140 years the area around Lunz am See is known for the fossil abundance by scientists and citizen scientists too.
During the search for cole the fossiliferous layers were detected in the late 19th century. Excavation campaigns to obtain the fossils were organized by the Geological Survey of Austria (GBA) in 1885 and the Natural History Museum Vienna (NHMW) in 1909. Under supervision of the mine inspector Josef Haberfelner, two adits for fossil mining were driven into the middle and basal part of the Reingraben Shales. The historical, abandoned and collapsed mines were located in small ravine slopes in the mountainous area. Around 1885 and 1909, thousands of fossils were collected from the Polzberg locality during the excavation campaigns of the GBA and the NHMW. The Upper Triassic Fossil-“Konservat-Lagerstätte” Polzberg, with deposits of black, finely laminated Reingraben Shales, is poorly described and even less well understood. Stur and Teller were pioneers for the Polzberg area and its fauna by publishing preliminary data on the Polzberg outcrops.
Members of the diverse invertebrate assemblage appear sporadically throughout the section with ammonites (Austrotrachyceras, Carnites, Sageceras, Simonyceras), coleoids (Phragmoteuthis, Lunzoteuthis), bivalves (Halobia), gastropods (indet sp.), thylacocephalan arthropods (Austriocaris), crustaceans (Platychela), eustheriids (Eustheria); isopods (Obtusotelson, Discosalaputium), and polychaetes (Palaeoaphrodite, Eunicidae indet). Vertebrate taxa are represented by frequent and dispersed acytinopterygid fishes (not accumulated in single layers) throughout the section (Saurichthys, Polzbergia, Peltopleurus, Habroichthys). Other taxa include remnants of cartilaginous fishes (Acrodus), several coelocanthid fishes (“Coelacanthus”), the lungfish Tellerodus, and a conodont cluster (Mosherella).
The diversity, the abundance of fossil groups and the excellent preservation are the prerquisite of such Konservat-Lagerstätten for a better understanding of the palaeoecological and climatic conditions in the Late Traissic. Special conditions are required for the formation of such conservational deposits with fragile and well-preserved fossil remains. Stagnation of water masses along with terrigenous influx by enhanced runoff resulting in accumulations of organic material led to dark-laminated, pyrite-rich deposits that promoted the soft tissue preservation of fishes and other fossil taxa. The Polzberg palaeobiota was deposited in an intraplatform basin, which intensified these conditions, as the Reifling Basin was surrounded by the Wetterstein platform. The demise of platforms with a co-occurring carbonate breakdown was a worldwide phenomenon at that time. The entirety of the fossil taxa found so far provides new insights into the Upper Triassic (lower Carnian) trophic web and food chains of the Polzberg palaeobiota.
The Carnian Pluvial Episode (CPE) – the breakdown
The biostratigraphic data hint to a Julian 2 Ib (Austrotrachyceras austriacum Zone, A. minor biohorizon) age of the main fossiliferous part of the Polzberg section. These important palaeontological findings highlight the importance and special position within the Upper Triassic Carnian Pluvial Episode (CPE) and the food web with its food chains of the Polzberg “Konservat-Lagerstätte”. The environmental conditions in the mediterranean Reifling Basin changed, along with the composition of the seawater, and subsequently the inhabitants of the Triassic ocean in the Austrian Alps adapted to the special conditions during the humidification of the Carnian climate in the CPE. Previous studies dealing with that transitional Julian/Tuvalian humid episode exist from numerous localities in the Northern Calcareous Alps of Austria. The CPE appears to be a worldwide phase characterized by warming and humidification (enhanced rainfall) triggered by enormous and isochronous volcanic activity at that time.

Ammonites from the Reingraben Shales.
Fossil fish from the Reingraben Shales.
Fossil fern from the Lunz Formation.