The violent story of Cumbria’s ancient volcanoes

Ian Francis and Bruce Yardley (UK) The violent eruption that occurred near the Pacific island of Tonga in January 2022 reminded the world of the ferocious power of volcanoes. The most destructive eruptions can bury huge areas in layers of ash and lava, generate tsunamis, and even alter the Earth’s climate by injecting vast quantities of ash and aerosol droplets high into the atmosphere. Modern Britain is luckily far from any active volcanoes (Vesuvius in Italy, and the volcanoes of Iceland are the nearest to us), but this was not always the case: geological evidence shows that around 455 million years ago, during the Ordovician Period,an intense, but short-lived, periodof volcanic activity took place inwhat is now the Lake District. The geological record of that activity is mainly found in Lakeland’s high and rugged central fells, stretching from Ennerdale and Wasdale in the west, across to Haweswater in the east. Most of the Lake District’s highest fells are found in this central belt, including the Coniston fells, Pillar, Great Gable, Kirk Fell, the Sca Fells, Esk Pike, Crinkle Crags, the Langdales, Helvellyn and High Street (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Volcanic rocks form the high central fells of the Lake District. The image shows banded volcanic ash beds (tuffs) on the flank of Glaramara, looking east over Heron Crag (in shadow), Ullscarf, and beyond the Helvellyn range. (Photo: Stuart Holmes.) As far back as the early nineteenth century, those familiar with the rocks and landscape of the Lake District (such as … Read More

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The mud volcanoes of Azerbaijan

Khursheed Dinshaw (India) The first time I saw a mud volcano at close range was in Rotorua in New Zealand. I was fascinated – the raw energy of the erupting mud massively appealed to me. Once back home, I read up on mud volcanoes and learnt that, out of the almost 700 present in the world, about 300 of which are located in Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea. No wonder scientists call Azerbaijan ‘the region of mud volcanoes (Fig. 1). These mud volcanoes reach heights of 200 to 500m and temperatures of 1,000 to 1,2000C. They include active and extinct underwater, island-type and oil producing volcanoes. In Azerbaijan, one can find these natural wonders on the Absheron Peninsula, at Gobustan and the Shirvan plain. Fig. 1. A map of the mud volcanoes of Azerbaijan (© Mark Tingay and Google Earth). Recently, I was fortunate enough to visit the country and booked a tour to Gobustan to experience the famed mud volcanoes, which are locally known as ‘Pilpila’ (Fig. 2). One can drive up to the designated spot in any vehicle, but the last few kilometres necessary to reach the volcanoes is only possible by authorised cars driven by locals who know the landscape like the back of their hand. This is important, because the terrain is barren and there are no marked roads, routes or signposts to get to the mud volcanoes. Fig. 2. Mud volcanoes are called Pilpila in Ajerbaijan. My driver was born and brought up in a … Read More

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Stones that illustrate themselves

Deborah Painter (USA) Earlier in the month of September 2022, my friend David and I spent an afternoon with a fellow named Ellery, a long-time member of a rock collecting club we joined a year ago. Ellery allowed me to photograph some of his rock and mineral specimens, including a rough piece of ‘wonderstone’ of approximately 30cm in length and 19cm in width, from southern Utah, USA (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Shinarump Wonderstone is a variety of chalcedony that features swirls and other decorative patterns. (Credits: Deborah Painter; specimen from the collection of Ellery Borow.) The piece contained what looked like a painting of the flanks of a slot canyon one might see in the very area where it is found (Fig. 2). Fig. 2. A slot canyon in Page, Arizona USA, just 180km to 185km from known sources of Shinarump Wonderstone. It reminds one of the ripples and swirls in the Wonderstone in Fig. 1. (Credits: Brigitte Werner, Pixabay.) On the opposite side of the same specimen was a fish’s head, complete with an ‘eye’ (Fig. 3). Fig. 3. This ‘fish head’, complete with a fishy ‘eye’ is the image that greets you when you turn over the Shinarump Wonderstone specimen in Fig. 1. (Credits: Deborah Painter; specimen from the collection of Ellery Borow.) None of the images were artificial or cut in a particular way to bring out these ‘images’. I was instantly reminded of the pietra paesina stones of the Florence area of Italy. The latter have … Read More

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It doesn’t always have to be dinosaurs – a short review of rauisuchian archosaurs

Stephan Lautenschlager (Germany) and Dr Julia Brenda Desojo (Argentina) Fig. 1. Reconstruction of Batrachotomus kupferzellensis. (Museum of Natural History, Stuttgart, Germany.) Among the multitude of fossil animals, dinosaurs have always been the most popular and fascinating. Loved by six-year-olds, Hollywood directors, toy-designers and scientists alike, they not only dominated most of the Mesozoic Era, but still dominate our understanding of palaeontology. However, only a few people are aware that, before the dinosaurs started their 150-million-year-long global dominion, there was an equally successful and remarkable group of fossil reptiles – the ‘rauisuchians’ (Fig. 2). In this article, we will try to shed some light on these enigmatic and commonly unknown tetrapods, which were as adapt and predominant in their time – and, to be honest, as cool – as the dinosaurs. Fig. 2. Occurrence and evolution of the major archosaur groups. A history of rauisuchian research The first rauisuchian fossil was found in 1861 by the German naturalist Hermann von Meyer. It consisted of a single maxilla of Teratosaurus suevicus and was identified as an early dinosaur. The same happened to the next to be found, Poposaurus gracilis, after its discovery in Wyoming in 1915. This specimen was subsequently described as a theropod dinosaur, a primitive stegosaurid and also an ornithopod. Only when the German palaeontologist, Friedrich von Huene, collected numerous Triassic fossils from the Santa Maria Formation of Brazil in 1928, did things begin to change. His detailed studies of the material revealed that most of it did not belong … Read More

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Meteorites and tektites

David Bryant (UK) The Solar System formed around five billion years ago from a cloud of dust and debris orbiting the Sun. By a process of accretion and remelting by electrical discharges within the dust cloud, this material condensed into spherical particles called chondrules. By collision, the chondrules fused together to form larger and larger planetesimals and these aggregated to form asteroids and the planets themselves. All the rocky planets (that is, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars), together with many of their satellites, show evidence of the collisions that formed them. Debris from the original formation of the Solar System is still abundant. Many tonnes fall onto the Earth every year as meteorites – perhaps as much as 300 tonnes each day. These can be broadly classified into the three types discussed below. (1) Stony meteorites (a) Chondrites are debris from the original condensation of the Solar System and are undifferentiated. That is, the various elements of the original solar cloud are all present. For this reason, they are attracted to a magnet because of the nickel-iron they contain (within more massive bodies, like asteroids and planets, the heavy elements migrated inwards to form a core). Chondrites are classified using an alphanumeric system that refers to the abundance and size of their chondrules (on a scale of 3 to 6, with 3 meaning there are abundant chondrules present and 6 meaning there are indistinct or sparse chondrules) and their iron content (referred to as either ‘L’ for low or ‘H’ … Read More

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The fossil forest of Curio Bay

Heather Wilson (New Zealand) Fig. 1. The location of Curio Bay. The 180 million year old fossilised forest at New Zealand’s Curio Bay is of international geological significance. When I visited the area recently, the wind was blowing a gale and there were high seas. There is a two-minute walk from the car park to a lookout and then a series of steps down to the beach. When the rocks and fossilised trees are wet, they are slippery, so you need good footwear. This is a protected area. When I visited, there was a representative from the Department of Conservation guarding the beach. There are also video cameras keeping an eye on the fossilised forest, making sure it doesn’t gradually vanish as a result of tourists and rock hounds making off with specimens. Fig. 2. View of Curio Bay. This is one of the most extensive and least disturbed examples of a Jurassic fossil forest in the world. The area within which it is found stretches for about 20km, from Curio Bay, south-west to Slope Point. When the forest was living (during the Middle Jurassic epoch), New Zealand was part of the eastern margin of the ancient super-continent known as Gondwana. North of Curio Bay, most of the country’s future land area was beneath the sea. The fossilised trees occur in green sandstones, alternating with blue shaley clays containing plant impressions. Silica has entirely replaced the woody structure of the trees and rendered them extremely resistant to erosion. Therefore, they … Read More

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The Spittles Landslip, Lyme Regis

Richard Edmonds (UK) On the evening of 6 May 2008, a 300m section of the cliffs east of Lyme slid towards the sea creating one of the most spectacular landslides in recent years. Members of the local fire brigade were training along Gun Cliff, the easterly promenade of the town, and they, along with local residents, witnessed the event. Apparently, a flock of seagulls were suddenly spooked into flight amid much squawking, which drew people’s attention to what was happening. A huge block of dark, Lower Jurassic shale was sliding over the sea cliff and onto the beach accompanied by a deep rumbling noise and, shortly after, a strong smell of sulphur. Luckily, it was high tide and no one was on the beach at the time. I suspect that if anyone had been, they would have seen numerous small falls, cracks and movements taking place before the main failure and would have had time to get away. However, the risk to the public was obvious and the Lyme Regis coastguard team were called as dusk descended. Fig. 1. An ariel view of the Spittles Landslip from the Maritime Coastguard Agency helicopter. Maritime ©Coastguard Agency/Dorset County Council. The following morning revealed the extent of the landslide, especially from the air. There are a few perks in my job with the County Council and as a member of the local coastguard rescue team, but someone had to go up in the new Maritime Coastguard Agency helicopter and I was picked as … Read More

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Fossil from Denmark (part 2)

Niels Laurids Viby (Denmark) The first half of the Palaeocene in Northern Europe belongs, more or less, to the Danish! On 16 November 1846, Edouard Desor held a lecture in Paris with the title ‘Sur l’étage Danien, nouvel étage de la crai’ (‘On the Danien, a new stage of the Cretaceous’) – the Danien was, at that time, seen as being the final stage of the Cretaceous period. Nowadays, in most parts of the world, including most of Europe, ‘Danien’ is the recognised name for the geological age stretching from the end of the Cretaceous (somewhere between 64 and 65mya, depending on what book you read) to some five million years later. Danien deposits are widespread in Denmark, apart from in the southern part of Jutland, and even here you can find flint and blocks of chalk from hardened Danien beds on every stony beach. For fossil collectors from countries that do not have these sediments, Denmark is a good place to visit – it is virtually impossible to come home without at least some Danien fossils, although probably not a great variety unless you visit Fakse Chalk Quarry (which is discussed below). Danien chalk – a lot of different sediments: Stevns Klint The layout of the Danien is best seen at Stevns Klint on Zealand, which has some 20km of cliffs, averaging 20m in height. Fig. 1. Stevns Klint – southern end. Here, the bottoms of the cliffs are, in most places, Cretaceous, being from the very top of … Read More

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From sea to sand – ancient marine reptiles from the deserts of Saudi Arabia

Benjamin Kear (Australia) The hot, dry deserts of modern Saudi Arabia are not renowned as a source of ancient marine reptile fossils. Indeed, only a few years ago, virtually nothing was known beyond a few unidentified scraps of bone recovered by petroleum geologists searching for oil. However, recent exploration by teams of both Saudi and international palaeontologists have led to some exciting new finds that are helping to piece together the 190 million year long story of marine reptile evolution in the Arabian Peninsula. Fig. 1. A map of the modern Arabian Peninsula (with Saudi Arabian borders) showing the extent of the Arabian Shield (lilac) and successive Mesozoic-Cainozoic sedimentary rock exposures: Late Permian to Triassic (violet); Jurassic (blue); Cretaceous (green); Cainozoic (brown). What are marine reptiles? The term ‘marine reptile’ is actually rather ambiguous and does not refer to a specific group. Rather, it applies to any wholly or partly aquatic reptile that makes, or has made, its home in the ocean. Examples of modern marine reptiles include sea turtles (chelonioids), sea snakes (related to terrestrial venomous snakes or elapids), the marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) and the salt-water crocodile (Crocodylus porosus). The latter is typically estuarine, but commonly ventures into coastal marine areas. However, the zenith of marine reptile diversity occurred during the Mesozoic or ‘Age of Dinosaurs’, when in excess of ten major radiations, including representatives of those living today (that is, turtles, snakes, lizards and crocodiles), made the transition to life in the sea. Despite having quite different … Read More

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Fenestella and other bryozoans in the Carboniferous rocks of the British Isles

Paul D Taylor (UK) Ask a geologist to name a fossil bryozoan found in the rocks of the British Isles and the most likely answer will be Fenestella. The net-like fossils of Fenestella are especially abundant in the Carboniferous Limestone (Figs 1 and 2), although the genus, as used in its broadest sense, is also present in the Silurian, Devonian and Permian deposits of Britain. Fig. 1. Colony of Fenestella (s.l.) nodulosa from the Lower Carboniferous of Calcot Quarry, Halkyn Mountain, Flintshire. Branches forming the characteristic meshwork fan outwards from the colony origin. Fig. 2. Large colony of Fenestella (s.l.) flabellata from the Carboniferous Limestone of Fife in Scotland. Fracturing of the meshwork is evident. While Fenestella dominates almost all bryozoan assemblages found in the British Carboniferous, a variety of other bryozoans are commonly found. Some Carboniferous bryozoans inhabited reefs or mounds, others were components of non-reef marine communities where they lived together with brachiopods, crinoids and corals at a time when the British Isles was situated close to the equator. All Carboniferous bryozoans constructed immobile colonies consisting of numerous individual zooids, with crowns of tentacles used to capture tiny planktonic algae floating in the water around. Our knowledge of the diversity of Carboniferous bryozoans in the British Isles has increased enormously during the last 50 years through the studies of David E Owen, Ron Tavener-Smith, Adrian J Bancroft and Patrick N Wyse Jackson. Yet, and in common with bryozoans from other geological periods, Carboniferous bryozoans are too often perceived … Read More

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Drought in South Australia creates soil problems

Dr Paul Shand (Australia) In South Australia, the staff of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Land and Water have recently shown that the River Murray, adjacent wetlands and the Lower Lakes (Alexandrina and Albert) close to the Murray Mouth are being seriously impacted by a combination of low water levels and the presence of acid sulfate soils (ASS). The Lower Lakes and the floodplains below lock 1 at Blanchetown are undergoing their first drought since the introduction of barrages more than 50 years ago. Lakes, such as Lake Bonney and Lake Yatco, as well as several wetlands formed by the River Murray, are being isolated as one option to generate water savings and help mitigate drought-related problems in the Murray-Darling Basin. Field observations and chemical analysis confirm the occurrence of both sulphuric materials (pH <4) and sulphidic materials (high sulphide concentrations and pH >4) in a range of ASS subtypes (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Acid Sulphate Soil with sulfuric material near Swanport adjacent to the Murray River. In addition, some areas contain ‘monosulphidic black ooze’, that causes rapid oxygen depletion of lake and drainage waters when the ooze is mixed with oxygenated waters during disturbance (Fig. 2). Fig. 2. extensive cracking and accumulation of white and yellow Na-Mg-Fe-Al-sulphate-rich minerals or salt efflorescences. Unpleasant smells (‘rotten eggs’), as a result of rotting vegetable matter and the release of gases, have been experienced in these areas of exposed soils when water levels are extremely low or the lakes have … Read More

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Geology Museums of Britain: Portland Museum, Dorset

Jon Trevelyan(UK) Fig. 1. A huge Titanites giganteus adorns the doorway. I visited this little museum a while ago while on a Geologists’ Association field trip. I have passed it several time and always loved the large Titanites giganteus above the door (Fig. 1) of this picturesque cottage (Fig. 2). As a result, I had always wanted to visit, but more particularly I want to see the famous fossil turtle (Fig. 3) that is exhibited there. Fig. 2. One of the two seventeenth century cottages making up the museum. Fig. 3. The lovely fossil turtle at the museum. In fact, Portland Museum is a lovely example of a local museum containing (among other things, geology (Fig. 4), in this case, tucked away in a beautiful part of the ‘island’ in two seventeenth century cottages, near Rufus Castle and the popular Church Ope Cove. Fig. 4. Some of the geological exhibits at the museum. The Isle of Portland in Dorset represents the most southerly point of the Jurassic, which is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site and famous for its geology, fossils and geomorphology. It is joined to the mainland by the equally famous Chesil Beach but has always been regarded (not least by its inhabitants)as separate from the mainland, and this is reflected in the museum’s collection. That is, Portland Museum does not just contain geology and palaeontology; its exhibits also reflect the Isle’s history and people. Portland Museum was founded in 1930 by Dr Marie Stopes, renowned for her … Read More

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Ghughua Fossil National Park, India

Khursheed Dinshaw (India) The Ghughua Fossil National Park is located in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India and contains plant fossils that are more than 65 million years old. It covers an area of approximately 27.34ha and consists of a museum and fossil trail. The fossils inside the museum are on display in neatly arranged glass showcases. The most popular exhibit is the Eucalyptus tree fossil, which is kept on a bed of sand (Fig. 1). It was found in Ghughua and what makes it a highly coveted fossil is the belief that it originated from Gondwana (see below). Fig. 1. A Eucalyptus tree kept in the museum. The fossil trail is a walkway where visitors can see the fossils in their natural setting. Since multiple fossils were discovered at one location, they are placed on circular platforms at that spot by the side of the walkway (Fig. 2). Fig. 2. Multiple fossils found at Ghughua. It is due to the untiring efforts of Dr Dharmendra Prasad, who was the Statistical Officer of the district, that the fossils and park gained their due prominence. Fifty two years ago, S R Ingle from Science College in Jabalpur and Dr M B Bande from the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences in Lucknow spent time studying and identifying the fossils and their contribution is significant. On 5 May 1983, Ghughua was declared a Fossil National Park and a sum of Rs 150 lacs was allocated for developing it. The fossils that can be … Read More

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Pennsylvania’s forests looked different in the Carboniferous and Early Permian

Deborah Painter (USA) A singer named Perry Como caused this article to be written. Perhaps it would be more correct to credit his statue. My friend Richard and I took a road trip in June 2018 to a conference in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, USA for a three-day weekend. On Sunday afternoon, we were facing a seven hour drive south back to our homes. Fortunately, the weather was sunny and mild, a good way to conclude a trip that had been plagued with thunderstorms earlier. We were both tired, but Richard allowed me to stop off Interstate 79 to Canonsburg, Pennsylvania to see a statue in honour of Perry Como, an American celebrity of the mid-twentieth century. I admit I didn’t know why I wanted to see it, since I am not especially a fan of the recording artist and television star, and neither is Richard. However, I was curious about it because I had read that it continuously plays music. I also thought Canonsburg (Fig. 1), a quick turn off the Interstate highway in Washington County, might be a good stopping place for us to find a restaurant before proceeding on the long journey back. Fig. 1. Canonsburg is an older suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania USA in Washington County. (Credits: Deborah Painter.) Perry Como’s mellow style of jazz and big band made him a recipient of a Kennedy Center Award for outstanding achievement in the performing arts. His style and choice of music was not unlike those of the even … Read More

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In the footsteps of T-rex and other prehistoric giants: my trip to Hell Creek, the Green River Formation and the Niobrara Chalk

George Corneille (UK) It was Christmas 2005 and I received a phone call from the USA from my good friend, Terry Boudreaux. He asked if I wanted to join him and his boys, Christopher and Evan, on a trip to hunt dinosaurs in Hell Creek in South Dakota, fossil fish in Kemmerer, Wyoming and Cretaceous marine life in the chalk formations of Gove County, Kansas. Well, he didn’t have to ask twice and, in June of 2007, I arrived in Chicago to begin my 4,500 mile road trip to some of the most famous fossil sites in the world. On the morning of Sunday, 25 June 2006, we left Chicago to begin our fossil adventure. I was full of anticipation, dreaming of a finding a mosasaur or maybe a four-inch T-rex tooth (or even just a fossil fly). On the first day, we drove to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, arriving the next day in Rapid City S.D. where I had an opportunity to visit the Black Hills Institute and see their stunning collection of dinosaur fossils. I suppose the most impressive fossil was the complete Triceratops lying in situ, as he has done for the last 65 million years, and the giant skull from a Deinosuchus, the massive prehistoric crocodilian. We continued our journey and, that night, arrived in Buffalo, South Dakota where we would spend the next few days hunting dinosaurs. Fig. 1. Outside the ranch house in Buffalo, S.D.. Back row from left: Terry, Alyson, Ryan, Steve, Christopher … Read More

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A crinoid find and a brief history of collecting these animals

Fiona Jennings (UK) I am a collector of fossil crinoids that, along with many other types of fossils, are common on the coast of North Yorkshire. The best crinoid fossil I have found so far is the large block of jumbled stems pictured. I found it at Skipsea, a few miles from Tunstall, on the Holderness coast, one November a while ago. The block measures 18 inches across, is 6.5 inches thick and has a circumference of 23 inches. I was totally surprised when I saw it resting on the mud, as I’d only been on the beach for about ten minutes. My friend Harry tells me that this block is an erratic, carried to the beach from further north, by glacier ice during the last glaciation. Fig. 1. The block. I always have fun on my fossil hunting trips, but the biggest laugh of this particular day came as I tried to get the fossil off the beach. After finally squeezing it into my husband’s rucksack, I then had the trouble of lifting the bag onto his back. Fortunately, he managed to lug my find back to the car, because it was definitely coming home with us whether he liked it or not! Fig. 2. Magnified view of the crinoid block. I find crinoid fossils fascinating, but the history of their collection interests me the most. In the past, disc-shaped segments from their stems were used to make necklaces and rosaries. As a result, they were once known as … Read More

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A very brief Introduction to the Quaternary

By Joe Shimmin The Quaternary comprises the Pleistocene and the Holocene and is the youngest of the geological periods. It dates from approximately 1.8 million years ago right up to the present, with the large majority of this time being filled by the Pleistocene. The Holocene spans a geological ‘blink of an eye’, beginning only 10,000 years ago at the start of the present interglacial and continues today. What sets the Quaternary apart from other geological periods is a suite of high frequency climate fluctuations, with very cold stages being interspersed by warmer stages. This type of climate fluctuation is believed to have occurred at various other times in the Earth’s history, but most of the evidence for these has been wiped out over millions of years. However, the glacial/interglacial or warm/cold stages of the Quaternary have, in many cases, left us enough evidence of their existence for the Quaternary scientist to be able to attempt to reconstruct these past environments with some degree of success. Fig. 1. Glacial beds at Benacre, Suffolk Serbian mathematician, Milutin Milanković, formulated the accepted theory for why climate oscillations have occurred in this period, in the first half the twentieth century. According to ‘Milanković, Quaternary climate was, and is, influenced by three factors: Factor 1: the shape or ‘eccentricity’ of the Earth’s orbit around the sun, which varies over a cycle of approximately 100,000 years.Factor 2: The tilt or ‘obliquity, of the Earth’s axis, which varies over a cycle of approximately 41,000 years.Factor 3: … Read More

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Earthquake in Lincolnshire: 27 February 2008

RMW Musson (BGS Scotland) I was woken abruptly at 1:30am by the ringing of my phone, which was sitting on the shelf above the bedroom radiator. The phone ringing in the middle of the night usually means only one thing: bad news. I took the phone into the hall so as not to disturb my wife more than need be. A colleague of mine was on the line: There’s been a large earthquake in Lincolnshire. It’s about 5.” Visions of damage raced through my mind. Magnitude 5 is not big in world terms, but is about the upper end of what is experienced in Britain. And size is not everything: location is critical. We have been fortunate in the UK in recent years, as the largest British earthquakes have mostly occurred well away from large cities. The two previous 5s (in 1984 and 1990) were in the extreme north-west of Wales and the Shropshire countryside respectively. However, an earthquake in Lincolnshire in 1185, probably about 5 in magnitude, brought down a large part of Lincoln cathedral and, if folklore is to be believed, so destroyed some nearby villages that they were never rebuilt. Was this a repeat of the 1185 earthquake? OK, I’m on my way.” The streets of Edinburgh were completely deserted as I drove up to the BGS office on the southern edge of the city. Three of my colleagues were already there, bringing up data from the seismic monitoring network remotely over radio and computer links. By … Read More

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Down and dirty at a dig: a dinophile’s dream comes true

By Elena Victory “You really should go on a dig” was the advice of a dear friend during the long, rainy winter of 2005. I was just gearing up to teach my annual, introductory paleontology class at a small college near my home outside Portland, Oregon. “Where?” I asked. “Who specialises in fanatics who read lots of dinosaur books and dream a lot, but has never dug up a real dinosaur?” She smiled and said, “I think Nate Murphy’s program would be good for you”. It unfolded from there. I emailed Nate to find out availability. He emailed back, directly I might add. And so, I found myself outside of Billings, MT en route to my first real dig. It was a beautiful landscape: a few lonely Ponderosa pines stood like silent sentinels over a grassy landscape dotted with spurges, thistles and wormwoods. Through the eyes of a botanist, it didn’t look like dinosaur country to me. That night, after a group of 35 excited diggers had made camp and their introductions, we were given a little history. The next day, we were going to dig our awls and shovels into the “Mighty Morrison”, a huge geological layer cake of shales and mudstones spanning several states and several thousand square miles. The Morrison graveyard also records a story of climate change. Early in the Jurassic period, Apatosaurus roamed on its home range encountering arid seasons part of the year and deluges the rest of the season (poor thing, I thought, … Read More

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Dinosaur Profile: Megaraptor – the Killer Claw

By Stephen Day Argentina has been the home of some spectacular fossil discoveries in recent years. Some of the largest titans of our planet have been found in this country, including the colossal Giganotosaurus and Argentinosaurus. The thought of a 5.2 ton Giganotosaurus must have been terrifying sight for any prey, but imagine the thought of a predatory dinosaur with a 14-inch claw making its way towards you. Fig. 1. Megaraptor namunhuaiquii (© Jordan Mallon 2005). To understand more about this predator, we need to travel to modern day Patagonia and to the hills north-west of here. Fig. 2. The site of the find in South America. PROFILE INFORMATIONNameMegaraptor namunhuaiquii(Lance footed giant thief)ClassificationCarnosaurPeriodLate CretaceousAge 90/84myaLocationNear Patagonia, Argentina Often referred to as “the lake district”, the remote hills of north-west Patagonia are like those out of a fairytale. Snow capped hills, ancient forests and sapphire blue lakes are just some of the features that make this place picture-perfect. Isolated fisherman and bird life dwell here in a great sense of innocence. There is no denying that today, this is a place of utmost tranquillity and beauty wielded together. However not everything here is as innocent as it appears … In 1997, an Argentine scientist by the same of Dr. Fernando Novas, was digging around the hills of north-west Patagonia when he made a spectacular, yet unsettling discovery. Dr. Novas dug up a huge 13-inch dinosaur bone claw. Palaeontologists also speculate that when it was attached to the dinosaur it could have … Read More

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Jurassic Gorge

By Dr Susan Parfrey About 95km south of Rolleston, in the southern part of central Queensland, Australia, is a national park that contains the Carnarvon Gorge. The gorge is over 32km in length and is formed of towering white sandstone cliffs. It has almost everything a visitor could want – beautiful scenery, wonderful Aboriginal rock paintings and a garden of moss with a magic waterfall, plus King Ferns, the largest ferns in the world. So what’s missing? Well, obviously, Jurassic dinosaurs. An impression of how these dinosaurs may have looked. © SMP. This is one of the most popular national parks in the state and has over 30,000 people visiting every year. Over the years, you would imagine every centimetre of rock has been carefully studied and, in particular, the ‘Art Gallery’ Aboriginal rock paintings, some of which date back 3,600 years. Imagine the surprise in 1992 when some tourists told the Park Ranger they thought there were bird footprints in a rock at the Art Gallery. The ranger examined the site and, sure enough, there were some marks on the rock. But were they footprints? The Park Ranger took photographs and sent them to the sloe palaeontologist at the Geological Survey of Queensland in Brisbane. Map of Australia showing the position of Brisbane and Carnarvon Gorge. Throughout my career as a geologist, I have seen every shape possible formed in rocks. Nature has an amazing ability to cut interesting shapes in natural objects. Combine this with people’s imaginations and … Read More

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A new Park County gem discovery: Tarryall fire agate

By Steven Wade Veatch Exceptional specimens of iridescent fire agate have recently been found in Park County in the USA, close to Tarryall Creek and near the Tarryall Reservoir. Fire agate is a variety of chalcedony (pronounced kal SED’ uh nee), a form of microcrystalline or cryptocrystalline (crystals too small to be seen without high magnification) quartz (SiO2). It contains inclusions of iron oxide (limonite) that produce an iridescent effect or ‘fire’. Chalcedony is generally formed near the surface of the Earth, where temperatures and pressures are low. The Tarryall fire agate has a botryoidal (grape-like) growth form. The agate is also layered: it contains thin layers of plate-like crystals of iron oxide in various planes. When light travels through these thin layers, the planes produce the iridescent colour play of red, gold and green. Fig. 1. Good fire agates are impressive in their rich and dramatic colour play. They form in cavities and cracks in the country rock from low temperature, silica-rich waters, in a way similar to how black opal forms. Lee Magginetti specimen. Photo date June, 2007, © by S. W. Veatch. The fire agate specimens were found as seams in granite near the Tarryall Creek. This  is a tributary of the South Platte River, approximately 25 miles (40km) long, in Park County, central Colorado. It drains a portion of north and central South Park, an intermontane grassland south-west of Denver. Tarryall Creek runs in several forks along the continental divide in the Pike National Forest and … Read More

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Finding Ophthalmosaurus – the eye lizard

By Paul de la Salle Ophthalmosaurus – the ‘eye lizard’ – is so called because of its enormous eyes, presumably of crucial importance when diving to enormous depths in the Jurassic seas in search and pursuit of its favourite prey, the belemnite. This was a large ichthyosaur, supremely adapted to its marine environment. Some fossil collectors think it should be called ‘Ribosaurus’ on account of the number and size of its ribs that are usually broken into hundreds of pieces when found. Fig. 1. Block as found – 24 June 2007. Fig. 2. Ribs. Individual vertebrae and rib sections of this, the only ichthyosaur known from the Lower Oxford Clay, are fairly common finds. However, I was lucky enough to find a partial articulated skeleton this summer, in the drainage ditches of a Wiltshire gravel pit. Fig. 3. Concretion before cleaning. Fig. 4. Another concretion before cleaning. Recent heavy rains had washed away some of the clay from the bank exposing a large pyritic concretion packed with bones, including a humerus. When I dug into the bank, I was amazed to find both front paddles, including both humeri and about 50 paddle bones. Many of the bones were fused together in life position. Fig. 5. Front and rear flipper. Fig. 6. The left paddle. Fig. 7. Loose vertebrae. Over the next week or so, I recovered quite a bit more of the skeleton but the head had been washed away by one of the floods that had deposited the gravel … Read More

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That Arizona hot spot might be a volcanic field

Deborah Painter Let’s see, when I say “Arizona hot spots”, what might come to mind for many people are the restaurants, nightclubs and sports events in Phoenix (the US state’s largest city), the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, attracting visitors from around the world, Tombstone (the infamous “town too tough to die”, where the equally infamous 1881 gunfight at the OK Corral took place), and any portion of the desert in the daytime during August. But how many people think of the many volcanoes in Arizona USA, part of a volcanic field that is likely not finished erupting? Arizona, USA has seven young (Quaternary Period) volcanic fields. The three youngest fields are the San Francisco, Uinkaret and Pinacate volcanic fields. The first two of these young fields are on the Colorado Plateau of northern Arizona; the Pinacate Field is much farther south on the Arizona-Mexico border. The San Francisco Field is the focus of this article. It is situated near Flagstaff and Williams in northern Arizona (Fig. 1). It extends approximately 5,0002km from Williams to the Little Colorado River. There are slightly over 600 cones. The field was active as recently as 932 BP (Before Present), with the eruption that formed Sunset Crater at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. Fig. 1. The San Francisco Volcanic Field. (Credits: United States Geological Survey/Wikimedia Commons.) The spectacular San Francisco Peaks within this field are originally a single stratovolcano that experienced deep erosion (Fig. 2). Mount Elden near Flagstaff is a large volcanic … Read More

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SEACHANGE sets sail: Science on the high seas

Jack Wilkin (UK) During April and May 2022, I had the fantastic opportunity to participate in a research expedition to the North Sea and Iceland on the RRS Discovery, as part of the SEACHANGE project. The following article is a brief description of the science that happened on the ship. What is the SEACHANGE Project? SEACHANGE is a six-year research project funded by the ERC Synergy Grant Scheme (part of the EU’s research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020). It is jointly run by the University of Exeter (UK), Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (Germany) and the University of Copenhagen (Denmark). This is a collaborative project with scientists worldwide, from master’s students to professors working diligently to answer the question: What were the oceans like before large-scale human impact? To answer this question, we need to test the scale and rate of biodiversity loss resulting from fishing, whaling and habitat destruction over the last 2,000 years in the North Sea and around Iceland, eastern Australia and the Antarctic Peninsula. In addition, we need to find out more about the earlier transition from hunter-gatherer to farming communities in northern Europe around 6,000 years ago. However, before answering this question and starting to generate data, we first needed the raw materials. Because we were monitoring the oceans, we needed to go to the sea to gather our samples, so we need a boat … a very big boat. The RRS Discovery. The RRS Discovery (Fig. 1) is one of the most advanced research ships … Read More

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Book review: Hands-on Palaeontology: a practical manual, by Stephen K. Donovan

I wish I had this book when I was starting out collecting fossils. It has everything and more you need to take your hobby (and, who know, later a career in palaeontology) to a better, and more advance and fulfilling place. While I will never take the record-keeping and note taking to the levels gently suggested in this very readable book, perhaps if I had read this when I was a teenager, perhaps I would have done.

German Miners in Cumbria

By Jean Tyler One fine Summer’s day in 1564, a group of men on horseback made their way westward from Carlisle along the rough road to Keswick. One of their number rode with the covered wagon that contained clothing, personal chattels and the tools of their trade – mining. These men came from Germany and were the finest miners and smelters in the world. They were here in England at the request of the English Crown and their job was to extract the rich, glowing copper from the mineral veins of Lakeland. So begins the story of mining in this country. The first group of ten men arrived in Keswick in 1564 and were easily accommodated in local lodgings. What a flurry of excitement this must have caused in this little town that consisted of no more than one muddy street with a few squalid yards running off it. At that time, the housing was of timber and wattle daub construction with bracken-thatched roofing. Behind the houses ran strips of land with middens, pigsties and more very basic housing – buildings that were little more than hovels. The arrival of the Germans created a flutter amongst the local girls who were soon vying with each other for the attention of these small, tough men from overseas. Unhappily, some of the inhabitants were suspicious of the foreign strangers who were set to earn good money doing a proper job and violent confrontation eventually resulted in one of the incomers, Leonard Stoulz, … Read More

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British fossil elephants

By Adrian M Lister Fig. 1. From a realistic scale model at the Natural History Museum, London. Note the sloping back and the double ‘finger and thumb’ at the end of the trunk. (© Natural History Museum, London.) The elephant family (Elephantidae), like that of humans, originated in Africa. Finds from the late Miocene of southern and eastern Africa show that, by between seven and six million years ago, true elephants had arisen, probably from advanced mastodonts, which are related to stegodons. Between those dates and about four million years ago, the earliest representatives of the three great stocks of elephants – the African elephant (Loxodonta), Asian elephant (Elephas) and mammoth (Mammuthus) all make their appearance in the African fossil record. Loxodonta, of course, stayed in Africa, while Elephas eventually migrated north and east into its current range in south-east Asia. The first true elephant fossils in Europe are of the Mammuthus lineage. In Britain, these first make their appearance in the Red Crag of Suffolk, now dated to around 2.6 million years old. The fossils are not common, but three well-preserved molars from Rendlesham can be seen in Ipswich Museum. This material has recently been attributed to the species Mammuthus rumanus, on the basis of the primitive appearance of the back molars with only ten complete enamel loops (Lister and van Essen, 2003). Fig. 2. A molar from one of the earliest mammoths in Europe, Mammuthus rumanus, from the Red Crag of Suffolk, Ipswich Museum. (Photo by H van … Read More

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Building stones of the Ancient World

By Ken Brooks (UK) Local stone was an essential element in the development of early civilisations, as its availability and quality determined the building styles that they created. The effective working and use of stone as a building material was a skill acquired by man at an early stage of history in many different regions of the world. Today, we can identify their methods of working stone by studying the buildings, quarries and the tools that have survived them. Egypt For thousands of years, the River Nile has carved its way through areas of sandstone, granite and limestone on its 750-mile journey through Egypt to the Mediterranean. From very early times, and even to the present day, the Egyptians have built their homes with bricks made from mud – an abundant raw material along the banks of the River Nile. It was around 5,000 years ago, as organised religion became established, that they began to use locally available stone to construct temples and pyramids. Between 2590BC and 2500BC, the ancient Egyptians built three huge pyramids on the Giza plateau (near present-day Cairo). Fig. 1. The pyramids at Giza. The bedrock in this area is a nummulitic limestone dating from the Eocene period, 34 to 55mya. It is an interesting thought that some of the largest man-made structures on earth were constructed from the fossil remains of tiny organisms (foraminifera). Work on a pyramid began with the extraction of limestone blocks at a nearby quarry. The only tools the Egyptians had … Read More

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Fossils from Denmark (part 1)

By Niels Laurids Viby Denmark – why on earth should anybody in the UK go to such a strange place – where people, among other things, drive on the wrong side of the road and speak a funny language? And why write something for Deposits on the subject at all? You can find fossils from almost every time period apart from a few in the UK. For example, you can find them from the very top of the Cretaceous period (Maastricien) and the Lower Palaeocene period (Danien). However, these particular geological periods, especially the Danien that was, after all, named after a site in Denmark are also found in many places in Denmark. Moreover, at one site, you can actually access the KT border and get a sample from the famous (but thin) band with high concentrations of iridium. Of course, most fossil collectors concentrate on what is found close to home, and for good logistical reasons. However, for those who want a broad collection covering the development of life or for that matter a mass extinction, a holiday in Denmark is a good option for filling a gap without having to drive long distances – Denmark is a rather small country! In this first article on Danish geology, I will provide the reader with two things. Firstly, a short description of Danish geology, including what is legal to collect and what is not and secondly, a description of a Danish speciality – Lower Eocene diatom clay, the ‘moler’, which … Read More

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