This category can only be viewed by members. To view this category, sign up by purchasing Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Geology museums of Britain: Staffin (Dinosaur) Museum, Isle of Skye

Jon Trevelyan (UK) I had the good fortune recently and rather delightfully to spend a week on the beautiful Isle of Skye, the largest of the Inner Hebrides. The weather was surprisingly good for September and a good time was had by all. In terms of geology, there are some exceptionally old rocks on Skye. We were staying on the east coast of the Sleat Peninsula, which consists of Lewisian gneiss, which is some 2.8 billion years old, and nearby is Torridonian sandstone, which is a mere 550 million years old. There are also Triassic rocks, from a time when Skye was part of a vast desert and there are the much younger, Palaeocene rocks of the Skye volcano, whose gabbros makes up the glorious Cuillin ridge (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. A classic view of the gabbro of the mighty Cuillin Ridge. So, while I was there, I took the opportunity to leave the family in their respective beds early one morning (none of whom are really interested in geology) and drive to the little Staffin Museum (known also as Staffin Dinosaur Museum), in the northeast of the island. This also provided me with the opportunity to drive past and visit some of Skye’s other geological highlights, namely the Storr (Fig. 2), the impressive Mealt Falls cascading directly into the sea and the equally impressive Kilt Rock (Fig. 3). Fig. 2. The Storr. Fig. 3. Mealt Falls, with the basalt columns of Kilt Rock in the background. However, it is … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Miocene-Pliocene shallow water marine fossils at Chippokes Plantation State Park, Virginia, USA

Deborah Painter (USA) On a cool, early December day in 2020, my friend David Hawk and I decided we simply had to search for fossils after not doing so for months, and also not be stopped by the chill or the coronavirus. Rather, we would prepare for both. We set off from Norfolk, Virginia USA and drove west to Smithfield, using our GPS to find Chippokes Plantation State Park in Surry County. We found the intersection of Business Route 258 and US Route 10 west of Smithfield, and followed the latter for approximately 22km, before turning right off US Route 10, Virginia to State Route 634. From this intersection, we travelled on 634 for a few kilometres, then right onto State Route 633, and then turned left, which took us back to State Route 634. We then had to climb a steep and winding road through a forested area. “This had better be worth it”, I grumbled, mostly to myself. After about 15 minutes, we reached the intersection with State Route 665 and saw the sign for Chippokes Plantation State Park. We paid our seven dollars daily parking fee at the entrance gate and we soon found the car park for the visitors centre. A family with young children arrived at about the same time and quickly took one of the trails. The car park was only about 40 or so meters from the edge of the bluff overlooking the James River, an estuarine tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. Here, … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Crusty old fossils

Paul D Taylor (UK) Many fossil collectors will have been disappointed to discover mollusc and brachiopod shells ‘disfigured’ by crust-like coverings of oysters, serpulid worms, barnacles or bryozoans so firmly cemented to the shells that they cannot be removed. However, rather than discarding these encrusted shells, it is worth considering what they can tell us about the ecology of the host animals and the fate of their shells after death. Furthermore, the surfaces of the shells were battlefields for encrusters fighting for living space, allowing a rare opportunity to observe the effects of biological competition millions of years ago. The key palaeoecological advantage offered by encrusters over most other fossils is that they preserve their original life positions. For example, a fossil barnacle encrusting a fossil bivalve (Fig. 1) is located on the shell exactly where the barnacle larva settled and the adult spent its life. Encrusters are not transported or displaced from where they originally lived, although of course the shells themselves may have been moved. Fig. 1. Field photograph of two barnacles, one large and one small, attached to an articulated bivalve shell. Like other encrusters, the barnacles preserve their original life positions on the bivalve. Pleistocene, Nukumaru Brown Sand, near Whanganui, New Zealand. Encrusters are sclerobionts, a collective term for organisms colonizing all kinds of hard substrates, including shells, bones, wood, rocks and sedimentary hardgrounds (Taylor and Wilson, 2003). Other types of sclerobionts bore into hard substrates, leaving trace fossils as evidence of their former presence, or … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

The ‘trident’ trilobites of Morocco

Dr Kendal Martyn (UK) Spectacular “spiny” adaptations of the Devonian (about 380Ma) trilobites of Morocco are well known. Free-standing spines, sometimes up to one hundred on a single specimen, make for spectacular (if fragile) specimens. Historically, similar species were first recognised way back in the 1880s by the classic work of Barrande on the fossils of Bohemia (in what is now the Czech Republic). Fig. 1. Walliserops issimourensis. More recently, the large-scale commercial digging of trilobites in the Anti-Atlas of Morocco, coupled with improved preparation techniques, has produced a wealth of information and new forms. As the digging around Djebel Issimour got tougher during the mid-late 1990s, this lead to people digging further afield. Near Foum Zguid, they found something new – a trilobite with a trident. Fig. 2. Walliserops issimourensis. Now called Walliserops trifercatus (Morzadec, 2001), many features relate this trilobite to more widespread asteropygid trilobites such as Comura bultynki and Quadrops flexuosa (also known as Phyllonix phyllonix). Fig. 3. Quadrops flexuosa. Walliserops trifurcatus is hard to find: one person, one week (full time) for one specimen (often incomplete). In fact, getting hold of a complete specimen is hard: getting it out of the rock without butchering it is harder still (see an unprepared trilobite and you’ll see what I mean). Fig. 4. Walliserops sp. Debate started almost immediately on the purpose of the trident: hood ornament; antler; defensive spear; sensory organ or feeding aid. Discovery of a smaller, short-trident form at the same locality, Walliserops sp., suggested sexual … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Identifying North African (Moroccan) mosasaur teeth

George Corneille (Ireland) I have been a collector of marine reptile and dinosaur fossils for many years and started to sell on a small scale a few years ago. This editorial is specifically to help collectors identify teeth that they may have in their collections and to better understand these giant ocean going reptiles that dominated the oceans from the middle to late Cretaceous. Many mosasaur species have been identified by isolated teeth. This is extremely difficult, because, ideally, to describe a new taxon, you need skull elements, jaw hinges, flipper digits and so on. This fossil material is of course not easily available for the most part and we have to rely on isolated teeth. However, both French palaeontologist, Camille Arambourg, and Belgian palaeontologist, Louis Dollo, have relied on isolated teeth to identify a new taxon. The first mosasaur was discovered in Holland in 1780 by Dr Johann Leonard Hoffman. Since that time, at least another 40 species have been identified worldwide from Sweden to Africa and Israel to New Zealand as well as the USA, especially in Kansas. Mosasaurs dominated the world’s oceans at the end of the Cretaceous. Here, we concentrate on the Moroccan species, specifically from the Oulad Abdoun Basin and Sidi Daoui in the Moroccan Sahara. There are currently six identified species of mosasaur from the marine deposits in Morocco. Arambourg (1952) was the last comprehensive study of marine fossils. In Mosasaurus beaugei (Arambourg 1952), the tooth crowns are described as robust with both carinae … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

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 phylogenetic systematics (that is, a way of establishing the relationship of life forms) used by palaeontologists. Skull structure is the most important factor to be considered. The term ‘Reptile’ refers to the Class Reptilia, which includes the ectothermic (cold-blooded) turtles, snakes, lizards, crocodilians, tuataras and dinosaurs, and the endothermic (warm-blooded) birds, which are also referred as non-avian dinosaurs. However, the way in which body temperature is maintained (cold versus warm-blooded) is not a factor in the classification of Reptiles. The main diagnostic physical characteristic of a Reptile that separates them from other animals is that they are Diapsids (Fig. 1). A Diapsid has a pair of openings in the skull – temporal fenestra – behind the eyes. Turtles and a few extinct Reptiles are an exception and have no temporal fenestra. They are classified as Anapsids. Fig. 1. Diapsid skull. Birds are descended from or are dinosaurs (depending on your view) with which they have shared derived traits including being Diapsids. Therefore, dinosaurs and birds are classified as Reptiles. However, birds are certainly quite different from other living Reptilia. The traits that modern birds possess started with the first Diapsid, the tiny lizard-like Petrolacosaurus, about 350 million years ago. Modern … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Megalodon shark ancestry

Steven A Alter (UK) Imagine a shark three times the size of the modern Great White  shark charging with reckless abandon into a pod of enormous 30 foot Sperm Whales. The mighty fish opens its gaping jaws and crunches into the side of one of the swimming mammals, slicing through flesh, blubber, ribs, and vertebrae. A single 6˝ long ivory-white tooth is pried loose from the shark’s lower jaw and flutters down to the bottom of the ocean, stained red from the assault. The tooth hits the bottom and soon settles down in the soft mud. The tooth is slowly covered by the sediment until it is deep enough where it is cut off from the water and any oxygen that might creep through. Ten million years later, a diver probes into the bottom of a relatively modern river and uncovers this magnificent tooth, now brown from the minerals that have penetrated it over the years. This tooth, now a fossil but almost as sharp as the day it was lost, becomes a prized possession for the lucky finder who hurries up to the boat to show his friends. This tooth is from the largest predator to ever inhabit the world’s oceans – Carcharocles megalodon. Fig. 1. Carcharocles megalodon. This ancient story relives itself day after day all over the world. Evidence of the megalodon shark can be found in fossilised teeth and vertebrae (even fossilised  whale bones still showing bite marks from the attack) all over the world. The … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Baltic amber from Kalingrad

E R Matheau-Raven (UK) Amber is the hardened resin of coniferous and angiosperm trees. Resin should not be confused with sap, which is a product of photosynthesis that consists of sugars, water and dissolved minerals. The sticky extrusive mass that comes from a cut on a pine tree is resin. Under the proper conditions, it undergoes certain physical and chemical changes that turn it into amber. If resin has hardened in recent times, it is called copal. Columbia, in South America, has extensive copal deposits. Presently, certain trees produce large quantities of resin; the Kauri gum from New Zealand (Agathis australis), the Sundarac from Australia (Tetraclinis articulata), the Gum Arabic tree from Africa (Acacia arabica)and the Algarroba tree from South America (Hymenaea courbaril. It was trees like these that produced the resin that often trapped unsuspecting insects and even some slightly larger animals. Like fly paper, the more the animal struggled to get free, the more entangled it became. Fig. 1. Caddis fly: Order – Diptera. Often, the origin of the amber can be derived visually from the amber itself. Baltic amber may have a cloudy appearance, due to air bubbles and also has a high percentage of Succinic acid, as much as 8% by weight. It is a high-molecular compound of organic acids and has been produced as a result of fossilisation of the resin from the pine, Pinus succinifera. This tree was prospering in the Baltic area 40 to 45 million years ago. Fig. 2. Ant (worker): Order … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Hexanchus gracilis: A shark from the Lower Chalk of Hunstanton

S M Bowerman (UK) Sharks of the genus Hexanchus belong to the family Hexanchidae and are more commonly known as six gilled sharks or cow sharks. They are well known for the difference in shape between teeth of the upper and lower jaw. They are first recorded in the Jurassic. Smart (2001) states that Hexanchidae are represented in the English late Cretaceous by two species: Hexanchus microdon and H. gracilis, both species being known only from rare isolated teeth. I collected a single specimen of H. gracilis, which is the subject of this short article. It was found at Hunstanton, in Norfolk in the UK (TF 673414), from the Upper Cretaceous Lower Chalk, Middle Cenomanian, Varians Chalk, Schloenbachia varians zone. Fig. 1. The striking cliffs at Hunstanton (picture courtesy of Andrea Clark). It is an incomplete specimen from the lower jaw. The specimen shows only two cusps of a possible seven. These appear to be accessory cusps. The posterior aspect of the specimen is not preserved therefore the principle cusp is not seen. The cusps show no signs of serration and the specimen remains in chalk matrix with the lingual aspect uppermost. The root is rectangular and slightly convex. Tooth width is 5mm, and its height is 3mm. Fig. 2. Hexanchus gracilis (Ref. No. H/619). Further reading Fossils of the Chalk: Palaeontological Association Guide No 2 (2nd edition), edited by Andrew B Smith and David J Batten, The Palaeontological Association, London (2002), 374 pages (Paperback), ISBN: 0901702781 References Smart, P. … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Fossils from Florida, USA

E R Matheau-Raven (UK) Florida has one of the world’s richest fossil deposits of both terrestrial and marine origin, encompassing over 2,000 known fossil locations. The state is famous for its Pliocene/Pleistocene fossil fauna but also has a rich and diverse Miocene heritage, plus its coastal waters abound with giant Carcharocles megalodon shark teeth, much prized by fossil divers for their value. Fig. 1. Tapir lower jaw. The Thomas Farm site in Gilchrist County, North Central Florida has the largest Miocene mammal deposits east of the Rocky Mountains. It was discovered in 1931 after locals reported what they thought was an Indian burial site and has, for the last 70 years, continually given up its secrets. The fossils from here are dated at 18 million years old and are typified by many types of mammal, such as the early three-toed horse Nanippus. Fig. 2. Horse upper molar: Equus sp. Florida began to form by a combination of volcanic activity and marine deposition along the northwest portion of Africa over 500 million years ago during the latter part of the Cambrian Period. At about 300 million years ago (during the Upper Carboniferous), the time of the formation of the supercontinent, Pangaea, Florida was sandwiched between what were to become North and South America and Africa. Near the Triassic/Jurassic boundary (210 million years ago), Pangaea began to divide into two major continents, Laurasia (North America, Europe and parts of Asia) and Gondwana (South America, Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica). Fig. 3. Tapir … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Travelling through time: The roadmap for Namibia is in the rocks

Patricia Vickers-Rich , Peter Trusler, Steve Morton, Peter Swinkels, Thomas H Rich, Mike Hall and Steve Pritchard (Australia) The “road map” allowing (time) travellers to move across more than 1,000 million years in Namibia is recorded in the rocks of this land. And, it is on display in several museums in Namibia – in Swakopmund, Windhoek, Rosh Pinah and Farm Aar. The old part of the road In drafting the early section of this map, Southern Namibia has been a key region for understanding some of the sights our time traveller will come into contact with, some being the weird organisms called Ediacarans. Since the early days of the twentieth century, when geologists, such as Paul Range, and German soldiers occupying isolated outposts in the Aus region of Southern Namibia, some of these strange fossils were reported. These were the first ‘large’ multicellular organisms that prospered on planet Earth before the development of true animals, and amongst them were the tiny cloudinids. Their fossils are preserved in the thick rock sequences that can be seen along the “time road” in Southern Namibia. These showcase a time in the history of life when there were fundamental and pivotal changes in life occurring, with life transitioning from an enigmatic biota to what we consider normal today. And, at a number of museums in Namibia, including the Swakopmund Museum and the Namibian Geological Survey in Windhoek, several of these intriguing organisms are on show – such as the soft-bodied Ernietta, Pteridinium and Rangea,and … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Hastings (Part 3): When Dinosaurs Roamed

Ken Brooks (UK) The beach from Rocka-Nore to Pett Level is rich in fossil evidence. Even the most insignificant fossils are important because they provide clues that enable us to reconstruct the ancient environments of this area. Between 100 and 140 million years ago, much of southern England was covered by lakes and lagoons. Rivers flowing from the London area and the west deposited great quantities of sand and silt on extensive flood plains. Molluscs, fish and freshwater sharks lived in the lakes and rivers, while the land was dominated by crocodiles, turtles and dinosaurs. Fig. 1. The Hastings coastline today. Eventually, their fossilised shells, scales, teeth, bones and footprints were preserved in the layers of sediment. Carbonised plants, such as horsetails, ferns, cycads, conifers and tree ferns, indicate that the summers were hot and dry (with frequent fires), followed by wet and humid conditions in wintes. Millions of years later, when Africa collided with the European plate, southeast England was pushed upwards into a vast dome-shaped structure, known as the ‘Wealden anticline’. Since then erosion has removed many layers of rock and exposed the sandstones and clays which now form the cliffs between Hastings and Pett. Fig. 2. Hastings during the Lower Cretaceous (© Stuart Handley). Bones and footprints of Iguanodon are among the most common dinosaur remains, although other very interesting fossils have recently been found in the Hastings area. These include the spines and vertebrae of Polacanthus, a tooth from Baryonyx and quillwort plants still in their … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Walrus of the Norwich Crag: Alachtherium cretsii

Alister Cruickshanks (UK) The Norwich Crag at Easton Bavents, Southwold in Suffolk is one of the only locations where mammalian remains from the Pleistocene Epoch can be found, in situ, at an accessible location in the UK. The Norwich Crag splits the Antian and the Baventian. At Easton Bavents South Cliff, the Norwich Crag Shell Bed is missing. Instead, there is a fine gravel layer with laminated clay and sand, which yields occasional remains. This bed is equivalent to the Lower Shell Bed of the North cliff at Easton Bavents, One of the latest theories suggests that this was once a pre-historic fast flowing river, which flowed into a larger estuary that was present at the North Cliff during the Pliocene Era. The North Cliff itself has a stone layer above the Norwich Crag Shell Bed. This bed comprises three main bands: the upper, middle and lower beds, but varies considerably along this stretch of cliff. The Norwich Crag Stone bed is directly below the Baventian Clay, both of which are from the Baventian stage which is 1.55 to 1.6 million years old, from the Pliocene Era. The Norwich Crag Shell Bed is Antian in age, which is 1.6 to 1.7 million years old. Fig. 1. Fine gravel layer with laminated clay and sand. A complete lower mandible of a walrus was discovered in situ after high tides during 1993, by my father and me. At this time, the specimen could not be fully identified and spent ten years at … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Fossil hunting in Oxfordshire, UK

Mike Thorn (UK) If you ask someone to think of Oxford, they will not usually picture warm tropical beaches and azure coral seas. However, go back to the middle Jurassic and you would be hard pushed to find a dreaming spire or student on a bicycle anywhere. At that time, around 160 million years ago, Oxfordshire lay beneath a shallow, tropical seaway at about the same latitude that the southern Mediterranean occupies today. Over the course of the middle Jurassic, this seaway varied in depth, but remained close to nearby land masses from which a lot of sediment was derived (Fig. 1). A great thickness and variety of limestones, sandstones and clays were deposited over several tens of millions of years. Fig. 1. Southern England during the middle Jurassic, 160 million years ago. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there were many working quarries in the Oxford area, exploiting the abundant clay and limestone for the brick and building stone industries. Quarrymen were frequently paid to look out for fossils and these turned up in abundance, fuelling the academic debates on evolution taking place at the time. Fig. 3. Geological Context for Kirtlington Quarry and Dry Sandford Pit. Sadly, many of these quarries have now been filled in and, for the casual fossil hunter in Oxfordshire, it might seem that there are now few opportunities to collect. However, Kirtlington Quarry and Dry Sandford Pit are two old quarries which are open to the public and at which there is … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Hastings (Part 1): Field trip from Rock-A-Nore

Ken Brooks (UK) This is the first of three articles on the geology and fossils in the cliffs and foreshore to the east of Hastings. This one is intended as a field trip. The geology here is all Lower Cretaceous and is some of the best in Britain if you are interested in this period of time. Follow the Hastings seafront eastwards to the ‘Old Town’ and the famous ‘net shops’ in Rock-A-Nore Road. Below the high, sandstone cliffs of the East Hill, you will find the Fishermen’s Museum, the Blue Reef Aquarium (a sea-life centre), a large car park and public toilets. This field trip begins at the last stone groyne and continues along the beach towards Ecclesbourne Glen, nearly one kilometre (half a mile) to the east. The massive sandstone cliffs of the Upper Ashdown Formation are overlain by the shales and sandstones of the Wadhurst Clay. A distinct junction between one horizontal bed of rock and another often marks a period of erosion. This may have been followed by a change in the environmental conditions where a different grade or type of sediment was deposited. In this area, the lower part of the cliff is hidden under a scree slope of broken rocks, but there is one small exposure in situ at beach level. Here, there are flattened branches of carbonised wood lying horizontally within a silty mudstone. These were probably washed into a river or lake, then later covered and compressed by sedimentary layers. The leaves … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Hastings (Part 2): Geology and fossils

Ken Brooks (UK) During the Lower Cretaceous period, between 110 and 145 million years ago, Britain was part of the European land-mass. Southeast England was covered by meandering rivers, extensive flood-plains, lakes and lagoons which extended across to central France. Rivers flowing from the London Uplands and the west brought huge quantities of sand, silt and mud, which were deposited over the whole area. Fig. 1. Starlight Cove These sediments later became the sandstones and clays of the Ashdown Sandstone and Wadhurst Clay within the Hastings Beds. Structures in the rocks, combined with fossil evidence, can be used to reconstruct the ancient environments and communities of this period. For example, the siltstones, clays and sandstones have preserved features such as river channel and flood plain deposits, as well as a rich variety of fossilised plants and animals. Fig. 2. An infilled river channel. The carbonised remains of horse-tails, ferns, cycads, conifers and tree-ferns indicate that Southern England had a sub-tropical climate with seasonal rainfall, perhaps like the Mediterranean today. Freshwater sharks and shellfish lived in the lakes and rivers, while the land was dominated by crocodiles, turtles and dinosaurs. Today, their scales, teeth, bones and footprints may be found along the stretch of beach between Rock-a-Nore and Pett Level. Fig. 3. Crocodile tooth: Goniopholis. Around 100 million years ago, the great weight of the sediments, combined with geological faulting, resulted in a gradual subsidence of the southeast. As a warm, shallow sea began to cover most of England and northern … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Heavy rains and storms in Dorset: Collecting fossils

Tony and Anna Gill (UK) The best time to look for fossils in Dorset is after heavy rain and winter storms. These conditions make the cliffs unstable and collapse. High winds produce rough seas, which wash the mud away, leaving the nodules that contain the fossils exposed on the beach. The beginning of November 2005 saw a period of heavy rain and strong winds. This stormy weather continued for several days and on 5 November gale force 10 winds, before a high tide, exposing new material (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. A large landslip, approximately four hundred metres east of Charmouth, contains most of the best fossil horizons. This slip is illustrated with the sea crashing into it (Fig. 2). The large stones in the picture below do not contain any fossils. If they did, they would not be there. The best place to look for smaller fossils is around these large stones. Some of the pyrite ammonites found here can be up to 25cm to 30cm in diameter. Fig. 2. The storm crashing against the cliffs at Charmouth. The flat stones, which are from the Obtusum Shales, sometimes contain the ammonite Asteroceras Planicosta and usually the smaller ammonites Promicroceras Planicosta (Fig. 3). Fig. 3. Charmouth was the seabed in Jurassic times, some 195 million years ago. The football shaped and sized, Stellare Nodules, when broken, contain calcite crystals. Occasionally though, an ammonite can be found inside the larger ones. These ammonites can be up to 50cm across, but unfortunately, most … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Thanet Anticline’s shifting shorelines: two millennia of change

Dr Richard J Hubbard (UK) Introduction The Thanet Anticline is an uplifted area forming the northeast corner of Kent and is home to the four coastal towns of Birchington, Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate (Fig. 1). Historically, the area has been known as the Isle of Thanet and, in this article, I will look at sediment deposition and erosion around the upstanding anticlinal structure and how shorelines have shifted during the past two thousand years. I will finish with some thoughts about how shorelines might look one hundred years from now. The article is based on material drawn from three guidebooks published by GeoConservation Kent, written by Geoff Downer and myself (see below). Fig. 1. The Isle of Thanet. Sketch map of northeast Kent to show the geography of the Wantsum Channel at the time of the Roman occupation. Today’s shoreline is superimposed with some medieval settlements added for orientation. The Isle of Thanet is elevated and forms an ‘island’ because of the underlying structural geology. Note the location of the offshore seismic line published by Ameen (1995), on which the cross section of Fig. 4 is based. (Figure 87 from The Smugglers Trail, Hubbard & Downer, 2021.) This article has also been written to accompany a book review that was recently published by Deposits (see Book review: The Smugglers Trail – Geology of the Thanet Coastline from Broadstairs to Cliftonville, by Richard Hubbard and Geoff Downer). Thanet has been a high standing area for more than 300 million years and … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Book review: The Peak District: Landscape and Geology, by Tony Waltham

The Crowood Press are really developing a nice little series of books on the landscape and geology of select regions of the British Isles, and Tony Waltham’s addition to the series about the Peak District is well worth a read. This new one follows the same format as the others – beautiful, full colour photos and diagrams, a fascinating chapter on each of the important geological and geomorphological aspects of the area (including buildings and industry), and an author who knows his stuff and can write it down with an easy and authoritative style.

A single fossil bone can tell so much

Thomas H Rich and Patricia Vickers-Rich (Australia) Whether they had horns or not, the ceratopsian “horn faced” dinosaurs are distinctive, not only from other dinosaurs, but all other vertebrates as well, in the structure of their skulls. In addition to the horns, another element of their skeleton, the lower arm bone (called the ulna or elbow bone), unexpectedly is so distinctive that it has provided clear evidence that, 130 million years ago, these very ceratopsians were living in Australia. Prior to that discovery, the ceratopsians were known almost exclusively in the Northern Hemisphere. Just over a century ago, a toothless lower jaw found in Patagonia, Argentina was named Notoceratops, “the southern horned face”. The last time that fossil was seen was a decade later when the world-renowned dinosaur authority, Fredrich von Huene, studied and redescribed that fossil and agreed unreservedly that it was a ceratopsian. Illustrations of that bone strongly support its correct identification as a ceratopsian. However, unfortunately, von Huene is the last person known to have laid eyes on it, and the fossil cannot now be found. Thus, the only ceratopsian previously thought to have come from the Southern Hemisphere, disappeared. When the Victorian dinosaur ulna, which is the subject of this article, was first found at the base of the Arch near Kilcunda (Fig. 1) by Mike Cleeland, Tom’s first guess was that it was some kind of carnivorous dinosaur or theropod. This was because it was a short, stumpy bone, which is so characteristic of the … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Talking sharks’ teeth

Lutz Andres (Germany) The giant-toothed ‘Megalodon’ shark (Carcharocles megalodon,) is one of the most impressive extinct creatures to have excited our imagination, and its fossilised teeth are one of the most desired objects in the fossil collecting world. Fig. 1. Carcharocles megalodon. A lot of collectors and scientists believe that Megalodon is closely related to the Great White shark (Carcharodon carcharias), because of their similar teeth, which are large, triangular and serrated shape. However, that point of view is too superficial. There are a few clear differences in the tooth morphology. In addition, they had apparently different kinds of nutrition and their dental weaponry suggests different hunting strategies. A few obviously different tooth characteristics between such closely related species will be described and discussed below. Different root shapes The root branches of the upper and lower anterior teeth of all giant-toothed sharks (Otodontidae) are elongated to resemble a ‘V’ or ‘U’. The roots of upper anterior teeth in Great White sharks are often nearly rectangular, without well-developed root branches. When the Great White shark attacks and bites its prey, the lower anterior teeth are the first to penetrate the body, and then the shark closes its jaws. After that, it starts immediately to shake its head in a semi-circle shape, to rip flesh out of the body, mainly with its upper anterior teeth. The pressure on these upper anterior teeth is applied laterally. Therefore, the roots have wider surfaces to absorb the laterally arising forces. Fig. 4. 1 and 3 … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Complete marine crocodile skull found at Whitby on the North Yorkshire

Byron Blessed (UK) 9:30am, Saturday, 15 April 2006. I set off with my fossil- hunting party from my shop “Natural Wonders Ltd” on Grape Lane in Whitby. The weather was overcast but fine, and bright enough for the sun to break through later in the day. As I led the 15-strong party up the famous Whitby Abbey steps and along the Cleveland way to Saltwick Bay, no one could have anticipated this would be the day that I would find the best fossil I have ever collected. Fig. 1. Byron and faithful sidekick investigate the rock further. My fossil-hunting trips are really designed for the complete beginners: those who don’t know what they are doing, who have no idea about the safety issues involved in fossil collecting, and certainly have no idea what type of rocks to look for. Therefore, I had designed this trip to suit these needs, so that people can then go out and “do it themselves”. The great thing about fossil collecting is that you never know what you’re going to find when you get onto the beach. So, after a run through of the “golden rules of fossil collecting” (tides are dangerous, cliffs are dangerous, bring the suitable equipment), it was straight into the shingle to search for the nodules containing the best ammonites. Fig. 2. One freshly excavated croc skull. Our return trip to Whitby is always along the foreshore past Saltwick Nab and under the East Cliff (also known as “the Scaur”). It … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Book review: The Smugglers Trail – Geology of the Thanet Coastline from Broadstairs to Cliftonville, by Richard Hubbard and Geoff Downer

I like local geological guides, which aim to get you out and about, visiting areas you might not have known are worth a daytrip. And this is a good example. I sat down and read it cover to cover, as it is only 90 pages long. And I now really want to visit this bit of Kent coastline. Largely concentrating on the Upper Cretaceous Chalk, this guidebook explains and illustrates what seems to be some marvellous geology that can also be explored during what could be a lovely day out on the beach.

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.

What’s in a fossil name?

Dr Paul D Taylor (UK) There’s a small Cambrian trilobite (Fig. 1) that is collected in copious quantities from a site in the Wheeler Amphitheatre of Utah. Sold just as it is or mounted in jewellery, this trilobite lacks a common name and goes by its scientific name. In its fullest form, this is Elrathia kingii (Meek, 1870). But what exactly do the different parts of the name mean? How did Elrathia kingii – and other species of fossils – receive their names in the first place? And what are holotypes, lectotypes, neotypes and topotypes? In answering these and related questions, this article focuses on the procedures used by taxonomists when describing and naming living and fossil organisms. Fig. 1. The Cambrian trilobite species from Utah, now called Elrathia kingii (Meek, 1870), was originally named Conocoryphe kingii by Meek in 1870. Fifty-four years later, it was made the type species of the new genus, Elrathia by Walcott. Meek’s name is written in brackets because of this change in genus. Along with living organisms, the formal names of fossils employ the binomial system introduced by the Swedish naturalist, Carl Linnaeus in 1735. A genus name is followed by a species name, the latter sometimes referred to as the trivial name. Both are by convention always printed in italics, the genus name with a capital first letter and the species name with a lower case first letter. Unfortunately, newspapers all too often incorrectly print generic names with a lower case first letter. … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Smilodon family tree

Mike Thorn (UK) In his book, “Architects of Eternity: The New Science of Fossils”, Richard Corfield coins the term “reluctant palaeontologists”. He has in mind those chemists, biochemists and biologists who use the techniques and skills from their own disciplines to shed new light on our ideas about evolution. Ross Barnett, of the Department of Zoology at Oxford, might well be considered to be in this category. A biochemist by training, he has recently co-authored a paper on the DNA of three extinct cats which has helped to lay to rest some of the arguments about the feline family tree. Fig. 1. Smilodon skeleton. Ross came to Oxford in October 2002, to work on a PhD, after completing his biochemistry degree at Edinburgh. His supervisor, Professor Alan Cooper, was interested in cat genetics and had managed to raise funds to carry out research into the relationships of several extinct cats. In particular, there were questions about where the sabre-toothed cats, such as Smilodon and Homotherium, fitted in. Fig. 2. Ross Barnett in his office. As Ross explained: There has been a lot of study done on these animals. For example, there is a huge collection of thousands of individuals of Smilodon from Rancho Le Brea in Los Angeles, so they’ve been really well characterised from their morphology. What the palaeontologists had concluded from this was that there was a split at the base of the cat family tree between the group that goes on to form the sabre- tooths – … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.

Book review: Mortimer Forest Geology Trail, edited by Andrew Jenkinson and illustrated by Gillian Jenkinson and John Norton

This small, yet informative, booklet takes you on a four-mile walk to 13 sites and through 15 million years of Earth history. The Mortimer Forest Trail is a geology trail in Shropshire that is famous for its outstanding fossils and varied geology. The trail mostly examines Silurian formations such as the Wenlock and Ludlow series.

Do mammoths warn of a climate crisis?

James O’Donoghue (UK) Did the destruction of forests by mammoths make the Pleistocene Ice Age even colder? It’s an extraordinary prospect. Yet, a leading fossil mammal expert thinks they did just that. Over many tens of thousands of years, mammoths and straight-tusked elephants ate their way through vast tracts of the world’s forests. Trees exert a buffering effect on global climate – take them out and face the prospect of hotter and colder extremes. Mammoths may have turned cool Ice Age periods into freezing ones. Straight-tusked elephants may have made temperatures rise during interglacials. Both types of elephant had all but vanished by 10,000 years ago, never to return. Since then, forest cover has increased sharply while the climate has been unusually mild and stable. Could the two be linked? Humans chopping down forests are now exerting at least as profound an effect on the world’s ecosystems as the mammoths had on theirs. By comparing the destruction wrought then and now, an alarming prospect emerges. Are we in the very process of making our own climate as volatile as that of the extinct elephants? Cores drilled from undisturbed glacial ice in Greenland and Antarctica have provided a wealth of information about almost constant shifts in the Earth’s climate over the past few hundred thousand years. Climatologists will tell you that we live in an interglacial period, in a world that is still going through an ice age that started 1.8Ma with the onset of the Quaternary period. (When I refer … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription.