Aglaophyton upward bend and cross-sections
What is new about the Rhynie chert
deutsche Version
Research activities concerning the chert have increased lately, with current results being made known through publications in scientific journals and via Internet [1,2]. A special issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society Edinburgh [3] is the largest compilation of recent work on Rhynie chert in one volume, with ample lists of references to earlier work. Research was taken up recently at the Museum of Natural History, London, based on large amounts of chert from early excavations stored there. A kind of summary with the main focus on latest results, with 72 colour pictures, can be regarded as the most beautiful and informative publication on the subject [4] (in Dutch).

Photograph: Upward bend of Aglaophyton. The up-direction is indicated by several level bands in former cavities of gas bubbles (big one below right)  later filled with water. The slightly differing orientations indicate motions during silicification of the mud.

Nowadays, progress in palaeobotany is sometimes hindered by the cumbersome procedure of publication: Usually a submitted paper has to be quite substantial and professional to get a chance of being accepted for publication. This precludes a quick exchange of information and ideas. The procedure of reviewing by experts does not always preclude erroneous publications. Quite a number of disturbing examples are presented under the heading Misconceptions, and there will be more of them, judging from experience.
Luckily, the Internet provides the means to overcome such obstacles. R. Kretzschmar,
then lay fossil collector but now at Naturkunde-Museum Chemnitz, Germany, had established his "kieseltorf" website [5], which verbally means "silicified peat". This had been a welcome opportunity for the present writer to offer news based on own finds of Rhynie chert on that website since 2003, and an encouragement to launch this "chertnews" website, with Rhynie chert as a main subject, in 2010. ( Spotting various errors in the work of R. Rößler (Naturkunde-Museum Chemnitz) caused the irrational response of refusing discussions and sullenly deleting the Rhynie chert pages at  "kieseltorf" in 2011.)
Every one of the numbered issues of Rhynie Chert News is based on own finds and is meant to offer something new. Most of the observations are only small pieces in the big puzzle of palaeontology but some are of greater relevance.
The peculiar little sphere Pachytheca, once thought to be an alga but now listed among the "Enigmatic Organisms" [6], had never before been described as a fossil well preserved in chert. Hence, the sample from Rhynie is useful for comparison with the coalified samples abundantly found elsewhere. The discovery of a few more "Enigmatic Organisms" called nematophytes provides answers to long-standing questions but also raise new ones, or help to refute erroneous views. It has been found out that the nematophyte Nematoplexus
unexpectedly has much more to offer than its regular screw-like tubes.
The curled-up tip of the rarest "Higher Plant" in the chert, Ventarura, is the only one found hitherto, and its existence will have to be taken into account in any reconstruction of the plant. A conspicuous coaxial tube inside the upper parts of Ventarura, thought to consist of sclerenchyma and to serve as a stiffening component, is shown to be no such.
The alleged "giant cells" in the epidermis of Nothia are rather tube-like cavities brought about by controlled removal of numerous cell walls in the epidermis. They probably serve as vessels for a liquid deterrent protecting the plant against herbivores.
Even the most abundant plant in the chert, former Rhynia major re-named Aglaophyton major, has provided new facts: The undulating growth does not result, as previously assumed, from a succession of upward growth and falling over but from the ability of the upright shoot to actively turn downward, then upward again as in the above picture. (The justification for the
questionable change of name has been strongly doubted [7].)
The unquestioned highlight among the own discoveries described in
Rhynie Chert News is a quite unexpected dramatic scene, a snapshot of aquatic life in the shallow pools fed by hot springs at Rhynie 400 million years ago, featuring the most ancient rotifer ever seen, at the instant of being trapped by quick silica gel formation while attacking a spherical cyanobacteria (?) colony.  
The filamentous cyanobacterium Croftalania has proved surprisingly versatile as it offers shapes of a complexity never expected from the lowly microbes. 
Recently a delicate cm-size plant has been discovered which does not seem to fit in anywhere.
One of the latest discoveries (2014) concerns mm-size vesicles, apparently either filled with large numbers of nuclei or empty, thus strikingly resembling some extant xanthophyte before or after the release of the vesicle content as zoospores or gametes.
The charophyte clade, already well established in the Devonian, has provided a surprise in 2015, based on a sample found in 2013: It may well be an archetype dating back to times when the charophytes had not yet developed the well-known gyrogonites.
The series of Rhynie Chert News will be successively
extended.

 H.-J. Weiss      2005,   updated 2010, 2011, 2014, 2016, 2017

[1]  www.abdn.ac.uk/rhynie
[2]  www.uni-muenster.de/GeoPalaeontologie/Palaeo/Palbot/erhynie.htlm
[3]  N.H. Trewin, C.M. Rice (eds.): The Rhynie Hot Spring System,
       Trans. Roy. Soc. Edinburgh, Earth Sci. 94(2004 for 2003), Part 4.
[4]  H. Kerp, H. Hass: De Onder-Devonische Rhynie Chert,
       Grondboor & Hamer 58(2004), 33-51.
[5]  www.kieseltorf.de , English version.
[6]
 T.N. Taylor, E.L.Taylor, M. Krings: Paleobotany, Elsevier 2009.
[7]  Dianne Edwards : A review of the sporophytes of embryophytes in the cherts at Rhynie,
      Trans. Roy. Soc. Edinburgh, Earth Sciences 94(2004 for 2003), 397-410.

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