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Date of Submission: 24/07/2008
Criteria: (viii)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Egyptian National UNESCO Commission
State, Province or Region:
Qena Governorate
Coordinates: N25 30 17,80 E32 31 41,44
Ref.: 5389

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The site is a Paleocene/Eocene Boundary Stratotype. Global Standard-stratotype Sections and Points (GSSP) provide the means to stabilize chrono-stratigraphy. These carefully selected (chrono)stratigraphic horizons serve both as definitions for chronostratigraphic boundaries and references for global correlations. The International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) recently has ratified the proposal submitted by Marie-Pierre Aubry (Chairman) on behalf of the Working Group on the Paleocene/Eocene (P/E) boundary to define the P/E GSSP as the base of a characteristic lithologic succession (the Dababiya Quarry Beds) that occurs in the lower part of the Esna Shale, a well known formation that outcrops extensively throughout Egypt. The GSSP is defined in the huge Quarry of Dababiya, located on the eastern bank of the Nile Valley, 35 km South of Luxor. The Dababiya Quarry Beds, 3.5 m thick in the stratotypic section and consisting of 5 distinctive units, constitute a remarkable record of the Carbon Isotope Excursion (CIE) and the P/E Thermal Maximum (PETM) whose causes are still being actively debated. Indeed the base of the CIE allows global (i.e., marine-terrestrial) correlations of the base of the Eocene while a host of biostratigraphic data ensures refined correlations in its vicinity. The ratification of the P/E GSSP has been materialize as a "Golden Spike" was driven into the stratotype section on the occasion of CBEP5, at the fifth meeting on Warm Climate and Biotas of the Early Paleogene, in Luxor, 8-14 February 2004. Aubry M.-P. (2004) The Redbeds 8: 8

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The GSSP for the base of the Eocene Series is located at 1.58 m above the base of Section DBH in the Dababiya Quarry, on the east bank of the Nile River, about 35 km south of Luxor, Egypt. It is the base of Bed 1 of the Dababyia Quarry Beds of the El Mahmiya Member of the Esna Formation, interpreted as having recorded the basal inflection of the carbon isotope excursion (CIE), a prominent (3 to 5%) geochemical signature which is recorded in marine (deep and shallow) and terrestrial settings around the world. The Paleocene/Eocene boundary [at Dababiya] is thus truly a globally correlatable chrono-stratigraphic level. It may be correlated also on the basis of: (1) the mass extinction of abyssal and bathyal benthic foraminifera (Stensioina beccariiformis microfauna), and reflected at shallower depths by a minor event; (2) the transient occurrence of the excursion taxa among the planktonic foraminifera (Acarinina africana, A. sibaiyaensis, Morozovella allisonensis); (3) the transient occurrence of the Rhomboaster spp. – Discoaster araneus (RD) assemblage; and (4) an acme of the dinoflagellate Apectodinium complex. The GSSP-defined Paleocene/Eocene boundary is approximately 0.8 my older than the base of the standard Eocene Series as defined by the Ypresian Stage in epicontinental northwestern Europe.

After: Aubry, M.-P., Ouda, Kh., Dupuis, Ch., Berggren, W. A., Van Couvering J. A. and the Members of the Working Group on the Paleocene/Eocene Boundary (2007) The Global Standard Stratotype-section and Point (GSSP) for the base of the Eocene Series in the Dababiya section (Egypt). Journal of International Geoscience 30: 271-286.

Foraminiferal and clay mineral records were studied in the upper Paleocene to lower Eocene Dababiya section (Egypt). This section hosts the GSSP for the Paleocene/Eocene boundary and as such provides an expanded and relatively continuous record across the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). Deposition of illite–smectite clay minerals is interpreted as a result of warm and arid conditions in the southern Tethys during the latest Paleocene. Benthic foraminiferal assemblages are indicative of seasonal variation of oxygen and food levels at the seafloor. A sea-level fall occurred in the latest Paleocene, followed by a rise in the earliest Eocene. Foraminiferal diversity and densities decreased strongly at the P/E boundary, coinciding with the level of global extinction of benthic foraminifera (BEE) and start of the Carbon Isotope Excursion (CIE) and PETM. In the lower CIE, the seafloor of the stratified basin remained (nearly) permanently anoxic and azoic. A sudden increase in mixed clay minerals (kaolinite and others) suggests that warm and perennial humid conditions prevailed on the continent. High levels of TOC and phosphathic concretions in the middle CIE are evidence for increased organic fluxes to the sea floor, related to upwelling and to augmented continental runoff. Low densities of opportunistic taxa appeared, indicating occasional ephemeral oxygenation and repopulation of the benthic environment. The planktic community diversified, although conditions remained poor for deep-dwelling taxa. An increase in illite–smectite dominated clay association is considered to mark the return of a seasonal signature on climatic conditions. During the late CIE environmental conditions changed to seasonally fluctuating mesotrophic conditions and diverse and rich benthic and planktic foraminiferal communities developed. Post-CIE planktic faunas consisted of both deep and shallow-dwelling taxa and buliminid-dominated benthic assemblages reflect fluctuating mesotrophic conditions. The frequent environmental perturbations during the CIE/PETM at Dababiya provided a rather specialized group of foraminiferal taxa (i.e., Anomalinoides aegyptiacus) the opportunity to repopulate, survive and subsequently dominate by a hypothesized capacity to switch to an alternative life strategy (population dynamics, habitat shift) or different metabolic pathway. The faunal record of Dababiya provides insight into the cause and development of the BEE: various severe global changes during the PETM (e.g., ocean circulation, CaCO3-dissolution, productivity and temperature changes) disturbed a wide range of environments on a geologically brief timescale, explaining together the geographically and temporally variable character of the BEE. This allowed a number of specific but different foraminiferal assemblages composed of stress-tolerant and opportunistic taxa to be successful during and after the periods of environmental perturbations associated with the PETM.

After: Ernst, S.R., Guasti, E., Depuis, Ch. and Speijer, R.P.(2006) Environmental perturbation in the southern Tethys across the Paleocene/Eocene boundary (Dababiya, Egypt): Foraminiferal and clay mineral records. Marine Micropaleontology 60: 89-111.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The site has been declared a Protected Area by Prime Minister’s Decree number 1092007 under Egyptian Protectorates Law 102/1983, for its unique value as the best world representative of the Palaeocene/Eocene transition 55-50 million years ago. Rules of that Law strictly apply. The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs, has appointed guards to fend off any vandalism. At any rate, this is just a precautionary measure as the site is almost untouched.

Comparison with other similar properties

Ypresian (Paleocene/Eocene boundary):

The International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) Working Group has successfully completed its task and proposed to place the GSSP for the base of the Eocene Series in the Dababiya Section near Luxor in Upper Egypt. The GSSP is located at the base of the Carbon Isotope Excursion which has been selected as the criterion for the recognition of the Paleocene/Eocene boundary in 2002. The proposed boundary section has a good chemostratigraphic (stable isotopes) and biostratigraphic record. The "Benthic Foraminiferal Extinction Event", the peculiar planktonic foraminiferal and calcareous nannoplankton assemblages linked to the Initial Eocene Thermal Maximum are well represented in connection with the Carbon Isotope Excursion. The proposal for this GSSP has been accepted by the Voting Members of ISPS and ICS. Finally, it has been ratified by IUGS. A complete documentation of the proposed GSSP was published in a special issue by Micropaleontology in 2003.