Geology Museums of Britain: Wells & Mendip Museum, Somerset

Jon Trevelyan (UK) One rainy afternoon in March, rather than getting wet collecting fossils near Radstock, I abandoned my plans and paid a brief visit to the Wells & Mendip Museum in Somerset. It is not a geology museum, but it does have some great geological exhibitions. The museum (Fig. 1) was founded in 1893 by Herbert E Balch, who was a well-known amateur archaeologist, naturalist and caver; and the museum was intended to showcase his extensive collections of historical artefacts and natural specimens. Fig.1. The entrance to the museum, in the beautiful square in front of the cathedral. When you arrive in the lobby, you can’t help but notice a magnificent two-metre-long skeleton of an ichthyosaur (Fig. 2). This was found in the Lower Jurassic Blue Lias quarries at Keinton Mandeville (which is 200 to 150 million years old), during which time, a warm sea covered Somerset. In fact, the area around the town of Street, not far from Wells, has been an important source of ichthyosaur skeletons. Fig. 2. The ichthyosaur (Ichthyosaurus tenuistris), which was discovered by Thomas Hawkins, a nineteenth century collector of marine reptiles. A fossilised example of an eye socket is also on display next to the main specimen. We know that this ichthyosaur preyed on an extinct form of squid or cuttlefish (Phragmoteuthis), because the small hooks from the squids’ arms are clearly visible in its stomach. In the museum, there is also an exhibition on the ‘Netherworld of Mendip’, which explores the subterranean … Read More

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