Book review: A Guide to Fossil Collecting on the South Dorset Coast, by Steve Snowball and Craig Chivers, with illustrations by Andreas Kurpisz

Jon Trevelyan (UK)

Just a couple of days before the Covid-19 lockdown, I was with friends at Tidmoor Point collecting wonderful pyrite ammonites from the Oxford Clay with this excellent guide to the South Dorset Coast. The South Dorset Coast runs from the West Fleet (of Chesil Beach fame) to and including the Isle of Portland. It is not the most famous section of the “Jurassic Coast”. That is covered by the previous book by Snowball and Chivers (‘A Guide to Fossil Collecting on the West Dorset Coast’), which I reviewed in Issue 56. However, it is still a fascinating and beautiful area to visit. The previous book was a revelation to me and this follow up is equally good.

In the article opposite, Steve Snowball explains what he and the others want to achieve with these guides (a third is due out in 2021 covering the East Dorset Coast). I think the best way to illustrate their thinking is the way that the standard ammonite zones are explained in the guide. Most amateur geologists will know that biostratigraphy in the Jurassic is dominated by ammonites. For example, the lowest two zones of the Oxfordian are the Cordatum and Mariae Standard Zones. But, so what, when you are wondering along the beach at Tidmoor Point? This guide actually illustrates the zonal ammonites (that is, the eponymous Cardioceras cordatum and Quenstedtoceras mariae, both of which I found on my trip) in table form. That is, actual fossils are linked to the flow of geological and evolutionary time.

Throughout the guide, it is this use of full colour illustration that makes it so enjoyable, including palaeontological illustrations by Andreas Kurpisz, that are both lovely to look at, but also scientific hypotheses about how the environments might have looked, given current palaeontological knowledge. The guide also sets out the geology of the South Dorset succession and then sets out six geological excursions to be followed by the reader, for example, on the Isle of Portland.

The guide works excellently and, frankly, I can’t wait for the third guide to be published.

A Guide to Fossil Collecting on the South Dorset Coast by Steve Snowball and Craig Chivers, with illustrations by Andreas Kurpisz, Siri Scientific Press, Manchester (2020). 222 pages, Softback, ISBN: 978-0-9957496-8-9

Available from UKGE: A Guide to Fossil Collecting on the South Dorset Coast

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