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Geology Museums of Britain: Portland Museum, Dorset

Jon Trevelyan(UK) Fig. 1. A huge Titanites giganteus adorns the doorway. I visited this little museum a while ago while on a Geologists’ Association field trip. I have passed it several time and always loved the large Titanites giganteus above the door (Fig. 1) of this picturesque cottage (Fig. 2). As a result, I had always wanted to visit, but more particularly I want to see the famous fossil turtle (Fig. 3) that is exhibited there. Fig. 2. One of the two seventeenth century cottages making up the museum. Fig. 3. The lovely fossil turtle at the museum. In fact, Portland Museum is a lovely example of a local museum containing (among other things, geology (Fig. 4), in this case, tucked away in a beautiful part of the ‘island’ in two seventeenth century cottages, near Rufus Castle and the popular Church Ope Cove. Fig. 4. Some of the geological exhibits at the museum. The Isle of Portland in Dorset represents the most southerly point of the Jurassic, which is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site and famous for its geology, fossils and geomorphology. It is joined to the mainland by the equally famous Chesil Beach but has always been regarded (not least by its inhabitants)as separate from the mainland, and this is reflected in the museum’s collection. That is, Portland Museum does not just contain geology and palaeontology; its exhibits also reflect the Isle’s history and people. Portland Museum was founded in 1930 by Dr Marie Stopes, renowned for her … Read More

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In the footsteps of T-rex and other prehistoric giants: my trip to Hell Creek, the Green River Formation and the Niobrara Chalk

George Corneille (UK) It was Christmas 2005 and I received a phone call from the USA from my good friend, Terry Boudreaux. He asked if I wanted to join him and his boys, Christopher and Evan, on a trip to hunt dinosaurs in Hell Creek in South Dakota, fossil fish in Kemmerer, Wyoming and Cretaceous marine life in the chalk formations of Gove County, Kansas. Well, he didn’t have to ask twice and, in June of 2007, I arrived in Chicago to begin my 4,500 mile road trip to some of the most famous fossil sites in the world. On the morning of Sunday, 25 June 2006, we left Chicago to begin our fossil adventure. I was full of anticipation, dreaming of a finding a mosasaur or maybe a four-inch T-rex tooth (or even just a fossil fly). On the first day, we drove to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, arriving the next day in Rapid City S.D. where I had an opportunity to visit the Black Hills Institute and see their stunning collection of dinosaur fossils. I suppose the most impressive fossil was the complete Triceratops lying in situ, as he has done for the last 65 million years, and the giant skull from a Deinosuchus, the massive prehistoric crocodilian. We continued our journey and, that night, arrived in Buffalo, South Dakota where we would spend the next few days hunting dinosaurs. Fig. 1. Outside the ranch house in Buffalo, S.D.. Back row from left: Terry, Alyson, Ryan, Steve, Christopher … Read More

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Down and dirty at a dig: a dinophile’s dream comes true

By Elena Victory “You really should go on a dig” was the advice of a dear friend during the long, rainy winter of 2005. I was just gearing up to teach my annual, introductory paleontology class at a small college near my home outside Portland, Oregon. “Where?” I asked. “Who specialises in fanatics who read lots of dinosaur books and dream a lot, but has never dug up a real dinosaur?” She smiled and said, “I think Nate Murphy’s program would be good for you”. It unfolded from there. I emailed Nate to find out availability. He emailed back, directly I might add. And so, I found myself outside of Billings, MT en route to my first real dig. It was a beautiful landscape: a few lonely Ponderosa pines stood like silent sentinels over a grassy landscape dotted with spurges, thistles and wormwoods. Through the eyes of a botanist, it didn’t look like dinosaur country to me. That night, after a group of 35 excited diggers had made camp and their introductions, we were given a little history. The next day, we were going to dig our awls and shovels into the “Mighty Morrison”, a huge geological layer cake of shales and mudstones spanning several states and several thousand square miles. The Morrison graveyard also records a story of climate change. Early in the Jurassic period, Apatosaurus roamed on its home range encountering arid seasons part of the year and deluges the rest of the season (poor thing, I thought, … Read More

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Jurassic Gorge

By Dr Susan Parfrey About 95km south of Rolleston, in the southern part of central Queensland, Australia, is a national park that contains the Carnarvon Gorge. The gorge is over 32km in length and is formed of towering white sandstone cliffs. It has almost everything a visitor could want – beautiful scenery, wonderful Aboriginal rock paintings and a garden of moss with a magic waterfall, plus King Ferns, the largest ferns in the world. So what’s missing? Well, obviously, Jurassic dinosaurs. An impression of how these dinosaurs may have looked. © SMP. This is one of the most popular national parks in the state and has over 30,000 people visiting every year. Over the years, you would imagine every centimetre of rock has been carefully studied and, in particular, the ‘Art Gallery’ Aboriginal rock paintings, some of which date back 3,600 years. Imagine the surprise in 1992 when some tourists told the Park Ranger they thought there were bird footprints in a rock at the Art Gallery. The ranger examined the site and, sure enough, there were some marks on the rock. But were they footprints? The Park Ranger took photographs and sent them to the sloe palaeontologist at the Geological Survey of Queensland in Brisbane. Map of Australia showing the position of Brisbane and Carnarvon Gorge. Throughout my career as a geologist, I have seen every shape possible formed in rocks. Nature has an amazing ability to cut interesting shapes in natural objects. Combine this with people’s imaginations and … Read More

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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.

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.

What is a reptile?

David L Rowe (UK) This is a short introduction to what is a reptile – an issue that is a lot more complex that it might seem. To understand what a Reptile is one first needs to understand the cladistic (which is a way of classifying life forms) method and … Read More

Book review: A Guide to Fossil Collecting on the East Dorset Coast

After having favourably reviewed the first two books in this three part series, I must admit I was very much looking forward to the publication of this last one. And, of course, I wasn’t disappointed. This is the third in a series of guides to safe and responsible fossil collecting along (this time), the East Dorset coast from the Chalk cliffs at Bat’s Head, across what are some of Dorset’s more remote coastal locations, to Hengistbury Head.

Book review: Rebels, Scholars, Explorers – Women in Vertebrate Paleontology, by Annalisa Berta and Susan Turner

This is certainly a somewhat different sort of book from those I usually review. As it makes clear, women have always played key roles in the field of vertebrate palaeontology, going back centuries. However, other than perhaps the most best known historical female vertebrate palaeontologists comparatively little is known about these women scientists and their true contributions have probably been obscured. In this context, the book aims to reveal this hidden history, thereby celebrating the diversity and importance of women VPs.

Book review: Recreating an age of reptiles, by Mark P Witton

I like palaeoart. I recently went to the ‘Dinosaurs of China’ exhibition in Nottingham (reviewed in Issue 51 of this magazine) and bought myself a copy of the Chinese palaeoartist, Zhao Chuang’s ‘The Age of Dinosaurs’ – a veritable picture-fest of up-to-date reconstructions of ancient beasts and plants, complete with fuzzy raptors and other bird-like therapods.

Book review: Fossils of the Kimmeridge Clay Formation (Palaeontological Association Field Guide to Fossils No 16), edited by David M Martill and Steve Etches (pictures editor, Robert F Loveridge)

I always wait expectantly for the publication of a new Palaeontological Association guide to fossils and, when they turn up, I am never disappointed. This is undoubtedly another triumph. This guide attempts to bring the diversity of its flora and fauna together in a single work, for the first time.

Book review: Dinosaurs, Evolution and the Woman whose discoveries changed the World: the Fossil Hunter, by Shelley Emling

Mary Anning was clearly one of the most significant characters of eighteenth century science and possibly of all time, particularly in the realm of palaeontology. I am not sure that she is quite as unknown (certainly in the UK) as the American author this excellent little biography claims, but she certainly should be better known.