Paleontology is the science that deals with the history of life on Earth, based on fossilized organisms that existed in previous geological eras. Fossils, are the remains of plants and animals that have been preserved within rocks, as well as any traces or imprints or any other evidence of their existence. Fossils that are abundant for a short geological period and exhibit a wide geographic distribution, are called characteristic (index) fossils and are very important in determining the age of sedimentary rocks. Additionally, fossils are paleo-indicators, which can provide information for the paleo-environment, the evolution of the species, the prevailing climatic conditions, etc.

The majority of sedimentary rocks in Cyprus, were formed in a marine environment and therefore the fossils are mainly marine organisms. Locally, some sedimentary rocks may include plant remnants, which were transported by turbidity currents (underwater gravity currents) that originated either from neighboring areas or from Cyprus during its gradual uplift from the seafloor.

The sedimentary rocks of the Troodos and Pentadaktylos Mountain Ranges, are rich in foraminifera and radiolarian microfossils, which are visible only under microscope. Foraminifera are marine unicellular organisms with a single- or multi-chamber shell. The majority of the foraminifera have a calcareous shell, but there are also foraminifera with agglutinated or more rarely silicate shell. Radiolarian are also unicellular marine organisms and their majority consists of a silicate shell. Marine sediments that were deposited in greater depths than the calcium carbonate compensation depth, below which no calcite is preserved (the rate of supply of calcite lags behind the rate of solvation), are lacking foraminifera with a calcareous shell. In contrast, deep marine sediments are abundant in radiolarian with silicate skeletons, which are more resistant to dissolution in deep seawater.

Fossils of marine organisms are also identified within the oldest sedimentary rocks of Cyprus, such as the limestones of the Pentadaktylos Zone and in various sedimentary rocks of the Mamonia Complex. These fossils within the Pentadaktylos limestones, have not been preserved in areas of high degree of recrystallization, while in areas with low degree of recrystallization, traces of fossils are observed, such as foraminifera, ostracoda and corals. In the Mamonia Complex and especially in the Agios Fotios Group, which consists of a series of sedimentary rocks, microfossils as well as macrofossils are observed. Microfossils are mainly of radiolarian and diatoms, while the macrofossils are mainly of bivalves (Halobia insignis), nautiloidea (Orthoceras) and ammonites (Holorites, Sibirites, Distichites).

The sediments of the Perapedhi and Kannaviou Formations, which are the oldest Formations of the Circum Troodos Sedimentary Sequence, are abundant in radiolarian (Dictyomitra, Lithostrobus, Pseudoaulophagus, etc.). Radiolarian (Phormocyrtis, Prodocyrtis, Sethocyrtis, etc.) are also observed in the sediments of the overlying Lefkara Formation, which however are dominated by foraminifera (Globorotalia, Globigerina, Globigerinoides, Globoquadrina, etc.). These foraminifera species are also abundant in the sediments of the overlying Pachna Formation as well as the species Orbulina, Elphidium, Bolivina, Robulus, etc. In this formation macrofossils mainly of bivalves, gastropods, echinoids, nautiloidea as well as fish skeletons are also observed. Leaves as well as other plant remains have also been identified in the upper horizons of the formation. The reef limestones of the Terra and Koronia Members of the Pachna Formation are rich in macrofossils, such as corals, bivalves, gastropods, echinoids, worms, bryozoan as well as microfossils.

The Pliocene sediments of the Nicosia Formation are very rich in macrofossils, especially the upper stratigraphic horizons, where impressive occurrences of very rich fossiliferous layers consisting almost entirely of macrofossils, mainly bivalves (Ostrea edulis, Pecten, Chlamys, etc.), gastropods, Scaphopoda, Cirripedia (Balanus tintinnabulum), echinoids and corals are observed in the broader area of the Nicosia town. These are thanatocoenosis, which developed from the sudden death of marine bio-communities. This is caused by the change of seawater salinity, due to the shallowing sea around the continuously uplifted Cyprus and by the influx of large quantities of freshwater into the marine basins in periods of high precipitations, especially in front of river deltas. Locally, in the Pliocene marls very well-preserved fossils of cones and branches of coniferous trees of a non-identifiable species have been found. In general, the Plio-Pleistocene Formations of Cyprus consist of abundant macrofossils of bivalves (Ostrea, Chama, Cardium, Spondylus, Arca, Venus, etc) as well as gastropods (Natica, Strombus, Murex, Conus, Patella, etc).

Within the onshore Pleistocene Formations of Cyprus and mainly in caves and other natural cavities, fossils of mammals have been found, such as pygmy hippos and elephants as well as some species of rats and bats. According to geological observations, their ancestors swam from a nearby mainland and reached Cyprus probably sometime in the latest Pleistocene (250,000 to-100,000 years ago). During the glacial periods of the Pleistocene, it is estimated that Cyprus was at least 30 km away from the nearest land (Alexandretta Bay). Therefore, either by swimming or floating on tree trunks, these animals had arrived and settled on the island. Later these animals suffered great evolutionary changes, in order to adapt to their new environment. Dwarfism was the most important change, a phenomenon that is also observed in other Mediterranean islands (Crete, Sardinia, Rhodes, Tilos, Corsica, Sicily). Their small size gave them greater mobility and adaptability to the relatively mountainous environment of Cyprus.

The Cypriot pygmy hippos (Phanourios minor) would have been less than 1,5 metres long and 0,75 metres tall. Other unique characteristics are the changes in molar shape, bone fusion, shortening of the lower limbs, placement of the eyes and nose on a lower plane than in the normal hippopotamus and the loss of the foot pads. All these suggest that the Cypriot pygmy hippo preferred to walk than swim. The Cypriot dwarf elephants (Elephas cypriotes) would have been almost 1m high.

The Cypriot pygmy hippos and elephants have been found at many sites around the island and mainly in caves at the foothills of Pentadaktylos mountain, Xylofagou and Agia Napa area, indicating that these animals used these sites as shelter.

The fossilized bones of these animals, were considered as bones of Saints or Martyrs by the inhabitants, and in their honor the caves were converted into churches or churches were built nearby. The bones were attributed to the Saints Agioi Saranta in Xylofagou, Agios Fanourios in Keryneia, Agioi Fanentes or Fanontes in Akamas. In other areas, the bones of these animals were attributed to dragon remains, where the toponyms Drakontospilios in Idalion, Drakontotrypa, Drakontovounaro in Agia Eirini, Dragon Cave, Drakontia, etc, originated.

No documents found

Back To Top