Deborah Painter (USA) Dinosaur fossils in the United States are mainly associated with the Mesozoic era age sedimentary rocks of the western states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. East of the Mississippi River, their fossils are scarcer, although they definitely exist. There is Mesozoic age surficial bedrock in many east coast states. However, other than the occasional find in Maryland, North Carolina, Alabama and New Jersey, and trackways in Connecticut and in Virginia, dinosaur and other vertebrate land dwellers are not commonly found. April of 2023 was the month that Maryland became known as a better source for fossil dinosaurs. The Dinosaur Park’s fossil rich deposits are now classified as a bonebed, according to Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation in a 12 July 2023 press conference at the Park (Fig. 1). The first Acrocanthosaurus fossil to be found in Maryland since 1887, was unearthed by J P Hodnett, the Palaeontologists and Program Coordinator for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Fig. 1. J P Hodnett (centre, standing beside fossil on pallet and fossil awaiting preparation) gives some background on the April 2023 find during the press conference. (Credits: Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Department of Parks and Recreation, Prince George’s County.) Hodnett stated to the press: Most palaeontologists have to travel across the country or go overseas to find something like this, so having this rare find so close to home is fantastic!” Hodnett classified the 0.91m … Read More
Jack Wilkin (UK) My PhD at the University of Exeter focuses on using micropalaeontology and various geochemical methods from Holocene marine sediment cores, to try to find out how the climate of South Georgia has changed over the past 15,000 years. One of the microfossil groups I’m using to achieve this is diatoms (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Some of the different diatoms I’m working on from the Southern Ocean:(a) Actinocyclus actinochilus; (b) Thalassiosira lentiginosa (the thick hexagonal microfossil is a silicoflagellate) (c) Eucampia antarctica; (d) Navicula sp.; e). Fragilariopsis kerguelensis; (f) Rhizosolenia antennata f. antennata.(Photographs courtesy of Dr Claire Allen (British Antarctic Survey). (a)-(c), (f) = centrics, (d)-(e) = pennates (only raphed forms are pictured here).) Diatoms are microscopic algae that play a vital role in marine ecosystems. They have circular or elliptical to rod-like shapes and are perforated by minute apertures called areola. They are divided into two orders: the Pennales and the Centrales. Diatoms can reproduce both sexually and asexually, using a unique “shrinking division” form of a sexual reproduction called binary fission. They are photosynthetic and form the basis of food chains in many aquatic ecosystems. Diatoms also have a wide range of geological applications, especially in palaeoclimate studies. What do diatoms look like? Diatoms are usually colonial, photosynthetic, single-celled algae, made of biogenic silica, with an estimated 20,000 to two million species. One could imagine them as microscopic plants that live inside tiny glass greenhouses, stacked on top of each other. They form as iliceous shell, … Read More
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
The Cro-Magnons were a population of early modern humans (that is, they were physically indistinguishable from us, today), who lived in Europe between about 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, during the Upper Palaeolithic period. This information comes from Trenton Holliday’s excellent book, which tells the story of these people in the context of recent scientific advances. However, while it does not shy away from complex scientific issues, the book is written with a light, understandable touch.
Alison Cruickshanks (UK) In the final part of my article, I will look at locations on the Isle of Wight. Anyone who has visited the Isle of Wight will know that the island is famous for dinosaurs. Indeed, popular visitor attractions include the museums at Dinosaur Isle, Blackgang Chine (which has its own model Dinosaur land) and Dinosaur Farm. Dinosaur Isle is an interactive fun-packed museum that is a popular island attraction. What makes the Isle of Wight so special is its varied geology that changes as you go from one side of the Island to another. For example, in the north, you can collect from the Oligocene; in the south, you can collect from the Cretaceous; and, in the south-east and west, you can collect fossils from the Eocene. Some locations, such as Whitecliff Bay and Alum Bay, have vertical beds. Alum Bay is famous for the different coloured sands that fill souvenirs in gift shops all over the island. These sands are from vertical beds representing the Eocene succession (Barton Group, Bracklesham Group, London Clay and Reading beds). I visited many locations on the Isle of Wight. Here I am at one of them, Shepherds Chine. I spent a week on the Island with my husband looking at ten locations but I will concentrate on three of the most memorable during my visit. Whitecliff Bay We stayed at the caravan park on the cliff top at Whitecliff Bay and made this our first point of call. One of … Read More
Alison Cruickshanks (UK) In the first part of this article, I discussed locations in the Suffolk area. Since then, I have visited a few locations in the neighbouring county of Norfolk including West Runton, Weybourne, Overstrand and Hunstanton. Most of the rocks in Norfolk are Cretaceous. However, you also find deposits from the Pleistocene period that yield a wide variety of fossils. Therefore, this article will cover fossils from both of these geological times. There are also many other interesting and productive locations in Norfolk, but this is just a few of the most popular. Overstrand Overstrand can be a very unpredictable location as fossils found here come from deposits that are below beach level. There is also a sea defence and several groynes that, together, limit excessive beach scouring. However, if you’re lucky and scouring does occur, you can find some good specimens. This normally happens during the autumn and spring months after prolonged northerly winds (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Overstand during scouring conditions. The cliffs at Overstrand are of glacial origin and contain no fossils. However, there is a small fault, just passed the granite sea defence, where a small section of chalk with overlying Wroxham Crag (formally Weybourne Crag) can be seen. This provides a good opportunity to examine exposures normally obscured by sand and gives you an idea of the formations below beach level from where the fossils are washed out. The Wroxham Crag was deposited during the Pleistocene period. The upper sequences are known as … Read More
Khursheed Dinshaw (India) Mohansinh Sodha (Fig. 1) is the founder of the Kutch Fossil Park located in Kutch, in the state of Gujarat in India. The park exhibits invertebrates, including ammonites, belemnites, nautilus (Fig. 2), brachiopods, gastropods (Fig. 3), corals (Fig. 4) and echinoderms. Marine fossils, including brachiopods and echinoderms, have been sourced from the rivers of the Kutch region. Fig. 1. Mohansinh Sodha, with one of his remarkable fossils. Fig. 2. A beautiful nautilus exhibit. Fig. 3. Gastropods at the Kutch Fossil Park. Fig. 4. Corals displayed at the park. Plant fossils, like Gondwana plant fossils, 136 to 293 million-year-old leaf fossils (Fig. 5) and petrified wood, can also be seen at the park. Vertebrates include sea cows, tortoises (Fig. 6) and crocodiles. Fig. 5. A 136 to 293 million year old leaf fossil. Fig. 6. Tortoise fossils collected from Kutch. Trace fossils are also exhibited (Fig. 7). Fig. 7. Trace fossils exhibit. Ammonites (Figs. 8 and 9) are known in Gujarati, the chief language of the state of Gujarat, as Gokulgai and, in Hindi language, as Saligram. They are considered a representation of Lord Vishnu. The first ammonoids appeared during the Devonian period. Fig. 8. Ammonites are known in Gujarati as Gokulgai. Ammonites are considered to be a representation of Lord Vishnu. Fig. 9. [THERE IS NO WAY THESE ARE AMMONITES – THEY ARE GASTROPODS???] It took 83-year-old Sodha more than 40 years to collect the fossils. He has travelled over eight hundred thousand kilometres across Kutch to … Read More
Alison Cruickshanks (UK) Fossil collecting was never an interest of mine until I met my fiancé, husband. Alister’s interest in palaeontology is evidenced by the fact that he is production manager of this magazine and, after we first met, he started encouraging me to accompany him on collecting trips. After our first trip to Ramsholt, I quickly became fascinated in finding the remains of life that lived millions of years ago and exploring the environments in which they lived. I have also found that there can be adventure and challenges when visiting locations to collect fossils, especially during the harsh, stormy weather conditions that are always the best time to collect. For anyone who believes that looking for fossils is boring, they should try it for themselves and find out just how exciting it really can be. In the first part of this article, I will examine locations in my home county of Suffolk. The second part will look at the Norfolk coast and the final part will explore coastal sites on the Isle of Wight. So far, I’ve been to five locations in Suffolk: Covehithe, Easton Bavents, Pakefield, Ramsholt and Corton. All of these I have found very interesting even though I have only found fossils at some of these places. This is because the walking and exploring can be just as exciting as finding fossils. Ramsholt Fig. 1. Evening on the beach at Ramsholt. Ramsholt used to be my home territory until I moved to the Southwold area. … Read More
Jon Trevelyan(UK) Contained in what was once the Radstock Market Hall (Fig. 1), this is perhaps one of my favourite local museums. Maybe it is because the museum is close to wonderful relics of the Somerset coal industry and to the Upper Carboniferous plant fossils that were a waste product. (My maternal grandfather was a miner in one of the two collieries in Aberdare in South Wales, and my mother took me collecting on the tips when I was young.) Fig. 1. The museum is located in the old Radstock Market Hall. In fact, in the Radstock district, there are still some tips where you can find plant fossils. Nearby is also the impressive ‘volcano’ at Midsomer Norton, which will always be a monument to coal miners who laboured in the coalmines of this part of the world (Fig. 2). (It is a tip containing waste from the Old Mills and Springfield collieries.) However, this museum is not really a geology museum. It has a lot of geological exhibits, but rather it is a museum of Somerset coalfield life, but no less fascinating for that. There are permanent displays covering two floors within the listed building. On the ground floor, there is the history of the 75 or so coalmines that once existed, and the mining communities of Radstock and the local trades and industries which supported the miners and the industry. This includes, on entry, a gorgeous horse-drawn carriage from the Co-op (Fig. 3). All this, along with some … Read More
Michael Hesemann (Germany) Fig. 1. Diagram of a foraminifera cell structure. Fig. 2. From Ernst Haeckel: Kunst-formen der Natur, 1899-1904, Plate 2. Fig. 3. Residue on a sample plate. Two years ago, I joined an evening course on microfossils. I started by learning the proper use of microscopes and observing 4 to 5cm (that is, rather big) fossil otholiths (that is, the ear stones of fish). Soon ostracods, nummulites, smaller foraminifera and diatoms were given to the class and I was amazed by the outstanding and unusual structures I saw. In addition, we also learnt that the Egyptian pyramids of Giza consist to 40% of nummulite tests and that 60% of the world rocks that are derived from marine environments contain the remains of foraminifera. As a result, I started to collect foraminifera and got in contact with hobby micropalaeontologists. In March 2008, I received a 100g letter containing tiny plastic-bags weighing between 10g to 15g. To me, it was an overwhelming miracle – hundreds of foraminifera from the Pleistocene rocks of Torrente Stirone in Northern Italy. My foraminiferan adventure had well and truly begun. What are Foraminifera? Foraminifera are single celled protozoans with an amoeboid internal structure consisting of a nucleus, vacuoles and cytoplasm. The main parts are usually protected by an internal shell called a “test”, which consists of one or more chambers. Fine strands of plasma branch and merge from the main opening and, sometimes, through pores to the outside to catch food. The name “foraminifera” refers … Read More
Maria C Sendino and Paul D Taylor (UK) Fossils such as ammonites, trilobites, crinoids and shark’s teeth understandably attract the most attention from fossil enthusiasts. However, other groups can provide equally fascinating insights into the history of life and ought not to be neglected. Among these ‘Cinderella fossils’ are conulariids. Found in late Precambrian (Ediacaran) to Triassic marine deposits, conulariids survived for more than 350ma, disappearing about 200 million years ago, at a time when the continents were clustered together into a huge landmass called Pangaea. However, they are most common in Middle Ordovician to Permian rocks. Almost 400 species of conulariids have been described from around the world, and in some places they are abundant enough to lend their name to particular geological units, for example the Conularia-Sandstone in the Upper Ordovician of Jordan. Fig. 1. A species of Conularia from the Lower Carboniferous of Indiana showing the aperture closed by lappets. Affinities What are conulariids? Initially, they were thought to be molluscs because of their pyramidal-cone shape that is vaguely reminiscent of a straight nautiloid. Others believed them to be worm tubes. For a long time they were classified as ‘Problematica’, which is a formal way of admitting total ignorance about their affinities. They have also been placed in a phylum of their own, the Conulariida. This uncertainty results from the lack of preserved soft parts. However, strong evidence has emerged in recent years showing that conulariids belong to the same class – Scyphozoa – as jellyfish and … Read More
Khursheed Dinshaw (India) The Salkhan Fossil Park is located in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. Spread over 25 hectares, it is an important geoheritage site for stromatolites. These stromatolites were identified by Professor RC Misra and Professor S Kumar of the University of Lucknow. Fig. 1. Salkhan stromatolites formed during Mesoproterozoic. Fig. 2. Stromatolites identified by Professor RC Misra and Professor S Kumar. Stromatolites are layered sedimentary formations created largely by photosynthetic microorganisms, such as cyanobacteria and sulfate-reducing bacteria. These produce sticky compounds that cement sand and other rocky materials to form mineral “microbial mats”, which slowly build up, layer by layer, over time, such that a stromatolite may grow to a meter or more in size. They are extremely rare today, but famous examples can be seen at in Shark Bay in Western Australia, where the hyper-saline conditions prevent predators from consuming them, as they would in more normal marine conditions. Fig. 3. Stromatolites at the Salkhan Fossil Park. Fig. 4. Stromatolites at the geoheritage site in Uttar Pradesh. The stromatolites at Salkhan Fossil Park were formed during Mesoproterozoic, which is a geological era lasting from 1,600 to 1,000 million years ago (Figs. 1, 2, 3 and 4) and are remnants of cyanobacterial life cycle. Fig. 5. Stromatolites made of calcium carbonate and silicates. Fig. 6. Remnants of cyanobacterial life cycle. The stromatolites of the fossil park are made of silicates and calcium carbonate (Figs. 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9).They are preserved in fawn-coloured limestone, and … Read More
Deborah Painter (USA) Plant fossils come in a wider variety than this author used to believe. This article will discuss some of the different ways that plant fossils are preserved. Casts The fossil in Figs. 1 and 2 is a cast of Stigmaria. It is comprised of greyish sandstone. Sandy sediments initially filled the empty space left by the decaying plant; in this case, a root decayed and was replaced by shale that did not preserve the cell structure. Stigmaria is a form genera name for the roots of Carboniferous lycopod trees. Form genera are genera defined for a part of an organism or plant rather than for the entire plant, in all its different parts (leaves, roots, trunk, spores and so on). The Stigmaria is a root and it may be the root of Sigillaria or Lepidodendron. Fig. 1. This is a cast of a root of one of the lycopod trees of the Lower Carboniferous, either Lepidodendron or Sigillaria. (Credits: Deborah Painter.) Fig. 2. The cast in Fig. 1 does not preserve cellular details because the cavity in the sediment left by the decaying root was filled by sediment that did not replace the original structure. (Credits: Deborah Painter.) The fossil dates from the Mississippian period (Upper Carboniferous) and is part of the Price Formation. The Price Formation is sandstone, conglomerate, quartzarenite, limestone, coal, and shale. The sandstone is feldspathic and slightly micaceous, with a few greyish red beds. The Price Formation is a westward, thinning clastic wedge … Read More
Dr Neale Monks Of course, you can enjoy a fun and productive geological field trip using nothing more than your eyes to spot interesting specimens and your hands to collect them. At localities like Sheppey, where fossils are constantly being weathered out of soft clay, you can find shark teeth, shells, plant remains and all sorts of other fossils in the shingle. Wrap up your findings in newspaper or paper towel and off you go. However, having at least a basic tool kit will make your excursions into the field safer and more productive. In this article, I will look at the essential parts of a geologist’s tool kit and review some of the options available to you. Safety gear Geological fieldwork is educational, entertaining and great exercise, but it has to be done properly to be done safely. Part of that is wearing the right gear. A hard hat is an essential part of any field worker’s kit. To start with, it increases the wearer’s visibility, making it easier to keep a group together in poor light. A hard hat also provides some protection against falling debris. Obviously, no hard hat can stop boulders, which is why you should never work beneath an unstable cliff. However, a hard hat will give useful protection from small bits of stone that fall from relatively stable cliffs, from time to time. Safety goggles protect your eyes from the chips that fly about when rocks are hit with hammers. Modern safety goggles give … Read More
Ken Brooks (UK) Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was born in the Auvergne region of France on 1 May 1881. His enthusiasm for science developed in his childhood, partly through the influence and encouragement of his father, who was a keen naturalist. In 1899, at the age of 18 and having completed secondary education, he joined the Society of Jesus as a novice. While severe intellectual discipline was a characteristic of his Jesuit Order, it also included instruction in all branches of science, particularly geology and zoology. Fig. 1. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1955. Shortly after and as a result of legislation in France directed against the religious orders, the Jesuits moved to the Channel Islands and, in 1901, transferred their juniorate to the institution Notre Dame de Bon-Secours at Maison St Louis in Jersey. Teilhard stayed here for three years studying theology and philosophy, but he was also able to spend time developing his interest in geology. In fact, it is said that he never went for a walk without a hammer and a magnifying glass. In 1905, Teilhard was sent to Egypt to gain teaching experience at the Jesuit College of St Francis in Cairo, where he studied and taught physics. For the next three years, his naturalist inclinations were developed through field trips into the countryside near Cairo studying the existing flora and fauna as well as fossils from Egypt’s very ancient past. He also made time for extensive collecting of fossils and for correspondence with palaeontologists in … Read More
Khursheed Dinshaw (India) The Geology Museum of Ipoh in Malaysia is located inside the premises of the Department of Minerals and Geoscience Malaysia (Fig. 1). The museum is an interesting venue where you canlearn about both the geology and the geosciences of the country. The easy to navigate museum was established in the year 1957. It is divided into seven galleries, all of whichare located on the ground floor (Figs. 2, 3 and 4). And theynarrate the geology of Earth, emphasising the importance of geology to the human race. Fig 1: Entrance to the geology museum of Ipoh in Malaysia. Fig 2: The different galleries. There is an impressive collection of fossils, minerals and rocks. There is also a gallery showcasing samples of tin ore (Cassiterite), which have been collected from the various tin fields of the country. Fig 3: One of the seven galleries. Fig 4: All the galleries are located on the ground floor. I particularly liked the amber exhibit (Fig. 5), which is part of the largest piece of amber ever found in the world. Its age dates to Miocene to about 20 million years ago.The original piece was excavated from a coal mine in the Kapit Division of the state of Sarawak in Malaysia. Embedded in coal,it weighed 70kg and was divided into three sections, with each section being almost equal in size. While the amber piece in the Geology Museum of Ipoh continues to attract and educate visitors, the other two pieces can be viewed … Read More
Dr Steven C Sweetman (UK) Ask any palaeontologist, professional or otherwise, to name the first fossil vertebrate or vertebrate group that comes to mind and the chances are that the majority will come up with something like the charismatic dinosaurs, Dimetrodon (Fig. 1), the saber-toothed ‘tiger’ or some other large and spectacular creature from the past. Fig. 1. A cheerful looking, reconstruction of the non-mammalian synapsid, Dimetrodon, displayed at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Alberta, Canada. The chances of anyone coming up with, for example, albanerpetontids (Figs. 2 and 3), an extinct (Middle Jurassic to Pliocene) group of newt-sized, superficially salamander-like amphibians, are probably next to nil. Indeed, who except specialists have ever heard of the Albanerpetontidae? Fig. 2. Reconstruction of an albanerpetontid from the Early Cretaceous of Spain based on an exceptional specimen displaying soft tissue preservation. Fig. 3. Albanerpetontid bones from the Early Cretaceous of the Isle of Wight, southern England. A, premaxilla; B, maxilla; C, dentary; D, partial and; E, substantially complete fused frontals; F, humerus. However, an understanding of the small animals that lurked in the shadow of the large and generally better known beasts with which they coexisted can often shed valuable light on ancient ecosystems and palaeobiology, and provides insights that cannot be obtained from study of big beasts in isolation. Despite this, the discovery of beautifully preserved dinosaur and large fossil mammal remains, particularly in the badlands (Fig. 4) and tar pits of North America, has quite naturally generated much more public … Read More
Paul D Taylor The beach near Maunganui on the north coast of Chatham Island. The Chatham Islands are a far-flung outpost of New Zealand (Fig. 1). This isolated archipelago sits in the Pacific Ocean, some 850km east of Christchurch, and lies very close to the International Date Line, making the Chatham Islands one of the first places in the world to see the dawning of each new day. Few New Zealanders have ever visited the Chatham Islands – most know of them only from the country’s national weather forecast. Fig. 1. Map of the Chatham Islands. Inset shows their location relative to the New Zealand mainland. Just over 700 people inhabit the Chathams. The great majority live on the main Chatham Island, with about 30 on the smaller Pitt Island. The islands were first visited by Europeans in 1791, who arrived aboard HMS Chatham, captained by Lieutenant William Robert Broughton. At that time, they were inhabited by a peace-loving people called the Moriori, who had probably colonised them from the New Zealand mainland about 500 years ago. European visitors, including whalers, were later joined by Māori from the North Island of New Zealand, setting in motion a series of tragic events that culminated in the extinction of the native Moriori. The last full-blood Moriori – Tommy Solomon – died in 1933. I’ve had the good fortune to visit the Chatham Islands on three occasions, each time to study and collect Cretaceous and Cenozoic bryozoans under the expert guidance of Hamish … Read More
This is a charming little book, which describes itself as an “admittedly idiosyncratic compendium of [geological] words and phrases chosen because they are portals into larger stories”. It succeeds brilliantly at its professed goal, combining a great deal of information, education, and a gentle sense of fun, brought out very nicely by some attractive and humorous illustrations.
Neale Monks (UK) Belemnites are common fossils, and most collectors will have a few of these distinctive, bullet-shaped fossils in their collections. In fact, belemnites have been recognised as something other than mere stones for thousands of years. As a result of their remarkably phallus-like shape, the Ancient Egyptians associated them with their male fertility god Min. Mediaeval Scandinavians believed that elves used them as candles, while in England they were called Devil’s thunderbolts and were thought to have been formed during lightning storms. Belemnites even had magical uses. In pre-industrial England, one remedy for eye infections of horses was to grind them up and blow the dust into the poor animals’ eyes. But what sort of animals were belemnites? Where did they live and what did they eat? And what was the function of that heavy, conical calcite structure we know today as the belemnite guard? Fossil belemnites When belemnite fossils are found, it is usually only the calcitic guard that is present. That the thing is made from calcite is unusual – most cephalopod shells are made from aragonite. This holds true for nautilus shells and cuttlefish shells today, and ammoniate shells in the past. Fig. 1. Comparing a life-sized model belemnite with a common fossil find. The fossil belemnites are actually only a small part of the animal, since the soft tissue would have decayed away. In fact, the chambered part of belemnite shells was made from aragonite and greatly resembled the chambered shells of other cephalopods. … Read More
Neale Monks (UK) The rocks we know in Britain and Ireland as the Carboniferous Limestone were laid down between 363 and 325 million years ago, during a period when global sea levels were particularly high, a condition that geologists refer to as a transgression. The climate was tropical, and the warm, shallow seas that covered much of the British Isles teemed with life. Consequently, the Carboniferous Limestone is often highly fossiliferous, and good exposures can yield vast numbers of crinoids, brachiopods, corals, bryozoans and other types of marine fossil. Despite being known as the Carboniferous Limestone, one thing notably absent from this formation is coal. Coal is made from the fossilised remains of trees, and the forests and freshwater swamps where those trees grew could only develop once sea level had dropped. Coal-bearing sediments weren’t laid down until the second half of the Carboniferous Period, when sea level was relatively low. International stratigraphyThe International Commission on Stratigraphy refers to the interval of time between 359 and 299 million years ago as the Carboniferous Period, but, historically American geologists recognised two periods instead: the Pennsylvanian and the Mississippian. These were roughly equivalent to what geologists elsewhere considered the Lower and Upper Carboniferous, so the ICS has standardised the Pennsylvanian and Mississippian as the two epochs within the Carboniferous. However, it isn’t quite as simple as sea level dropping in the middle of the Carboniferous and all the subsequent sediments of the period being terrestrial in nature. What tended to happen was … Read More
Rob Hope (France) For many years, a great number of Permian fossil footprints have been found in the red mudstone horizons of France’s Lodéve basin (Fig. 1). I have spent some time researching the fossils of this barren region, including learning from papers written by an array of specialists, as well as visiting museum and university collections of fossils from the area. My self-appointed investigation eventually took me to an obscure and overgrown uranium quarry in the heart of the Lodévian badlands. There, I discovered in situ footprint fossils, and rocks showing ripple marks as well as the traces of ancient Permian raindrops. Fig. 1. Simplified illustration showing the geology around the area known as the Lodéve Basin, in southernFrance (Hope, 2008). Later, while researching the Lodéve region further still, I came across yet more palaeontological papers concerning a later geological time – that of the Anisian stage of the Middle Triassic (240 million years ago). And, once again, the dark mudstone fossils from this particular sequence include enigmatic fossil footprints. There are for example traces of Rotodactylus sp., which some authors have described as the trails of a primitive dinosaurian. In addition, the distinctive trace fossil, Chirotherium sp. has also been found. Fossil prints from this Triassic ichnospecies (that is, categories of morphologically distinctive trace fossils)have been excavated throughout the world and were first described in 1835, by J Kaup. During the hundred years following their initial discovery, they caused heated debate within academic society, because the pes and … Read More
Stephen K Donovan (Netherlands) and David N Lewis (UK) Palaeozoic crinoids are uniformly beautiful and come in many shapes and sizes, but almost all fall into one of three principal groups. The camerates are the largest and most robust, commonly incorporating the lower part of the arms into an enlarged cup with a plated roof (tegmen), producing a structure that is commonly reminiscent of a golf ball. The cup may be monocyclic (one circlet of basal plates supporting the radials; see Glossary (below) for explanation of specialist terms) or dicyclic (two basal circlets, that is, infrabasals and basals, supporting the radials). The arms of camerate crinoids bear multiple, fine branchlets called pinnules that must have formed an efficient ‘net’ for feeding on plankton. The second major group, the cladids (plus the closely related flexibles) are dicyclic, lack an armoured tegmen and, except for some advanced (Upper Palaeozoic) forms, lack pinnules. The flexibles may also show a camerate-like feature with small plates separating the arms. And then there are the disparids. The disparids were the ‘weeds’ of the Palaeozoic crinoids; generally smaller and less impressive than other crinoids, but including some unusual, even bizarre forms. Herein, we introduce the disparids of the British Palaeozoic, examining their form and function, and where to collect them. The disparid cup was commonly small, always monocyclic and lacked an armoured tegmen, but had a prominent anal sac or tube in some groups. The arms were usually slender, lacked pinnules and were branched or unbranched, and … Read More
I know this looks first and foremost like a coffee table book, but what a picture and coffee table book! And, unlike such books, the undoubtedly chatty text is well worth reading. This is a great book for those who love palaeontology.
Jon Trevelyan (UK) Kendal Museum is one of those charming, cluttered museums I feared were dying out (Fig. 1), but still seem to defy the odds and continuing surprising visitors. Like the museum in Whitby (see Geology museums of Britain: Whitby Museum, Yorkshire), at Kendal, there seems to be exhibits stuffed anywhere possible, with surprises everywhere you look. The museum itself is a local museum in Cumbria, on the edge of the Lake District in northwest England. It was founded in 1796 and includes collections of local archaeology, history, geology and natural history from around the globe, but especially from the Lake District itself. Fig. 1. A model boat and bicycle – typical of the eclectic displays. In April 2011, Kendal Museum achieved the Visitor Attraction Quality Assurance Scheme assessment, awarded by Visit England. It is managed by Kendal College on behalf of South Lakeland District Council and is part of the Arts and Media campus at the North End of Kendal. History The Museum of Natural History and Archaeology is one of the oldest museums in the UK, with displays of local and global natural history, and archaeology. Kendal’s first museum was founded in 1796 by William Todhunter, who exhibited a collection of fossils, minerals, plants, animals and antiques. In 1835, the Kendal Literary and Scientific Society took over the museum and, as the collection grew, the museum had to be rehoused several times. In 1913, the current building was offered to the Town Council to house the museum. … Read More
Dr Caroline Buttler (UK) Oxygen is responsible for the majority of chemical reactions that lead to the decay and degradation of museum specimens; the corrosion of iron and the fading of many pigments when exposed to ultraviolet light could not occur without the presence of oxygen. It is also essential for the life forms responsible for biological decay such as insects, fungi and bacteria. The most common oxidation reaction affecting geological specimens is pyrite decay, which damages specimens containing pyrite or marcasite. Pyrite decay occurs when the sulphide component in these minerals oxidises to form ferrous sulphate and sulphur dioxide, and can result in the complete destruction of the specimen and the associated labels and packaging materials. If pyrite specimens can be stored without oxygen then deterioration could be prevented. Fig. 1. Ammonite specimen with pyrite decay (©National Museum of Wales). The technology to produce oxygen-free environments to museum standards has burgeoned in the last few years. Nitrogen and other inert gases such as argon and helium have been successfully used to display specimens without oxygen, but it is costly and only used for rare or valuable objects. For example the American Charters of Freedom, which include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, are displayed in cases inside which an anoxic environment has been created containing a humidified argon atmosphere at 19°C. Anoxic storage can also now be achieved relatively cheaply and efficiently with … Read More
James O’Donoghue (UK) Fig. 1. If gigantic rhizodonts still lurked in Scotland’s lochs, anglers might find they are biting off more than they can chew. (Illustration by Megan Whatley.) Every angler dreams of reeling in a prize catch – a 40lb pike perhaps, or a whopper of a salmon. Record-breaking fish fire the imagination as few other creatures can, and the lochs of Scotland have inspired many a fishy tale. However, even the tallest of these stories pale into insignificance when compared with the primeval occupants of the lochs. Had you cast a line there 340 million year ago, you could have ended up as bait yourself. For Scotland’s ancient lakes and rivers held a behemoth of a fish known as Rhizodus hibberti (Fig. 2), which notched up a truly staggering snout-to-tail length of seven metres. It was the ultimate ‘one that got away’, a predator that was half as big again as a great white shark. To this day, it remains the largest freshwater fish ever to have lived. Rhizodonts, the group of fishes to which R. hibberti belonged, may have been the last truly gigantic predators to live in fresh water, suggests palaeontologist Jon Jeffery, an expert on one of the most widely distributed species, Strepsodus. They also have the distinction of being the most primitive ‘tetrapodomorphs’ known. That is, they belong to the group of fishes from which tetrapods descended. Tetrapods are vertebrates that colonised land and includes all amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Fig. 2. Jaw … Read More
George Burden (Canada) The Wasson’s Bluff fossil site, near Parrsboro, is the most geologically recent, yet perhaps the most fascinating of the locations of interest to palaeontologists in Nova Scotia. Located on the Bay of Fundy’s Minas Basin, fossil buffs can view what are perhaps the smallest dinosaur footprints ever found. In 1984, amateur palaeontologist, Eldon George, discovered the track ways, most likely made by a juvenile Coelophysis sp., which lived 200 million years ago, at the Triassic-Jurassic boundary. Two years later, Neil Shubin of Harvard University and Dr Paul Olsen of Columbia University, discovered at this site over 100,000 tiny bones of ancient crocodiles, various sized dinosaurs, lizards, fishes and sharks. Their efforts were funded by the National Geographic Society, which recognised that this was North America’s largest find ever of fossils from this era. Fig. 1. A walking tour at Wasson Bluff near Parrsboro where the remains of a dinosaur are being uncovered by a group of geologists from the Fundy Geological Centre. Vast mudflats in this region’s ancient terrain record the tracks of the creatures from this time. Covered by sand washed down from the Cobequid Highlands, an elevated, quartz bearing area, to the north of Parrsboro, natural casts of the footprints were formed. However, today, this site provides an ideal location to view more than just trace fossils from the crucial Triassic-Jurassic transition period, during which a mass extinction occurred. It is notable in that both the remains of bones and foot prints (which are so … Read More
George Burden (Canada) In this second article on fossil locations in Nova Scotia in Canada, I will discuss the fascinating site of Blue Beach. This is perhaps the least known and most under-appreciated of the three major fossil cliffs in Nova Scotia. Most residents of the province (including me, until a few months ago) are unaware of the site. This is a pity, for it is the most accessible of the three sites in the Halifax Regional Municipality, which is the major population centre of Nova Scotia. Blue Beach is located just outside the town of Hantsport in the Annapolis Valley, just off Highway 101. Chris Mansky, a knowledgeable amateur palaeontologist, and Sonja Wood own and run a private interpretation centre and museum. Chris takes visitors on a tour of the museum and down to the beach, pointing out interesting fossils and sharing his, not inconsiderable, knowledge of this important deposit, which dates from Romer’s Gap in the Early Carboniferous Period (360 to 340 million years ago). Romer’s Gap, named after palaeontologist Dr. Alfred Romer, was a period from about 360 to 340 million year ago from which fossils are rarely found. It is not known for sure why this is the case, but this was also a crucial time for tetrapod development. Along with the Kirkton Quarry in Bathgate, Scotland, Blue Beach is one of the few sites Gap fossils are accessible. As Chris says: One of the first things a visitor will notice about Blue Beach is that … Read More
To be fair, Essex has never been famed or well-regarded for its geology, at least not by me. I know it has its locations – Walton-on-the-Naze springs to mind – but not a lot else. However, this guide is set to change all that. Full colour photographs and illustrations (on virtually every page), with 416 pages of excellent text, with particularly good sections on the London Clay and Red Crag, it is as good as it gets. It is worth owning for its own sake, even if you are not going to, or are living in, Essex.