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Camp dels Ninots

Location: Caldes de Malavella (la Selva, Girona)
Cronology: Upper Pliocene
Director: J. Agustí, G. Campeny and B. Gómez

The Camp dels Ninots is located in the western part of the town of Caldes de Malavella (Girona). Its name is due to silicifications, in particular opal (SiO2nH2O), its growth generates several rounded shapes called menilites, popularly known as "ninots" (puppets).

The Camp dels Ninots site is a phreatomagmatic explosion volcano of Pliocene age (3.1 Ma) which subsequently formed a lake. Such volcanic structures are called "maar". The specific geological conditions, corresponding to lake sedimentation, make it ideal for the preservation of fossils. The appearance of complete skeletons mostly  in anatomical connection makes the site to be considered, according to the German term, a fossil-Lagerstätte.

The set of recovered fossils, plant and animal remains, provides direct data concerning to the biological environment and climate of the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula during the Upper Pliocene and allows to compare them to climate changes produced in Europe in the last 3 million years.

The lake formed inside the volcano offered optimal conditions for the establishment of  ecological dynamics. The animals which died around it were submerged by the water and their bodies were deposited at the bottom of the lake. The characteristics of these waters, sometimes  mineral saturated , created the optimal conditions for an excellent conservation of the skeletons that we have discovered.

The faunal remains consists in macrovertebrates, turtles, amphibians, fish and rodents. The macrovertebrates are represented by tapirs (Tapirus arvernensi), bovines (Alephis tigneresi) and rhinoceros (Stephanorhinus jeanvireti). Turtles are represented by the species Mauremys leporsa and Chelydropsis cf. pontica. The fossil assemblage is completed with amphibians like sharp-ribbed salamander (Pleurodeles cf. sp.), webbed newts (Lissotriton aff. helveticus) and green frogs (cf. Pelophylax perezi), the freshwater fish of the group of cyprinids (Leuciscus sp . Luciobarbus sp.) and isolated remains from rodent Apodemus atavus. All this fauna allows us to study and explain how it was the environment and which were the relationships established between these different animal species.

The coexistence of Stephanorhinus jeanvireti and Alephis tigneresi, and the paleomagnethic data obtained from all the stratigraphic sequence of the maar, give us a normal polarity (Gauss)for all the sequence with two inverse changes (Kaena i Mammoth), with a sedimentation rate that take place in 200ka, situating the fossils layers in 3,1 Ma, near the MN15 and MN16 transition.

The flora is abundant and is composed by vegetal macroremains as leaves imprints, fruits and trunks in the lacustrine clays and pollen remains captured in the sediment. These data corresponds to a subtropical climate and landscape,  plenty of laurisilva (laurel forest).

In conclusion, systematic fieldworks at the Camp dels Ninots site are revealing a real treasure for the international paleontology and paleobotany. The large amount and variability of the recovered assemblage and its well preservation, properly deserves to consider it a fossil-Lagerstätte. Its exceptionality does not only offers a unique opportunity to study  an ecosystem during the Pliocene, but it provides  paleoenvironmental data to help us understanding climate changes dynamics developed until today.

Camp dels Ninots
Caldes de Malavella (la Selva, Girona)
Upper Pliocene
J. Agustí, G. Campeny and B. Gómez