‘Miste’… This word has an almost magical meaning for many fossil collectors in The Netherlands and neighbouring countries. That is because the extremely fossiliferous Miste Bed lies close to the surface around the municipality of Winterswijk-Miste, which, in turn, lies close to the Dutch-German border in the Eastern Netherlands (Fig. 1). The Miste Bed (Aalten Member, part of the Breda Formation) was deposited about 15mya (during the Middle Miocene), in a shallow subtropical sea. The fossils preserved in the sandy sediments are extremely diverse: over 600 species of molluscs (Janssen, 1984; Parren, 2005) and dozens of species of sharks, rays (Bor et al., 2012) and bony fish (Hoedemakers & Van Hinsbergh, 2013) have been found, but also marine mammals (Schneider & Hessig, 2005), sea stars (Jagt, 1991), sea urchins, bryozoans and corals.
However, this fossil wealth is not easily accessible. To be able to assemble a decent collection, you need to dig a rather large exposure. Establishing a large hole reaching into the Miste Bed is a lot of work, because you need to excavate approximately 4m on private property. A number of digs have previously been organised at Miste, of which at least three were by the Dutch ‘Werkgroep voor Tertiaire en Kwartaire Geologie’ (WTKG; see box, The WBTG).
Organising a dig at Miste is also a huge task and finding the right spot is quite hard. For this reason, it seemed likely that the Miste dig carried out in 2003 (celebrating 40 years of WTKG; Mermuys, 2004) was to be the last one. If you missed that one, or the earlier ones, you had simply missed Miste. However, last year, the WTKG celebrated its fiftieth anniversary and that, of course, had to be celebrated in style. Therefore, the WTKG organised a new, large Miste dig in September 2013. A staggering 750m3 of sediment from the Miste Bed was excavated, of which no less than 150m3 was from the very rich basal layer. This sediment was processed by some 140 participants (most of them members of the WTKG): it was wet sieved in different fractions (from 1cm down to <1mm mesh size) and the residues were taken home to be picked over.
In this article, we will describe the preparations and provide a report of the Miste dig itself. We will also show some finds uncovered during the processing of the sediment.
Location and manual drilling
Most previous Miste digs were organised on a field owned by the Berenschot family. It is located a couple of hundred meters to the northeast of the 2013 dig site described here. In 2004, the Berenschot property was changed into a lovely park. Therefore, it was impossible to organise any more digs on that terrain. For the 2013, dig we had to look at other possible locations. From the literature (Janssen, 1984), we knew that the Miste Bed was accessible in a field owned by the Brethouwer family. Thanks to their participation, we were able manually to drill a test borehole on their field into the Miste Bed. That showed us that the fossils preserved in the Brethouwer field were of high quality. Therefore, we decided to organise the 2013 dig in that field.