Sandberg – petrified time
A long, wide and shallow sea bay lies near Devínska Kobyla, or rather under its southern slope. Life in such shallow bays is vibrant and the sea is full of fish, sharks, whales, seals, plankton, shellfish, algae and marine plants. Seabirds, owls, rhinos, deer, tapirs, monkeys and canine predators inhabit the rocky shores of the bay. This is not fantasy, nor fiction; we only traveled about 70 million years back in time and visited Sandberg – one of the most important geological sites of Slovakia, where time stands still.
Sand had been mined from the western hill above Devínska Nova Ves since the ancient times – as a source of building material. Unfortunately, due to this mining, many of the local fossils have been irretrievably lost or destroyed. The age of the oldest geological strata containing these fossils has been estimated to be 140-160 million years, dating back to the period of the middle and upper Jurassic [prof. RNDr. Milan Mišík, DRSc., Slovak Geological Wanderings, ed. 1974, SPN]. This oldest and lowermost layer has been discovered at the foot of Sandberg, at a small abandoned quarry near the river Morava. From Paleozoic to Tertiary era, the Sandberg hill was a part of the prehistoric Tethys Sea. Depending on how the height of the sea level changed, the hill became its bottom, cliff or shore. This is why, using a microscope, radiolarites (tiny marine animals from the Jurassic period) can be found at the bottom of the Sandberg site. In the upper layers of the quarry, yellow marl shale and limestone from the Cretaceous period (about 130-100 million years old) can be found. Following the main road next to the river Morava, it is possible to reach the highest point of the hill Sandberg, going to the right to the edge of Devinska Nova Ves and down the Slovinec street. The highest point is actually a sand quarry, impressive in that it provides a unique and unusual “non-Slovak” atmosphere that resembles to that of the American Grand Canyon much more than to that of the Carpathians mountains.
The soft sandstone material (which used to actually be a sea shore) covering the Vienna Basin came from the 16-14 million years period, but due to the ongoing orogenic processes some of its layers became inclined at an angle of approximately 25o. At this place – in the walls of the sand quarry, we can find fossils of, for example, Lothodomus gastropods, Cliona sponges, communities of Ostrea digitalin oysters, calcareous algae and many other, also larger, shellfish. The presence or absence of urchins and algae helps us estimate the period in which the sea had salinity of about 3.5% (which is considered to be normal salinity) and depth of about 50-60 meters, where algae still grows. Also, the amount of shark teeth that have been found in the sand indicates that large numbers of sharks were located here as well.
A number of archaeological and geological research works have been done on the Sandberg Hill and at its surrounding areas. In total, over 300 species of fossilized animals and plants have been found and recorded: from urchins, fish, crabs, cephalopods, to the Tertiary whales, seals, mastodons, furred rhinos, bears, deer, monkeys and canines. Austrian scientists made the most important Sandberg finding – the Dryopiteka tooth, a forerunner of today’s primate teeth, which are closely tied to human teeth.
This location is also interesting from a botanical point of view – Peucedanum arenaricum grows here, as well as Minuartia glaucina or Gypsophila paniculata and many other rare thermophilic species. Sandberg is a part of the National Natural Reserve Devinska Kobyla with 4th level of nature protection and any collection of fossils is strictly prohibited here.
If anyone is interested in sharing their Sandberg experience with our readers, please contact our editors during the summer holidays (contact)
Compiled by: Barbora Hrvolová, NCP S&T at SCSTI
Published by: ZVČ
Translation: Dorota Jagnešáková
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