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The Elgin Marvels

By Neil Clark (UK) Not to be confused with the Elgin Marbles, the Elgin Marvels actually come from the Elgin area of Scotland. They are well known fossil reptiles and their footprints, of Permo-triassic age, that were collected from old sandstone quarries mostly over a century ago. They are partly what inspired me to take up palaeontology although, at that time, I had never actually been to Elgin, nor ever seen the fossils. It was through the lectures of Professor Euan Clarkson of Edinburgh University in the 1980s that I first became aware of these animals. However, it was not until much later that I came face to face with the Elgin Marvels themselves. Sketch map of the geology around Elgin. In the summer of 1996, while recovering from a broken leg as a result of dinosaur hunting on the Isle of Skye (see my article in Issue 12 of Deposits), I was asked to give a talk on my exploits at an Open University Summer School in Edinburgh. Most of the talk was concerned with the study of dinosaur footprints, their interpretation and identification. After the lecture, I joined the students in their usual nocturnal social discussion groups. It was at this time that I was approached by one of the students who claimed to have seen some ancient footprints in the bedded sandstones near Elgin. The student, Carol Hopkins, invited me to Elgin to have a look at the footprints she had found. I could not pass up … Read More

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Building a fossil preparation box

By Chris Pamplin I have been collecting fossils on and off for about 36 years and it’s not since I lived at my mother’s home, some 25 years ago, that I have been really organised about cleaning fossils for display. Although I am a professional fossil hunting guide, my interest in fossils has always been as an amateur collector and, for many years, my main fossil cleaning tool was an electric engraver, which cost £30 back in the 1980s. At my last rented house, the brick barbeque with a sandbag on it was my outdoor cleaning station. It is only since moving into a new house and finally buying a shed that I have got myself sorted. Fig. 1. The dimensions of the box. So here is how to make a fossil preparation box, like the one that I now have ready for use in my shed, which will keep the dust at bay and cut noise levels as well. You can use it with an electric engraver or, as I now do, with a compressed air pen specially adapted for palaeontological work. Fig. 2. An example of an Air Abrasive Blaster (125psi). The box described in this article was built from odds and ends that I had laying around, left over from various DIY projects. However, the materials can also be bought new if you are not in a position to recycle. The sides and base are plywood and the back and top are an old estate agents board … Read More

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Bryozoans: more than meets the eye

By Paul D Taylor A few years ago a survey was undertaken of the changing proportion of bryozoans relative to other fossils at an Ordovician locality near Cincinnati popular with fossil collectors. The site was revisited annually over a ten-year period, random collections of fossils were made and the numbers of crinoids, trilobites, brachiopods, bryozoans and other fossils were counted. At the beginning of the study, about 25% of the fossils consisted of bryozoans, by the end the proportion had gone up to 75%. The author of the study referred to this phenomenon as “bryo-enhancement”. Of course, the bryozoans had not been increasing in an absolute sense, rather visitors to the site had preferentially collected other fossil groups, causing the proportion of bryozoans left behind to rise. The Cincinnati study is a fair reflection of the unpopularity of bryozoans among fossil collectors. Fossil bryozoans generally languish unloved among the sponges and trace fossils in the bottom drawers of collectors’ cabinets and are seldom seen for sale in fossil shops or on the Internet. Why should this be? Part of the reason is that few bryozoans have the aesthetic appeal of such fossils as ammonites or trilobites – well at least to the naked eye. They are also difficult to identify and all too often mistaken as corals, sponges or algae. But another reason is that bryozoans have a low public profile. Unlike molluscs and crustaceans, you won’t find bryozoans on the menu at fish restaurants, even in the Far East. … Read More

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Mammalian Paleoecology: Using the Past to Study the Present, by Felisa A Smith

The blurb for this book states that it will “profoundly affect the way paleontologists and climatologist view the lives of ancient mammals”. However, not being either a (professional) palaeontologist or climatologist,but having read it with interest, I am not sure that is correct. Anyone with an active interest inwhat the interactions of ancient mammals and their environments tell us about the presentand future will be interested in this well-written and engaging book.

Isotopes provide key insights into dinosaur lives

Jack Wilkin (UK) Isotopic geochemistry has a long history in the palaeosciences since Urey (1947) first suggested that 𝛿18O from fossil calcite could be used to estimate past temperatures. Stable isotope analysis of fossils has become an increasingly important method for gathering dietary, physiological and environmental/climatic information from extinct species in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The benefits of these analyses come from the geochemical fingerprint that an environment leaves in bones, teeth and soft tissues. Ongoing studies of living organisms have found that the stable isotope composition of several light (hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and sulphur) and even a few heavy (calcium and strontium) elements are useful tracers of ecological and physiological information, and many of these can be similarly applied to the study of dinosaurs. Over the last few decades, stable isotopes have greatly expanded our understanding of dinosaur palaeobiology and diet. Thermoregulation in an animal is affected by metabolic rates. Therefore, by learning more about dinosaur thermoregulation, we can make an accurate interpretation of their metabolic strategies, life histories and even evolution. Thermoregulation – the internal body temperature of an animal – can be ascertained by directly measuring oxygen isotope ratios in their bones.  Isotopes and other geochemical proxies can also help reconstruct dinosaur diets and food webs. Below, I will briefly discuss the applications of oxygen, carbon and calcium isotopes in dinosaur research. Diagenesis Before continuing, it is worth discussing the effects of diagenesis – the process by which fossils are formed. Diagenesis is the term that … Read More

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Locked in Time: Animal Behavior Unearthed in 50 Fossils, by Dean R Lomax, illustrated by Bob Nicholls

Dean Lomax, sometime author of articles in Deposits magazine, is certainly making a name for himself, and has been now for many years. For instance, in January 2022, he was on television explaining about a remarkable find at Rutland Water Nature Reserve. And now he continues his admirable efforts for popularise his chosen academic subject – palaeontology – in this fascinating book about the fossilisation of behaviour.

Lake District: Landscape and Geology, by Ian Francis, Stuart Holmes and Bruce Yardley

I recently reviewed another of the guides in Crowood Press’s excellent “Landscape and Geology” guides, which was undoubtedly a great read. And this one is equally good, with great, full colour pictures, maps and diagrams, and easy to read text, with descriptions of interesting walks and what can be seen on them.That is, there are easy-to-understand explanations of how the rocks formed and how the geology affects the landscape, and there is also an n exploration of the long human story of the landscapes.

Iceland: Classic Geology in Europe (3rd edition), by Thor Thordarson and Ármann Höskuldsson

reviewed the 2nd edition of this guide a while ago and, as I said then, Iceland seems to set the hearts of certain geologists racing and, reading this field guide and that previous incarnation, it is abundantly clear why. Iceland’s fascinating geology is clearly set out in this concise and authoritative book. The island, astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, is a ‘natural laboratory’ where the earth sciences can be watched in real-time. Rifting of the crust, volcanic eruptions and glacial activity are among a host of processes and features that can be observed in this fascinating land.

Book review: Isle of Wight: Landscape and Geology, by John Downes

This is another guide in the excellent “Landscape and Geology” series of local geological guides published by The Crowood Press. And this is as good as the others. Admittedly, it has a wonderful subject matter, because the Isle of Wight is a geological gem with its 110km long coastline displaying a range of rocks dating from Lower Cretaceous to Oligocene age. I know from personal experience that many of its sands and clays contain collectable fossil bivalves and gastropods, and its famous dinosaur footprints attract attention from both geologists and tourists, with always the possibility of finding a bone or two.

Meteorites: A primer

Dr Kendal Martyn Meteorites have long held fascination for me – that is, they aren’t from this planet. Added “glamour” has come from recent suggestions that at least one meteorite impact on earth could be responsible for mass-extinction events, the largest “smoking gun” in evolutionary selection. Also, meteorites are the … Read More

Book review: Minerals of the English Midlands, by Roy E Starkey

Goodness me! This is a massive work (432 pages) – but written with enthusiasm from the heart, with authoritative text, lovely photos throughout, fascinating anecdotes and history, with detailed geological descriptions of all the relevant counties. Now, I’m no expert on minerals, which fall well outside the scope of my interests. However, I cannot praise this book too much.

Book review: Introducing Geophysics, by Peter Styles

Notwithstanding the somewhat daunting use of the word “geophysics” in the title, this is another great book in Dunedin’s Introducing Earth and Environmental Sciences series of guides. In fact, In fact, the only real way to understand the Earth, in all its large and slow-moving immensity, is to study its physics and that means using the classical disciplines of heat, gravity, magnetism, electricity, vibrations and waves. That is, everything we know about the deep Earth has been learnt from geophysics.

Book review: Introducing Geomorphology: A Guide to Landforms and Processes (2nd edition), by Adrian Harvey

As I said in my review of the first edition of this guide, I love geomorphology. In fact, I have loved it since my school days and deeply regret not having studied it at university. However, as I said in that review, I suspect many people are discouraged by its scientific name, but all it means is the study of the earth’s landforms and the processes that create the landscapes we see today.

Fossils re-united

Brandon Lennon (UK) My kind of collecting requires collectors to be in the right place at the right time. Science directs fossil collectors to the right place, but it is good luck that puts them there at the right time. The latter is often referred to as “serendipity” and what … Read More

Book review: River Planet: Rivers from Deep Time to the Modern Crisis, by Martin Gibling

I think the reason why this book is such a success is that River Planet not only introduces readers to the fascinating palaeo-history of the world’s rivers (both existing and disappeared), but also reveals the author’s personal account of his experience of rivers, together with a bit of history and interesting (and relevant) anecdotes, in the most entertaining of ways.

Book review: The Chalk of the South Downs of Sussex and Hampshire and the North Downs of Kent (Geologists’ Association Guide No 74) (vols 1 and 2), by Rory N Mortimore

I have to admit, I was beginning to wonder where Prof Rory Mortimore’s update of his excellent Chalk of Sussex and Kent was. And now I know. It wasn’t a second edition he was working on, but this magnificent magnum opus in two volumes covering a vastly greater area than that other guide. And the wait was more than worthwhile. The thoroughness, writing quality, content and publication standards are superb.