Fossils on Top of Mount Everest: How in The World Did They Get Up There?

At the summit of Mount Everest, there’s a lot of things you’d expect to see. But if you were ever fortunate enough to experience a trip up to the summit, one thing you probably wouldn’t expect to find are fossils of trilobites, brachiopods, and crinoids.

Fossil found at Mount Everest Base Camp on Tibet side/thefossilforum.com

The types of rocks that can be found on the summit of Everest are primarily composed of what’s known as Qomolangma Limestone which was deposited somewhere around 470 million years ago, during the Ordovician period.

This Qomolangma limestone originated from the northern continental shelf of what is now northern India, way back when that part of the world was part of a warm, shallow sea on the edge of the ancient Tethyan Ocean.

The long journey of these rocks from the bottom of the ocean to mountain peak was a slow and violent process, which began with the break-up of the supercontinent Gondwana.

Marine fossils found in the high Himalayas/kochanski.org

India, which used to be a part of this massive landmass, drifted northward, closing the Tethys Ocean, and eventually collided with the Asian continent around 50 million years ago. This massive continental collision gave rise to the Himalayas. The intense forces of this collision pushed the seafloor upwards, forming the high peaks of the Himalayas, including Everest.

The fossils found at Everest’s summit are not just remnants of marine life but are witnesses to one of the most significant events in Earth’s history—the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event. This period marked a major diversification of life forms in Earth’s oceanic environments. The fossils, which include a variety of marine animals such as brachiopods and crinoids, highlight the dynamic changes in marine ecosystems during the Ordovician.

Today, these fossils are exposed due to the continual uplift of the Himalayas, driven by the ongoing collision between the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates, coupled with deep erosion that strips away overlying materials. This geological activity brings to light the ancient seafloor, allowing us to study it at such extraordinary altitudes.

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