uncommonly conspicuous Rhynie chert sample with Aglaophyton
What is known about the Rhynie chert
deutsche Version
Among all fossiliferous cherts worldwide, the chert from Rhynie has provided the most spectacular contributions to palaeobotany and also a few remarkable ones to palaeozoology. Soon after its discovery by W. Mackie in 1912 the marvellous preservation of detail in the silicified strata became a subject of wonder and scientific interest.
The early publications by Kidston and Lang seemed to be so thoroughly done that for decades, others were apparently rather discouraged than incited to do more research. The "higher" plants Rhynia (then two species), Asteroxylon, and Horneophyton became prominent items of every palaeobotany monograph. Moreover, there were algae, microbes, and abundant hyphae and sclerotia of various fungi. One specimen of one of the enigmatic nematophytes had been found as two tiny fragments: Nematophyton.
The good preservation has allowed the complex build of various small creatures to be reconstructed, as there were mites, spider-like trigonotarbids, and crustaceans with their numerous legs and appendices. Creatures and plants provided ample information on the whole biotope with its interrelations of species [1]. That website [1] reflects the accumulated knowledge up to 2004.

In the last decades of the century it became obvious that the cherts had more in store:  one specimen of another nematophyte (Nematoplexus 1961), new "higher" plants: Nothia (1964), Trichopherophyton (1991), Ventarura (1994, published in 2000). The latter was discovered by N. Trewin and C. Rice in 1988 in a chert-bearing stratum lying well above those previously known. The age difference between this Windyfield chert and the other strata is not known and probably very small.

As a result of deeper investigations it became apparent that the plants found in the Rhynie chert represent diverging lines of development near decisive branching points and thus could be crucial for the completion of the still much disputed phylogenetic tree of plants. (In connection with such dispute, Rhynia major had been arguably renamed Aglaophyton in 1986.)

Of great significance for the understanding of plant evolution is the discovery of a gametophyte generation, and hence the alternation of generations, of several Rhynie plants at Münster University, which began in 1980 and is still going on there. This has revived the old dispute about the question of where to place the mosses and liverworts in the phylogenetic tree. (Note that for those, the gametophyte constitutes the main part of the plant whereas it is much reduced in the "Higher Plants".)

Geological research at Aberdeen University combined with chemical analysis has shown that chert formation was related to hot spring activity.

A judgement given by N. Trewin in 1996 does still apply: “I feel we have only scratched the surface of the Rhynie story, and this premier Scottish locality will continue to yield exciting stories in a variety of disciplines for decades to come.”
Every issue of  Rhynie Chert News on this website may contribute to fulfilling this prophesy.

 H.-J. Weiss      2005,   updated 2010, 2019, 2020

[1]  www.abdn.ac.uk/rhynie/

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