Histology of a sauropod rib bone from the Wessex Formation, Hanover point, Isle of Wight

Megan Jacobs (Isle of Wight) In September 2015, I went to Compton Bay on the Isle of Wight to hunt for dinosaur bones. It was equinox tides all week, so an ideal time to get out on the furthest rocks of the Wessex formation, dating from the Barremian stage of the early Cretaceous (about 130Ma) also famous for the bone debris beds, which are highly fossiliferous. Time passed and I hadn’t had a great amount of luck. So, deciding today was not my day, I decided to head home. As I turned, I glanced down to see a beautiful piece of rib bone with the most amazing internal structure I’ve ever seen (Fig. 1). But also nothing like I’ve ever seen before. Fig. 1. The bone when found at Hanover Point, Isle of Wight, September 2015. I took it show my tutor, David Martill, at the University of Portsmouth. He was quick to identify it as being from a sauropod, due to the large air cavities now filled in with a clear mineral banded by pyrite. He then followed the identification by: “how’d you fancy cutting it in half for a thin section?” I was dubious about the idea at first: I’d never looked at a bone and thought ‘you know what, that would be better cut in half’. But I went along with it and handed over my prize. What is a thin section? A thin section is an approximately 30µm thick slice of rock, or in this case, … Read More

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Twilight of the mammoths

Zachary Sepulveda (USA) Perched upon a grassy hill ancient hunters prepare to make a kill… Blaring trumpets shatter the airTerrified voices echo despairHurtling towards their own demiseA chance at life, their fate denies. The blood of giants spills upon the grassBrought forth by razor-edged volcanic glassMarching closer to defeat with each fresh lacerationPanicking behemoths flee from inevitable damnation. Perfectly adapted to a dying worldTheir fate was sealed when their blanket of ice unfurledTheir fragile world was brought to bear before the fury of the sun And before they even knew it, their time on earth was done. About the author Zachary Sepulveda recently moved to the Pikes Peak region from San Diego, CA. He became interested in palaeontology by visiting the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles as often as he could. He is a junior member of the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society and is part of the Pikes Peak Pebble Pups and Earth Science Scholars Program. Zach is 15 years old and is in 10th grade at Palmer Ridge High School in Monument, Colorado. He has also represented the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society and the Colorado Scientific Society at the Western Interior Paleontological Society’s Founders Symposium: Ice Worlds and Their Fossils. The symposium was held at the Colorado School of Mines on 16 and 17 March 2013. Zac presented a poster as part of a section on “Bringing the Past to Life (Artist Scientist Panel)”.

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Geology and landscape of Levisham and Newtondale, Yorkshire

WAJ Rutter (UK) and HC Costigan (UK) This article is about the geology and geomorphology of the Levisham Bottoms and Newtondale area of Yorkshire. This is an interesting strip of virtually level land, which forms a shelf at about 150m above sea level, between Levisham Moor and the bottom of Newtondale. It is a fascinating geological region that allows a visitor to see exposures of Middle Jurassic rocks and Quaternary deposits from the Ice Age, together with examples of interesting glacial geomorphology. There are many noteworthy features, including features within the solid bedrock indicating the depositional environment of the Middle Jurassic strata, and the drift geology of ice-age deposits, including erratics. The aim of this article is to allow the reader to understand the geological processes and features at this locality. The strata of Levisham Bottoms comprises of Middle Jurassic, fluvio-deltaic rocks and Upper Jurassic marine deposits. The beds dip at an angle of approximately 5° due south, and contain no faulting, folds or crush zones (Robinson, 2010). The bedrock geology of the area is detailed in the table accompanying this article. The topography has been created primarily by quaternary glacial and post glacial Devensian activity. Fig. 1. Ginkgo huttonii, from the Long Nab member of the Scalby Formation.The environment in the Middle Jurassic consisted of a large river delta flowing into the Cleveland Basin, bound to the north by the Mid-North Sea High, and to the west by the Pennine High (van-Konijnenburg-van Cittert and Morgans, 1999; Powell, 2010) and … Read More

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Features in the field: Ignimbrites of the Yr Arddu syncline

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) In July 1979, I was one of more than 20 undergraduate students at the Department of Geology, University of Manchester, to undertake their final year mapping project in the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. My mapping area was the Yr Arddu Syncline, about 4km southeast of Beddgelert in Gwynedd. The rock succession is comprised of slates and sandstones, overlain by acid volcanic rocks, with a range of intrusions (mainly acidic), such as microgranite, but also including dolerite. A feature of this succession was the range of features beautifully exposed in the volcanics and intrusions (Figs. 1 to 4). Fig. 1. Features in acidic igneous rocks, Yr Arddu syncline, North Wales (Upper Ordovician).A: [NGR SH 6267 4554] Large acidic fragment (about 60cm maximum dimension) in Pitts Head Tuff Formation. The fragment shows lenticular lapilli. Such large fragments are the exception rather than the rule in the Pitts Head Tuff Formation.B: [NGR SH 6334 4594] Contact between the Pitts Head Tuff Formation (left) and the Composite Intrusion weathered out as a crack to the right of the hammer. Note that the cleavage of the ‘baked’ tuff has not been picked out by weathering, unlike the unbaked rock to the far left.C: [NGR SH 6267 4579] Bedding in Rhyolite Tuff, dipping steeply to the right. Finer grained tuff (left of centre) overlies tuff with small fragments. The finer grained tuff is overlain, in turn (right of centre), by rubbly tuff with numerous small rhyolitic fragments and then … Read More

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Exploding star missing from formation of solar system

Chelsea Leu (USA) A new study, published by University of Chicago researchers challenges, the notion that the force of an exploding star forced the formation of the solar system. In this study, published online in Earth and Planetary Science Letters in November 2012, authors Haolan Tang and Nicolas Dauphas found the radioactive isotope iron 60 – the telltale sign of an exploding star – low in abundance and well mixed in solar system material. As cosmochemists, they look for remnants of stellar explosions in meteorites to help determine the conditions under which the solar system formed. Some remnants are radioactive isotopes, that is, unstable, energetic atoms that decay over time. Scientists in the past decade have found high amounts of the radioactive isotope iron 60 in early solar system materials. “If you have iron 60 in high abundance in the solar system, that’s a ‘smoking gun’ – evidence for the presence of a supernova,” Dauphas, professor in geophysical sciences, told me during a meeting in his office in October 2012. Iron 60 can only originate from a supernova, so scientists have tried to explain this apparent abundance by suggesting that a supernova occurred nearby, spreading the isotope throughout the explosion. However, Tang and Dauphas’ results were different from previous work. They discovered that levels of iron 60 were uniform and low in early solar system material. They arrived at these conclusions by testing meteorite samples. To measure iron 60’s abundance, they looked at the same materials that previous researchers had … Read More

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Unusual association of a Recent oyster and a slipper limpet

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) My young son and I both have a taste for oysters, and have a favourite restaurant in which we like to eat them. It is in the Spui district of Amsterdam, which is also an area with a high density of bookshops. Therefore, there is a double incentive to visit the area. When eating oysters, we are always keen to examine the shells for interesting encrustations or borings, but have never before found anything quite as interesting as the specimen described below (Fig. 1), which was eaten and enjoyed by my son. Although not a fossil specimen, this shell is considered instructional and shows a number of features that would excite interest, if found in a fossil shell. The oyster is preserved attached to its substrate, a gastropod shell. Crepidula fornicata (Linné), the slipper limpet, “… is a serious pest in oyster beds, and was introduced from America with imported oysters” (Campbell, 1976, p. 154). “Crepidula can actually settle on top of the oysters, almost smothering them …” (Beedham, 1972, p. 48), but in this example the tables are turned: an oyster has used a dead shell as a hard substrate. The adductor muscle scar of the oyster is a deep brown colour, with a purple patch towards the umbo and the plicate valve is moderately long, indicating that it is a Crassostrea, most probably the Portuguese oyster, C. angulata (Lamarck), also introduced (Beedham, 1972, p. 160). Therefore, the association is of two species that … Read More

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Ute arrow straightener made of Jurassic dinosaur bone

Gavin Noller (USA) I am currently studying an arrow straightening tool left behind by the Ute Indians of the Northern Colorado Plateau long ago. The artefact is made of an unusual material – a Jurassic dinosaur bone. As I work with this object (which is more than 13 decades old), I imagine a scene when it was used: A group of Ute braves are sitting on a forested mountain slope that overlooks the plains where the braves and their families have camped. They are manufacturing arrowheads and straightening the shafts of their arrows for hunting. The day is quite peaceful. The sun is shining – showering the landscape with its blissful, gratifying warmth and light. In the distance, the dark silhouette of a herd of grazing bison is visible. One brave – Leaf Who Rides on the Wind – has a tool for straightening the shafts of arrows. It is made of a peculiar material that is like bone, but is as hard as rock, and all the other braves believe it contains great medicine. The arrow straightener that Leaf Who Rides on the Wind uses is part of a large dinosaur bone. The bone was smoothed, so it could fit into his hand. A single long groove was put in to the bone to straighten the shafts of arrows, so they would hit their intended target, straight and true. Fig. 1. View of arrow shaft straightener made of dinosaur bone from a Jurassic bone bed. (From the G Noller … Read More

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Trilobites: A short introduction

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) Many people interested in palaeontology and collecting fossils have either found fragments of trilobites in the field or marvelled at fossil examples of these animals displayed in museums around the world. Although they are essential components of palaeontological collections, thereby acting as index fossils for the Palaeozoic epochs (from the Cambrian to the Permian), data regarding their systematic and taxonomic categorisation, biology, and ecology are largely unknown among amateur fossil collectors. In this short contribution, I will provide an overview of the main characteristics of trilobites, which are of great importance if you wish to gain an understanding of these fascinating organisms, which became extinct 220Ma. The systematics of trilobites Fig. 1. Crude systematics of the Trilobita (superclass). In general, ten main orders can be distinguished, from which six important orders can be identified (Agnostida, Redlichiida, Ptychopariida, Phacopida, Nectaspida and Lichida), while the remaining orders, referred to as Corynexochida, Asaphida, Harpida, and Proetida (not shown above), play only a minor role, due to their similarity to members of the Redlichiida and Ptychopariida. The heyday of the trilobites was during the Cambrian (570 to 505Ma). Due to increased competition for food resources (for example, graptolites and brachiopods), they were subject to a successive displacement from their original habitats. This process was also accelerated by the appearance of predators, such as large cephalopods, eurypterids (which looked like gigantic crayfishes) and fishes. The evolution of better predators and competition for food finally resulted in the extinction of the trilobites … Read More

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Florissant fossil spider discovery

Zachary J Sepulveda (USA) and Steven Wade Veatch (USA) The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is known worldwide for its late Eocene (34Ma) fossil plants and insects. Recently, a fossil spider was discovered at the commercial quarry, which is near the fossil beds (Fig. 1). Due to the condition of the fossil, it can only be assigned to the family Lycosidae (see table) (Rasnitsyn, 2012). If correct, this classification would make it a wolf spider. This fossil wolf spider lived 34Ma under Florissant rocks, within the forest litter or on short herbaceous plants (Meyer, 2003). Based on its modern relatives, it would have had colours that helped camouflage it, allowing it to hide from its prey (Meyer, 2003). According to the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument fossil database, only one other member of the family Lycosidae (from the Greek word for ‘wolf’) has been discovered there. Petrunkevitch (1922) described this fossil and assigned it to the species Lycosa florissanti, from a well-preserved fossil specimen. Spiders belong to the class Arachnida. Unlike insects, arachnids have eight legs instead of six, have two body sections instead of three, and do not have antennae or wings. Taxonomy of wolf spider from the Florissant Fossil QuarryKingdom:AnimaliaPhylum:ArthropodaSubphylum:ChelicerataClass:ArachnidaOrder:AraneaeSuborder:LabidognathidaeFamily:LycosidaeThese spiders are incredibly successful – with a lineage stretching back millions of years. With over 100 genera and 2,300 species, they are capable predators spread throughout the entire globe and can inhabit almost every type of environment. From shrub lands to coastal forests, from gardens to alpine meadows, … Read More

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Dinosaurs footprints on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

Mark Wilkinson (UK) If you think of dinosaur hunting, you probably imagine trekking through a parched landscape, reaching the crest of a low hill and catching the first glimpse of a complete skeleton lying half exposed in the next depression. While this might just be true in some parts of the world, the reality of hunting for dinosaurs in Scotland could not be much more different. Hence, a cold and damp day in April 2015 found a small group of geologists from the University of Edinburgh on a slippery foreshore on the northwest extremity of the Isle of Skye. We were hoping not for complete skeletons but, if we were lucky, an occasional bone or tooth – well, perhaps we were hoping, but plenty of geologists have been here before, so the chances of a large find seemed pretty slim. Having said that, the total number of dinosaur bones that have been found in Scotland is still small, so that any bone is likely to be of interest – and could well be a new species, or evidence that a larger taxonomic group known from elsewhere was present on the island in the Jurassic. To add extra scientific interest, the exposures on Skye include a thick Middle Jurassic sequence, representing a time of a rapid dinosaur evolution, but with a poor fossil record worldwide. So any find might be of great importance. We visited several locations on the excursion. There are well-known dinosaur footprints at Staffin Bay on the east … Read More

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Weird world of fossil worm cocoons

Stephen McLoughlin, Benjamin Bomfleur and Thomas Mörs (Sweden) Fossil hunters occasionally chance upon small glossy red to amber-coloured, roughly circular objects on bedding planes, when they crack open shales that were deposited in ancient swamps and rivers. These curious fossils range from about a millimetre in diameter up to the size of a fingernail (Fig. 1). When well preserved, they are egg shaped, but, in most cases, they have been flattened to a thin flake in the rock by the weight of the overlying strata. Some specimens appear to have a net-like coating on the surface but, otherwise, they offer few clues as to their identity. Indeed palaeontologists have reported these objects for over 150 years and have variously interpreted them as the eggs of insects, parts of lichens, the food-catching devices of ancient invertebrates, the membranous coatings of seeds, or the linings of clubmoss sporangia. Many early palaeobiologists simply labelled them as ‘red eggs’ and avoided assigning them to any particular biological group. Fig. 1. A minute, acid-resistant fossil belonging (Figs. 4 and 5). We have to a category traditionally called ‘red eggs’; from the Early Cretaceous of Western Australia. These strange objects occur mostly in sediments deposited in continental settings, and they have been reported widely in the residues left over after palaeobotanists have dissolved rock samples in the search for fossil spores, pollen and leaf cuticle. Two conclusions can be gleaned from these occurrences: The mysterious fossils likely belong to a land- or freshwater-based organism; andThese objects … Read More

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Alternative view on climate change

Joe Shimmin (UK) Before you start shouting at your magazine, don’t worry, you’re not going to read that I think climate change isn’t happening or that human beings aren’t contributing to it. However, I am going to try to show that the version of climate change that we are always being shown may not be all that we should be thinking about. If you look at the timescale over which human-influenced climate change has been happening – and compare it with geological time – it is such a tiny period. However, people do not live over geological time periods, so it is natural that we concentrate on the present, with little regard for the past. In fact, with today’s human influenced climate change taking up all of the limelight, anyone would think that climate change was solely a human invention and that before the industrial revolution, the climate had been stable. But this is not the case. Fig. 1. A Map of Europe during the last glacial maximum. Blue areas are covered by ice. Green areas are land. White shows oceans and seas. In the event of a glaciation, could the influx of people migrating from the north be mitigated by the growth of the land masses due to a drop in sea level? Picture credit: Kentynet. A quick glance at Figs. 2 and 3 shows massive changes in average global temperature across the millions of years of geological time. The y axis of the graph shows change in average … Read More

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Phenomenal fossil fern: Forgotten for 40 years

Stephen McLoughlin (Sweden), Benjamin Bomfleur (Sweden) and Vivi Vajda (Sweden) On some occasions, it is the hard sweat and toil of palaeontologists labouring in the field at carefully planned excavation sites that yields the prize specimen on which careers are built. On other occasions, it is the chance discovery by an amateur collector that may yield that special fossil. We present an account of one such remarkable fossil discovery by an eccentric farmer in southern Sweden. However, more remarkable is that this exceptional fossil remained unstudied and largely unnoticed in a major museum for almost 40 years, before its true significance was realised. The story begins near Lake Korsaröd, in the heart of the southern Swedish province of Scania. Gustav Andersson (born 16 May 1915; Fig. 1) owned a small homestead bordering the shores of this lake. Fig. 1. Gustav Andersson (right) at the site of the fossil wood discovery (taken some time in the 1970s). (Image: Nils Nlisson.) Although Gustav made a living from farming, his true passion was natural history and he even adorned the walls of his house with his own sketches of Mesozoic scenes. Although he never received any formal scientific training, Gustav was an avid reader and had a keen eye for nature. He used these skills to identify a great range of plants on his property down to the rare ground orchids that episodically bloomed on the local volcanic soils. He also identified Neolithic burial sites, flints, stone clubs and other ancient human artefacts … Read More

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Graptolites of Abereiddy Bay

Dr Neale Monks (UK) Graptolites are curious fossils that are common in Lower Palaeozoic rocks where other types of fossils are lacking. The word ‘graptolite’ comes from Greek words that mean ‘writing’ (graptos) and ‘stone’ (lithos), and refer to the fact that graptolite fossils look like pencil marks on stone, partly because they’re flat and partly because of the iridescence of many specimens when freshly exposed. It is generally assumed graptolites were planktonic organisms that occupied an ecological niche like that of modern jellyfish, drifting about the oceans feeding on algae or tiny animals harvested using some sort of filter-feeding mechanism. The impetus for this article was a quick but successful trip to Abereiddy in Pembrokeshire, Wales, about 2.5km from Britain’s smallest city, St Davids (population: 1,800). I had been to Abereiddy many years before on a geological field trip with Andy Gale, who is currently professor of geology at the University of Portsmouth, but I did not have any clear memory of where the fossils were to be found. But, as it happened, this locality is one of those where the fossils are abundant and easily collected – provided you look at the right sorts of rocks. Collecting at Abereiddy Bay Abereiddy is a tiny place, but the bay has become a popular tourist attraction because of a flooded quarry known as the Blue Lagoon. Quarrying for slate ended in 1901 and the sea eventually broke through to the quarry, creating what is, in effect, a small natural harbour. … Read More

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Interpreting ammonite fossils

Neale Monks (UK) Ammonites are such popular and well-known fossils that suggesting they need interpreting may seem ridiculous. But for all their familiarity, there is still a good deal of debate over how they lived and what they did. If nothing else, ammonite experts all agree that they were ecologically diverse, with different species doing different things, and broadly speaking, they can be divided into ammonites that moved about close to the bottom, ammonites that actively swam about in mid-water and ammonites that drifted about on currents, rather like modern jellyfish. The aim of this article is to help you extract the maximum amount of information from the ammonite fossils in front of you. The way an ammonite shell coils is important, but so too are things like the shape of the suture line and the ornamentation visible on the surface of the fossil, which means that even fragmentary specimens can be quite informative. But first, you need to find your fossils … Where to collect ammonites Fig. 1. Folkestone, Kent. Ammonites only lived in marine environments, most often in moderately deep seas where water chemistry and salinity were more or less constant. So, the classic places to find ammonites are marine limestones (including chalks and oolites), marls, clays and shales. While ammonites seem to have inhabited a range of environments including reefs, their fossils are only occasionally common in places where coral reefs or crinoids dominate. On the other hand, sediments that contain lots of oysters, bivalves, belemnites and … Read More

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Geology of East Greenland

James Cresswell (UK) Eighty percent of Greenland is covered by ice and, in places, this is up to 3.4km thick. So, Greenland might not immediately spring to mind as a place to go to observe rocks. However, it is a huge country and the ice-free area, at 410,000km2, is nearly twice the size of the UK. This is generally sparsely vegetated, leaving the rocks beautifully exposed and the geology incredibly easy to see. The area of East Greenland around Scoresby Sund, Kong Oscar and Kejser Franz Joseph Fjords is the largest ice-free area in Greenland. It also has incredible geodiversity, with basement rocks as old as three billion years, an almost complete sedimentary record of the last 1.6byrs and huge volumes of flood basalts from the splitting of the Atlantic. If you were an alien and wanted to try to piece together the geological story of Planet Earth – but could only visit one area – East Greenland would be the place to go. Fig 1. A simplified geological map of East Greenland. The geological history of Greenland is vastly long and spans 3.8byrs. Its oldest rocks are the 3.8byr-old Isua Complex, situated in West Greenland, near the capital Nuuk. These rocks are the Earth’s oldest, most well-preserved sedimentary and volcanic rocks, and they contain carbon particles that most likely originate from the oldest known life on the planet. To put into perspective just how old these rocks are, try to imagine that the planet is only one year old. … Read More

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Fossil beetles of Bognor Regis, West Sussex

David Bone (UK) Bognor Regis in West Sussex was wheret I spent my teenage years (a long time ago) and it is still a locality that I regularly visit and to where I also lead fossil hunting expeditions. Having said that, like many foreshore localities with no eroding cliffs, there are times when beach sand hides the underlying geology and a casual visitor can be very disappointed. Alistair describes the London Clay around the sandstone ‘Bognor Rocks’ and their many fossil molluscs, but he also briefly mentions that fossil beetles have been found at this locality. Bognor is one of very few places in Britain where Eocene fossil insects can be found and I have the privilege of being one of only a handful of people that have found them here. I believe that none have been found for at least 30 years due to lack of suitable foreshore exposures or, possibly, sufficiently dedicated collectors. My collections were mainly created in the 1970s and ‘80s, when ideal conditions periodically exposed large tracts of London Clay in the right area of foreshore known as the ‘Beetle Bed’, which is a narrow strip of clay just to the west of the Bognor Rocks (Fig. 1). Here, the London Clay (Division B) is a grey-brown, sticky clay, with occasional claystone nodules known as septaria. Fig. 1. Foreshore exposure of the Beetle Bed, London Clay, Bognor Regis in 1991. (Photo by David Bone.) The London Clay is a fully marine deposit around 55Ma old, … Read More

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Dinosaur quarries of Hastings

Ken Brooks (UK) For over two hundred years, dinosaur bones and other fossils have been found along the beach to the east of Hastings, between Rock-a-Nore and Pett, but by far the most spectacular specimens were collected from local quarries in the nineteenth century. At this time, Hastings was expanding rapidly as a popular seaside resort. As a result, huge quantities of sand, clay (for chimney pots and bricks) and stone were required for new buildings and roads. This is reflected in the large number of local quarries marked on the 1899 Ordnance Survey map of Hastings. Many brickworks were located near outcrops of Wadhurst Clay. As well as clay, this formation also contains beds of sandstone and Tilgate Stone, which is a hard calcareous grit that was quarried for road stone (White, 1928). It was also known locally as ‘Bluestone’ or ‘Hastings Granite’ (Abbott, 1907). While the natural erosion of cliffs on the coast revealed occasional fossils, inland quarrying provided a more rapid and continual exposure of specimens. These included dinosaur bones from the geological section known today as the Hastings Group (Ashdown Sands and Wadhurst Clay – sedimentary beds which date from 141 to 137Ma and belong to the Valanginian Stage within the Lower Cretaceous). For many years, I have been curious about the exact locations of these long-abandoned quarries, but my research was really inspired by a ‘behind the scenes’ visit to the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London. Here, in the storeroom, were huge dinosaur bones, … Read More

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Mary Anning: Jurassic dragons from Whitby

Oscar Roch (Age 10, USA) This amazing article about the life of Mary Anning, was written by Oscar Roch who is just TEN years old, for a school project. It is his own work, with just books and guides to help obtain facts. After receiving the handwritten project in the post, we have been so impressed, we promised to feature it. Introduction I have chosen to do my project on an amazingly, intelligent palaeontologist whose very existence was a miracle to everyone.  Who (Legend has it) was an ordinary child, but when lightning struck and nearly killer her, she transformed into a child of extraordinary knowledge and energy.  She grew up in poverty, therefore to help the family; she had to search for fossils, to then sell.  Unfortunately, her father died in debt.  But, after all these hardships in her early years, she pulled through and changed the knowledge of palaeontology.  This wonderful woman was named Mary Anning, the Princess of Palaeontology. Model of Charmouth beach, part of Oscars Mary Anning project. He made this (with help from grandad) using ground up material from the beach. This was presented by him to the whole school assembly. Birth On 21 May, 1799 a child was born that would ‘Change the world for the better’.  Mary Anning was born in Cockmoil Square, in the small resort town of Lyme Regis in Dorset, England. She was the daughter of Richard Anning and Mary Moore.  Mary Anning had nine other siblings, but sadly only her … Read More

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Inclusions in precious and semi-precious gemstones

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) Gemstones are commonly regarded as natural wonders, and their infatuating beauty and rareness has fascinated us from time immemorial. Besides the obvious macroscopic appearance, many a gemstone is characterised by a ‘hidden’ microscopic inner life of breathtaking aesthetics. Among non-experts, such inclusions in precious and semi-precious gemstones are often interpreted as ‘pollution’ or as ‘blots’. On the other hand, among gemologists, inclusions bear valuable information about the genesis of their hosts and may also increase the value of a stone. The main characteristics of inclusions in precious and semi-precious gemstones Basically, inclusions in gemstones occur in three aggregate states: solid, liquid and gaseous. Solid inclusions are generally represented by those minerals found in close vicinity to the host stone or correspond with the chemistry of the host stone. These mineral inclusions either crystallise before their host (protogenetic), at the same time (syngenetic) or after its formation (epigenetic). Epigenetic crystallisation of inclusions takes place in most cases by so-called dismixture processes during the cooling of the host stone. Inclusions being generated in such a way are commonly characterised by the same orientation as the host crystal (for example, needles of rutile in corundum – rutile is a mineral composed primarily of titanium dioxide). Liquid and gaseous inclusions are often marked by some kind of coexistence, so that they are summarised by the term “fluid inclusions”. They have to be regarded as a consequence of the fact that many gemstones form from a liquid or aqueous medium, and … Read More

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The Nautilus and the Ammonite

Ken Brooks (UK) This article was inspired by a poem in which an ammonite and a nautilus travel the world’s oceans for millions of years, until they are finally separated by extinction, and is based on a talk I gave on HDGS Members Day, on 18 July 2010. The nautilus and the ammonite The Nautilus and the Ammonite were launch’d in storm and strife; Each sent to float, in its tiny boat on the wide, wide sea of life. They roam’d all day, through creek and bay, and travers’d the ocean deep; And at night they sank on a coral bank, in its fairy bowers to sleep. And the monsters vast, of ages past, they beheld in their ocean caves; And saw them ride, in their power and pride, and sink in their deep sea graves. Thus hand in hand, from strand to strand, they sail’d in mirth and glee; Those fairy shells, with their crystal cells, twin creatures of the sea. But they came at last, to a sea long past, and as they reach’d its shore, The Almighty’s breath spake out in death – and the Ammonite liv’d no more. And the Nautilus now, in its shelly prow, as over the deep it strays, Still seems to seek, in bay and creek, its companion of other days. And thus do we, in life’s stormy sea, as we roam from shore to shore; While tempest-tost, we seek the lost – but find them on earth no more! GF Richardson … Read More

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Salthill Quarry, Clitheroe: A resource revitalised

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands), Paul Kabrna (UK) and Pelham H Donovan (The Netherlands) A while ago, SKD published a critique of the poor geoconservation practices on one of England’s most productive Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) of Mississippian age – the so-called scraped surface at Salthill Quarry, Clitheroe, Lancashire (Grayson, 1981; Bowden et al., 1997; Kabrna, 2011, locality 4; see also Salthill Quarry, Clitheroe: A resource degraded) (Fig. 1; and see also Donovan, 2011). The locality is one of the best sites for Mississippian (Lower Carboniferous) echinoderms in northern Europe. It is particularly good for crinoids, but also for rarer blastoids and, if you are willing to process bulk samples, the spines and plates of echinoids (Donovan et al., 2003; Donovan & Lewis, 2011; Donovan, in press). However, when it was visited by SKD in 2010, the geological features were being overgrown by grasses and other plants; that is, the geological SSSI was being transformed, passively, into a botanical nature reserve. Fig. 1. The crinoid bank (locality 4 of Kabrna, 2011) as it was in 2010, largely obscured by grass (after Donovan, 2011, fig. 1). Collectors (left and middle) approximately define the poor exposure of bedded limestone at that time, which extended a little way past the bush in the centre. The best collecting was along this line and lower, where crinoid debris accumulated as a fossil-enriched gravel. For an earlier view of this slope, see Donovan (2012, fig. 3A, B). This situation persisted until recently. In April … Read More

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Utah: A geologist’s wonderland

Chetan Patel (USA) Often referred to as the Red Rock Country, the state of Utah boasts some of the most breathtaking landscapes formed from years of erosional artistry. Dominating this impressive landscape is the Colorado Plateau that spans the four states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Adjacent to the Colorado Plateau, separated by the Wasatch Fault Zone, is the Basin and Range Province, another expanse of geological wonder formed during the Laramide Orogeny. These spectacular landscapes, dominated by the eponymous red rock, offers geologists a great opportunity to study both modern and ancient processes in great detail. With favourable weather and easily accessible outcrops, Utah serves up an exciting geological journey. Fig. 1. Map showing extent of the Colorado Plateau. Within Utah, resides what is commonly referred to as the mecca of sequence stratigraphy, the Book Cliffs. These offer a wonderland of stratigraphic sequences to the travelling geologist. In fact, hosting a wide variety of easily-accessible outcrops, Utah has become a premier location for the study of sequence stratigraphy, specifically in the oil and gas industry. The well-exposed outcrops offer a detailed look into facies relationships providing the perfect outcrop analogues to subsurface exploration. The name “Book Cliffs” was coined by the early settlers of the region to which the alternating layers of shale and sandstone resembled the pages of a book on its side. Fig. 2. The Book Cliffs in the foreground. The Book Cliffs lay within the Colorado Plateau, with the escarpment spanning over 250km and … Read More

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Fossil folklore: Echinoderms

Dr Paul D Taylor (UK) The distinct five-fold – or pentameral – symmetry of echinoderms makes them particularly striking fossils. Some even have a vaguely mystical appearance. Modern echinoderms – starfish (asteroids), sea urchins (echinoids), feather stars and sea lilies (crinoids), sea cucumbers (holothurians) and brittle stars (ophiuroids) – are all animals of the oceans. As no echinoderms inhabit freshwater environments, it is difficult to envisage what ancient people living far distant from the coast and who had never visited the sea might have thought when finding a fossil echinoderm with peculiar star-like marks on its surface. How could such a stone have been formed? What was its significance? Did the star markings point to a heavenly origin? Could the stone possess magical or mystical properties? Even today, many folklore beliefs about echinoderms persist. For example, the echinoid, Eurhodia matleyi, is found in west-central Jamaica around Stettin, where it can be abundant on bedding planes of the Eocene Yellow Limestone Group. These fossils are locally referred to as ‘lucky stones’, because of the distinctive star-shaped pattern of the ambulacra (SK Donovan, pers. comm, July 2003). Fossil echinoderms must have seemed worthy of collecting and treasuring regardless of how they were viewed. Indeed, some were even worn as amulets to protect against evil. Not surprisingly, echinoderms have a folklore that is matched only by that of ammonites (see Fossil folklore: Ammonites). Pre- and unscientific beliefs about various kinds of fossil echinoderms abound and a plethora of folklore names have been given … Read More

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Carboniferous fossils protecting the coastline at Barton on Sea

David N Lewis (UK) and Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) Many people regard fossils, quite rightly, as rare and exotic objects. Yet how often do people come into contact with palaeontological remains without appreciating it? Probably the easiest example to cite is that of quarried stone, either appearing as facing stones or, in a less aesthetically pleasing setting, when ground down or crushed for concrete or road ballast. Often, quarried stone is utilised a large distance from its source. For example there are no exposures of Carboniferous Limestone in the Netherlands, yet this rock is common in Dutch towns and cities where it is found as facing and decorative stones, far from its origins in Belgium and elsewhere. Obviously such uses of rock are to be admired visually but not hammered; yet this is not necessarily always the case. In this article we introduce you to exotic blocks of Carboniferous Limestone which are so situated that they are actively worn down by the elements, exposing the treasures contained within. Fig. 1. Maps of southern Britain and Christchurch Bay (after Lewis et al. 2003). The cliffs of the famous fossil collecting area of Barton on Sea are part of the (often slumped) sea cliffs of Christchurch Bay in Hampshire and Dorset, extending, in the west, from Friars Cliff, near Christchurch, to Milford-on-Sea, near Lymington in the east (Fig.1). These are composed of Eocene clays and sandstones, overlain by Pleistocene plateau gravels (Fig. 2) and have been systematically eroded over long periods … Read More

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Mull’s famous fossil tree (Part 1): Chrissie and the tree

Rosalind Jones (UK) There’s a saying on the Isle of Mull – “If you come to Mull the once you return again for sure” – and it’s not an idle boast, as those who have visited and subsequently revisited this ‘geological Mecca’ will agree. Second largest of the Inner Hebrides, Mull is famous for its Tertiary igneous geology – 6,000 feet of basalt lavas intruded by a complex of concentric bodies, ringed about three igneous centres. With its unique ring dyke of mixed acid and basic magma, Tertiary granites yielding Lewisian dates, and magnetic reversals in the lavas that make compass bearings untrustworthy, Mull is an enigmatic venue for geologists. The island’s best-known fossils are plant remains, including Ginkgo, Platinus, Corylites and Quercus, all preserved in Tertiary lake sediments deposited between lava flows. Once over collected, fossils from the famous Leaf Beds at Ardtun are now protected, as the site is an SSSI. But the biggest and most noteworthy fossil is ‘Macculloch’s Tree’. Remotely situated opposite Ardtun, on the tip of the Ardmeanach peninsula, it is a phenomenon that, if you visit Mull, you really should see. Fig. 1. Burg House. © Pete McHugh.I first came across Mull’s fossil tree as a geology student in 1966. Its location was pointed out while I was in the Ardtun Leaf Beds gully, so I scrambled over slippery rocks, past hexagonal columns of basalt and down to the shore to see. The panorama I beheld took my breath away. Fig. 2. Goat track … Read More

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Exploring the Jurassic at Zalas Quarry, southern Poland

Tomasz Borszcz and Dr Michał Zatoń (Poland) The area of southern Poland is well known for its widespread Jurassic deposits, in particular, Middle and Upper Jurassic sedimentary rocks that outcrop in a belt running from south-east to north-west in the area known as the Polish Jura Chain (Fig. 1). This area owes its name to the occurrence of spectacular klippes (outliers formed by thrusting) of by white, massive limestones deposited in the northern shelf of the Tethys Ocean during the Late Jurassic (Oxfordian). Because of their resistance to erosion, the rocks form a picturesque element in the surrounding upland landscape. Fig. 1. Location of Zalas Quarry against the background of the geological setting of the area. The oldest rocks in the area are represented by Carboniferous Mudstones (1) and conglomerates (3) and Permo-Carboniferous volcanic rocks (2 and 4). The Mesozoic deposits (5) are mostly covered by Cenozoic mudstones (6). In many places, the rocks are cut by faults (7) and rivers (8). As well as these, the Middle to Upper Jurassic deposits (in the form of glauconitic sandstones, marls, platy limestones and sponge-dominated reef-like structures called bioherms) occur in several natural and artificial exposures along the whole Polish Jura Chain. They are, and used to be, a real Mecca for professional researchers since the 19th century, and also amateur collectors from both Poland and elsewhere. This not surprising, as the deposits contain abundant and diverse fossils, including nearly all the fossil groups characteristic of this geological period. In this article, … Read More

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Recollecting rocks and minerals

Malcolm Chapman (UK) Collecting is natural. We all do it to a greater or lesser degree and what we collect is motivated by many factors including value and the appeal to the eye. Rarity is often a factor, as is cost, and interest can be awoken by someone you are related to, a teacher or a friend. So how did I become involved with collecting rocks and minerals? It was a television programme called Serendipity, which was broadcast about 35 years ago. Not long before (and at great cost), I bought some amber jewellery. And, then, there on the TV, was a young lady walking along the beach at Aldeburgh and picking up stones – not many, considering the number surrounding her, but a few handfuls. She was collecting amber and she had gathered an admirable collection for free, which would have made most people envious. The grey matter started working. Aldeburgh was some distance away, but, close at hand, was the beach at Sheerness and I knew about longshore drift…. By the action of wind and tide, stones on the east coast work their way south and north-facing beaches, like Sheerness, gather the stones moving from north of that point. Therefore, I decided that amber should be on Sheerness beach. I had never studied the stones on a beach before, but I believed that there could be many glamorous stones that I could find such that I envisioned making jewellery with them, mostly pendants. My experience was that they … Read More

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Hooks, paperclips and balls of string: Understanding heteromorph ammonites

Neale Monks (UK) Heteromorph ammonites were a group of externally shelled cephalopods that were particularly diverse during the Cretaceous period. Many species were abundant and geographically widespread and, for this reason, they have been used to date and correlate rocks. Unlike regularly coiled ammonites, which underwent a steady decline in diversity through the Cretaceous, the heteromorphs continually produced new and often bizarre species indicating a certain level of success at occupying new ecological niches. Only at the final mass extinction, at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, did the heteromorphs finally fail. Fig. 1. Anisoceras armatus is a typical hamiticone heteromorph. In this reconstruction, it is shown as a benthic animal with the head oriented towards the substrate, though some recent work suggests that they were in fact planktonic animals that inhabited deep water. What makes a heteromorph? Broadly speaking, heteromorphs are ammonites with shells coiled in something other than the normal way. Whereas most ammonites had shells that can be described as flat, closed spirals where each whorl at least partially enclosed the one before it, heteromorphs had shells that coiled in a variety of ways. Some were simply open spirals, while others were helical like snails, or consisted of approximately parallel shafts connected by tight bends, so that the resulting shell looked a bit like a paperclip. At the most extreme, there was Nipponites. This is an ammonite with a shell formed from connected U-bends, each at an angle to the preceding one, resulting in something that looks more like a … Read More

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Antarctic amphibian from 245 million years ago

Sarda Sahney (UK) The beautiful thing about the Antarctic is that it is one of Earth’s last unexplored frontiers. New climatoligical, geological and palaeontological advances are regularly made on this continent and, recently, the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology announced the discovery here of a fossilised amphibian that lived more than 245Ma during the Triassic period. Its presence suggests that the climate at the time here was mild enough to allow cold-blooded creatures to live near Pangea’s southern margin, at least seasonally. This news is of particular relevance to my work, so I was very excited when I heard about it. For those of you who want to get technical, the amphibian, Parotosuchus was a large predatory temnospondyl that inhabited lakes and rivers. Put more prosaically, it was basically a 2m (6.5ft) long animal that superficially resembled a modern day crocodile, but was actually an amphibian. Fig. 1. Parotosuchus , discovered in the Fremouw Formation of the Transantarctic Montains. Parotosuchus differs from modern-day amphibians because of its form, large size and the fact that it was covered in a scaly skin. It was similar in that it was amphibious, so liked to live both in the water and on land (but never far from the water), and also swam in an eel-like fashion. Previously, Parotosuchus remains have been discovered in Germany, Kazakhstan, Russia and South Africa. In fact, southern Africa was, until now, considered to be its most southerly range. However, in the Triassic period, Africa and Antarctica were joined together … Read More

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