We think Atacama as a natural lab, as an exceptional space to witness global processes of the history of our planet Earth and the evolution of life. This means to recognize this land as a possible attraction spot for worldwide science, providing unique comparative advantages.
Atacama holds a wealthy paleontological, geological, biological, astronomical and anthropological patrimony, which can help us to understand core issues to humankind. These features are a potential agent for sustainable development, which can launch the region inside the country and abroad.
One of the distinctive features of the region of Atacama is its paleontological patrimony. The dryness has exposed kilometers of rocks, many of which contain fossil vestiges of million-year-old organisms. The region is not only plenty of fossil deposits of different ages; it also has areas in which it’s possible to walk on thousands of fossil bones. This is the case of some of the outcrops of the Bahía Inglesa Formation, at the coastline of Caldera, which contain a big amount of marine animals that lived in the region eight million years ago, including whales, sharks and giant birds. Besides this extraordinary deposit, there are loads of other records of marine reptiles and invertebrates of 170 million years in the surroundings of Pinte, rich deposits of plants of about 220 million years located near Copiapó, and the oldest vertebrate footprints ever found in Chile whose age is over 300 million years, among many other spots which allow us to travel through the history of life on Earth before dinosaurs appeared.
In the coast of the region of Atacama there is one of the most important paleontological deposits of Chile and South America: the Bahía Inglesa Formation. These rocks contain an unusual abundance of fossil remains of vertebrates which are extraordinarily well preserved in some sites, which made paleontologists to call it a Lagerstätte or “wonderful deposit”. This offers us a unique opportunity to know the living beings of the region 8 million years ago as well as the world they lived in, providing us with key information to explain the evolution of the current fauna.
Up to date, these deposits have allowed us to identify the presence of a wide diversity of already extinct marine vertebrates. Those include aquatic sloths (Thalassocnus), dwarf seals (Australophoca), swan-necked seals (Acrophoca), pigmy dugongs (Nanosiren), walrus dolphins (Odobenocetops), raptorial sperm whales (Livyatan), marine gavials and a great variety of birds, the most important of which are multiple species of penguins, cormorants and the famous Pelagornis chilensis, one of the biggest flying birds that has lived on Earth which could have reached about six meter wingspan. There’s also recognized a wide range of boned fish, including marlins, conches and tunas, together with sharks and rays, whose most remarkable representative is the megalodon, a 16-meter-long shark whose teeth are found in abundance along the coastal sediments of Atacama.
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