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Making of a monster: ‘Cannibal the Animal’

Mats E Eriksson (Sweden) A hellish monstrosity of an animal – like a beastly entity taken straight out of your worst nightmare – has come to sculptural life. And it has Death Metal, primordial life and Alex Webster written all over it. Fig. 1. The monster sculpture in progress, with its ‘daddy’ model maker Esben Horn, who also functions as a scale (Esben Horn is 1.85m tall). At this stage, the worm’s body has been roughly sculptured out of Styrofoam and, alongside, the huge jaws still await several adjustments. (Photo: Mats E Eriksson.) Last year, a new gigantic fossil polychaete worm – Websteroprion armstrongi – was discovered and unveiled to the world (Eriksson et al. 2017). (I discuss this in my article: Worm monstrosity: A giant extinct worm.) The creature is an ancestor to the now-living, marine ‘Bobbit’ worms – ambush predators that hunt in stealth mode for octopuses and fish. The fossil species was discovered in 400 million years old rocks from the Devonian Period in Canada and was named in honour of mighty bass giant, Alex Webster, of Cannibal Corpse, Blotted Science and Conquering Dystopia. Now, this primordial animal has come to ‘life’ by the skilled hands of prehistoric sculpture artist extraordinaire Esben Horn, at his company 10 Tons (see Eriksson, 2014) in Copenhagen, Denmark, and assisted by me, who was lead author of the scientific study presenting the species. Since I reported on the discovery of W. armstrongi in Issue 50 of Deposits (Worm monstrosity – a … Read More

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Urban geology: The Boxtel wall game

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) The Netherlands is a land of museums, approximately 1,200 of them in a country the size of southeast England. Although the major cities have an ample supply – about 30 in Amsterdam, for example – there are many and varied museums dotted throughout the country. (I remember, in 2003, being driven to Arnhem and seeing a German Panther tank parked outside a small military museum – be ready for the unexpected.) For the geologist, one of the gems is Het Oertijdmuseum (= The Prehistoric Times Museum; formerly De Groene Poort) in Boxtel, in the province of Noord Brabant, north-north-west of Eindhoven. As may be deduced from Fig. 1, the museum has a specialist collection of dinosaurs and other saurian – replicas in the gardens around the main building and mounted skeletons inside. Fig. 1. Welcome to Het Oertijdmuseum! I presume any visitor spots the glass fibre Tyrannosaurus before reading the notice on the right. Other saurians are lurking in the undergrowth around the main museum building, much to the delight of children of all ages. I am a walker and I prefer to saunter from the station through the attractive town of Boxtel to Het Oertijdmuseum rather than take a bus. The walk is a long 30 minutes. As you near the museum, the route passes a most extraordinary building, Bosscheweg 107, ‘Den Daalder’. This appears to be an entirely conventional office block until you reach the end closest to the museum, when all is … Read More

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Fossil spiders in Baltic amber

Anthonie Hellemond (Belgium) Spiders represent the most diverse group of obligate predators (that is, predators that feed solely on other animals) in terrestrial ecosystems today, with almost 48,000 extant species in 118 families described to date. The number increases annually by approximately 500 species as a result of new discoveries and it has been estimated that the true diversity may number around 160,000 extant species. This great diversity is no doubt at least in part due to their geological longevity, with the oldest known fossil spider dating back to the Carboniferous. In addition, spiders appear to have co-radiated along with their insect prey over geological time and they also appear to have been relatively resistant to extinction during the major events that eliminated many other terrestrial animal groups, such as the dinosaurs (Penney and Selden, 2011). Most people seem to presume that spiders do not have a very good fossil record on account of their very small size and their lack of a mineralised, bony skeleton. However, spiders actually have a very good fossil record, with 1,347 fossil species currently recognised. Fossil spiders occur in rocks of various different types, but the vast majority and best-preserved spiders are found as inclusions in amber from various localities dating back to the Cretaceous, although preservation tends to be better in the younger (for example, Miocene and Eocene) ambers. The best known of these deposits is Baltic amber, with more than 650 fossil spider species recognised (Penney et al., 2012), representing close to … Read More

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Three-dimensional photographs of fossils (Part 1): Gastropods from the Paratethys Ocean

Dr Robert Strum (Austria) About 23Ma, the Paratethys Ocean covered a large area, including what is now the Vienna basin and Alpine Foreland. This mostly shallow ocean was a habitat for a large number of plant and animal species, which included numerous marine gastropods, some of which are discussed in this article. This is the first of three articles on three dimensional photograph of fossils. In this article, to give the reader a better impression of their volume and shape, the fossil shells have been photographed by using the stereoscopic technique I describe in Three dimensional photography of fossils (Part 3): Ammonites from the Northern Limestone Alps of Austria. Today, beautiful shells with various shapes and patterns, of recent marine gastropods, can be collected in large numbers along Mediterranean and tropical coasts. While this seems normal to us, finding marine molluscs in Austrian sandpits, far away from any ocean, is a little more surprising. Of course, the simple answer is that these shells are fossils from the ocean referred to above, which once covered what is now Central Europe. The fossils commonly originate from the Tertiary period, which lasted from 65Ma to about 1.8mya. More precisely, the fossils are from the Eggenburgian of the Miocene (23Ma to 5.3Ma), named after Eggenburg, a lovely village north-west of Vienna. (The Eggenburgian is a Lower Miocene stage of the Central Paratethys regional chronostratigraphic classification.) Fig. 1. Map exhibiting the position of Eggenburg in Austria and the arrangement of single sampling localities and related sights:1. … Read More

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Urban geology: A failed example of gabions as false urban geology from the Netherlands

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) The provinces of Noord and Zuid Holland, including much of the Dutch North Sea coast and adjacent inland areas, are devoid of rocky exposures. In a region of flat-lying Pleistocene siliciclastic successions (Burck et al, 1956), there are no quarries, cliffs or other man-made or natural exposures of lithified rocks. The topography is slight, with the highest natural structures being the coastal sand dunes, in part preserved as a national park (Jelgersma et al, 1970). To offset this lack of geological ‘furniture’, the Dutch have enterprisingly imported and installed sundry rocks that fill what may be an unattractive void in the environment. These rocks vary from the minimalist, such as roadside boulders (in part, possibly erratics) (Donovan, 2015), to reconstructions of structures such as a replica of a natural bridge in Mississippian limestone slabs (Donovan, 2014). But, in some instances, reconstructions are unsuccessful or, at least, inaccurate, such as the false (Pennsylvanian) Coal Measure strata without identifiable coal beds in the national railway museum (Het Spoorweg Museum) in Utrecht (Donovan, 2018a). In this article, I describe further mock geological structures that fail in the details. Gabions are tools of the engineering geologist. Yet, when packed with cobbles of imported, grey Mississippian limestone, they may make convincing false sedimentary ‘beds’, at least from a distance, and are a not uncommon feature of the environment of Noord and Zuid Holland (Donovan, 2018b). (Vertical, dyke-like structures are rarer and are less successful as false geology; Donovan, research in … Read More

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Introduction to the Messel Pit

Jack Wilkin (UK) The Messel Pit represents a Konservat-Lagersttätte dating to  the Eocene Epoch 47 million years ago. The site is in Hessen State in Germany, close to the city of Darmstadt. It is a disused oil shale quarry that was scheduled to become a landfill in the mid-1990s. Thankfully, due to public and scientific outcry, the site was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Ever since, there have been thousands of amazing and revolutionary discoveries. This article seeks to introduce this remarkable site and a glimpse into a lost world. Fig. 1. Amphiperca multiformis (HLMD-Me 8958). During the Eocene, global temperatures were much higher than they are today. The area that is now Messel was a volcanic lake surrounded by subtropical rainforests. The upper portions of the lake supported a wide diversity of organisms. The bottom waters where anoxic. This prevented bioturbation and inhibited bacterial decay leading to exceptional preservation. The lake would have periodically released toxic gases, in much the same way as Lake Nyos in northwest Cameroon, did in 1987 to lethal effect. The pit is comprised of oil shales. The rocks have a high-water content and any fossils recovered must be kept moist or else they will dry out and the specimen will be lost forever. They must also be stabilised with resin, in a process called the “transfer technique”. The Messel Pit is unusual in that both plant microfossils and macrofossils are founds found in abundance. The types of plants found at … Read More

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Volcanism in the ancient world

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) In the ancient Greek and Roman world, volcanism was recognised as a divine phenomenon standing in close connection with the fire god, Hephaestus or Vulcan. Although there did not exist any term corresponding to the modern word “volcano”, people were aware of the destructive power arising from volcanic eruptions. Some early natural philosophers were already able to identify individual volcanic processes, such as lava flow and the generation of huge and extremely hot dust clouds. In the ancient Greek language, lava masses streaming downhill were simply named “rhea” (ῥύαξ or flow), whereas the Latin words “Vulcanius amnis” (Vulcanic stream), “saxa liquefacta” (liquefied rocks) and “massa ardens” (blazing mass) were used for the same phenomenon. Volcanoes were of enormous importance for the ancient Mediterranean world, because their eruptions caused the destruction of adjacent settlements and even the annihilation of entire civilizations. According to our present historical and archaeological knowledge, three volcanoes had an immense influence on the development of Mediterranean cultures: (1) the volcano of Thira-Santorini, which left behind the huge caldera visible today; (2) Vesuvius near the city of Naples; and (3) Etna on the island of Sicily (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. A satellite map of the Mediterranean region, including the position of the three volcanoes covered in this article. Despite the Thira-Santorini volcano being situated in the Aegean Sea, Vesuvius near Naples and Etna on Sicily, they are all considered to be part of the western Mediterranean Sea. (Photo: ©NASA.) In this article, I intend … Read More

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Urban geology: The strange tale of a windowsill

Stephen K Donovan and John WM Jagt (The Netherlands) Leiden, in the Dutch province of Zuid-Holland, is a city with a fine selection of fossiliferous building stones, mainly Mississippian (Visean, Lower Carboniferous) limestones. which preserve an array of fossils, such as rugose and tabulate corals, brachiopods, bryozoans, molluscs, and crinoids. However, this fine diversity of body fossils is not supplemented by a similar composition of trace fossils. Despite having examined these rocks over many years, when leading student fieldtrips and in collusion with co-workers, SKD has found no evidence of burrows, nor any borings in bioclasts, which can be locally common at some localities where Mississippian strata are exposed (for example, Donovan and Tenny, 2015). It is therefore of note to recognise an uncommon rock type among the building stones of Leiden that is dominated by burrows and lacks body fossils. This article highlights this distinctive building stone that has engrossed SKD for some years. The street Rapenburg (Fig. 1) in Leiden is a favourite route for building stone tours of the city. Although the dominant building materials are bricks, there are ample rocks to make a visit worthwhile. When SKD has led groups of students from the University of Leiden on geological excursions down the Rapenburg, the start is commonly at the North End Pub (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Map of the centre of Leiden (modified after Van Ruiten & Donovan, 2018, fig. 1); Leiden Centraal railway station is north of the north-west corner of this map and less … Read More

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Triassic beasts and where to find them

Sue Beardmore (UK) Located amid the scenic Southern Alps, on the Swiss-Italian border, is Monte San Giorgio, a mountain that rose up like many across Central Europe as a result of continental collision between Africa and Europe during the Alpine Orogeny. It is not particularly big or distinct by alpine standards but it is special, a status emphasised by the designation of its slopes as a UNESCO World Heritage site initially in 2003 for the Swiss part with the neighbouring Italian area added in 2010. To begin, the rocks outcropping on the mountain form an almost complete stratigraphic sequence from the Permian through to the Jurassic (Fig. 1), not only an extended interval of time but an important one around the massive Permo-Triassic extinction. The same rocks provide a context for the equally important Middle Triassic vertebrate, invertebrate and plant fossils, now numbering more than 20,000, that have been found at the locality over the last 170 years. Fig. 1. A stratigraphic section of the rocks at Monte San Giorgio. © Commissione Scientifica Transnazionale Monte San Giorgio, 2014. In particular, it is the diversity, relative abundance and excellent preservation of the vertebrate fossils that has thrown the locality into the spotlight. These occur in six main fossiliferous horizons deposited in a shallow marine basin, the Monte San Giorgio Basin, one of many depressions on a carbonate platform between the Eurasian continent to the north and west, and the open waters of the vast Tethys Ocean to the south and east. … Read More

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Three-dimensional photographs of fossils (Part 2): Stereophotography of ancient micro-organisms

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) In the past 60 years, microfossils have increasingly attracted the attention of earth scientists for several reasons. Firstly, they are highly useful in biostratigraphic respects; secondly, they can be easily determined by light- or electron-microscopic studies in most cases; and thirdly, sampling, preparation and storage of microfossils is carried out according to well-defined and mostly simple procedures. By definition, microfossils are the petrified relics of micro-organisms, which have mainly colonised aquatic habitats of the Tertiary or older epochs of earth history. Most of these ancient micro-organisms measured less than 1mm in size, so any scientific documentation of their remains requires a magnifying glass or, better still, a microscope. In certain cases, the size of microfossils is between 10µm and 100µm, which necessitates the use of an electron-microscope to elucidate their structure and to determine the species. Fossils measuring less than 10µm in size chiefly belong to another category of fossils, that is, nannofossils (for example, coccoliths). Typical representatives of microfossils include radiolaria, foraminifera, ostracods and diatoms, which may be used as index fossils within certain local or regional strata. A special role is taken by conodonts, which are small dental structures belonging to the so-called ‘conodont animal’. This is supposed to be distantly related to the lancet fish (Brachiostoma). While foraminifera, radiolaria and ostracods have colonised the earth with varying abundances since the Early Cambrian (570Ma), the occurrence of conodont animals seems to be restricted to the time period ranging from the Middle Cambrian (about 550Ma) … Read More

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Headbanging, rocking and moonwalking fossils

Mats E Eriksson (Sweden) One can never be too careful when given the opportunity to name a fossil organism that has proved to be new to science. In addition to a meticulous description and accompanying images showing the characteristic traits of the fossil, a unique and formal, Latinized scientific name must be attached to the creature. Many people, who get the chance honour an older colleague or famous palaeontologist, use the name of the discovery site or region to indicate the provenance of the fossil or, of course, christen the fossil after its characteristic looks (for example, Eriksson, 2017a). But you can also glance towards completely different areas, such as the art and music scenes. As a lifelong music fan and hobby musician (who, just like many of my peers, had aspiring yet quite ludicrous ‘rock star dreams’ in my teens) and a palaeontologist by profession, I cannot help myself but feeling blissful and delighted about the possibility of joining my two passions – ‘heavy’ music and palaeontology – in ‘unholy matrimony’. This has, among other things, led me to name some extinct polychaete annelid worms (bristle worms – the marine ‘cousins’ of earth worms and leeches) from the Silurian and Devonian periods after some of my favourite ‘metal’ musicians. These largely soft-bodied animals generally have poor preservation potential, although full body fossils are known from the fossil record. However, some representatives are equipped with resistant jaws (when preserved as microfossils they are known as scolecodonts) that, by contrast to … Read More

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Heavy Metal painter meets Heavy Metal palaeontologist: The conception of an unusual portrayal of the past

Mats E Eriksson (Sweden) Sometimes, the stars just seem to align perfectly and make you appreciate life more than at other times. You know those ephemeral moments when, all of a sudden, you find yourself in the midst of something that you would not have dared dream about. All your favourite aspects of life are suddenly combined into a giant melting pot and once the metaphoric molten steel hardens, you are left with the most stunning and unexpected new kind of precious metal. For me, this happens when music, arts and palaeontology unorthodoxly merge (Eriksson, 2016); and more specifically in this case, when exceptionally preserved, miniscule Cambrian arthropods had their first encounter with, and ‘sat for a portrait’ for, an iconic ‘metal’ painter. Besides my profession as a palaeontology professor at Lund University in Sweden, I have a major soft spot for the arts and music. As a matter of fact, in some aspects of my professional life, I have had (or created) the opportunity of actually combining these long love affairs. When it comes to scientific outreach, I am involved in a traveling exhibition on fossils named after rock stars (‘Rock Fossils’; Eriksson, 2014a) and I have named fossils in honour of some of my favourite musicians (Eriksson 2014a, 2017; Eriksson et al., 2017). I also record music based on palaeontological research results together, with established metal musicians (for example, Eriksson, 2014b; https://kalloprionkilmisteri.bandcamp.com/releases). Granted, this might be viewed as exceedingly eccentric and something that you perhaps think does not … Read More

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Dendermonde Mammoth: Fighting pyrite decay and the preservation of unique palaeontological heritage

Anthonie Hellemond (Belgium) Collecting fossil vertebrates is rather popular among amateur palaeontologists. However, little interest is shown in the different stages one should undertake to treat and safely guard these specimens for the future. Loads of fossils from historical collections are currently suffering because of years of storing and neglect. This might seem strange, since the fossils themselves have spent most of their time underground in very humid conditions, but in reality, problems only start right after digging them up. Following-up on the restoration project of the “Dendermonde Mammoth”, we want to give an insight into the problems one can encounter when dealing with the restoration and preservation of Pleistocene vertebrate remains that have remained untreated for the past 20 years. The discovery In the historical Belgian city centre of Dendermonde (French: Termonde), we find the city’s history (including natural history) museum called the “Vleeshuis” museum (the house of meat merchants). It is located in one of the most authentic sandstone buildings in the main market square of “Dendermonde” (a province of East-Flanders). Inside the majestic wooden attic of the museum, the city’s oldest resident watches over the collection, which is packed with fossils and artefacts from the last ice age and prehistory. When walking up the impressive stone stairs that lead to the attic, visitors will encounter the paleontological pride of the “Dender” valley (the river flowing through Dendermonde). When we take a closer look at the information signs, we learn that this mammoth was found between 1968 and … Read More

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Urban geology: Gabions in the Dutch townscape

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) Gabions are tools of the engineering geologist, facing elements that are used to stabilize over-steep slopes, such as sea cliffs or railway/roadway cuttings; they also have military applications. The word is derived from the French, gabion, and Italian, gabbione, and originally referred to “A wicker basket, of cylindrical form, usually open at both ends, to be filled with earth, for use in fortification and engineering” (Little et al., 1983, p. 823). A modern gabion used in engineering geology is a cage, box or cylinder, commonly infilled by rocks or concrete, and sometimes sand or soil (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabion). Fig. 1. A gabion wall, lacking subtlety, outside the restaurant, ‘De Blausse Engel’, at Amsterdam Zuid railway station. A: General view of castellated wall, separating restaurant patrons (chairs and tables to left) from passers-by. B: Detail of one cobble in the gabion, showing a vein (sphalerite?). Essentially, gabions provide a stable retaining wall that is semi-permanent. That is, they can be more easily removed, modified or replaced than a permanent structure made in concrete, brick or steel. Although they may be aesthetically unpleasing, gabions provide stability in situations where serious erosion problems may exist, which cannot be controlled by alternatives such as re-vegetation (Freeman and Fischenich, 2000). This is a simplification and studies such as that of Druse (2015) explain something of the complexities. So, in the low-lying Netherlands, what uses might be and are found for gabions? It is reasonable to suggest that they might be used in … Read More

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Carrara marble from the Apian Alps: Another famous ancient workable stone

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) This is the last in a series of four articles I have written on the quarries and marble of the ancient world and the works of art made from it. The others are Mining in Ancient Greece and Rome, Marble from the Isle of Paros in Ancient Greece – a tour of the ancient quarries and Roman quarries in Austria and Germany – a short sight-seeing tour. Therefore, after our tours to the famous quarries of the Isle of Paros and the Roman stone quarries in Central Europe, we come to another location, which is well-known for its workable stone. I am talking about the city of Carrara, with its marble of the same name. Carrara is located in the province of Massa and Carrara, in the so-called Lunigiana, which represents the northernmost tip of Tuscany in Italy. Carrara marble is a white to blue-grey rock of high quality that has become popular for its use in sculpture and building decor. The extraordinary characteristics of this rock were already recognised by the Romans, who started their mining activities in the second century BC. In ancient times, the marble was commonly referred to as “Luni” and used for the production of houses, figures and monuments. Due to the high demand for the workable stone, more and more quarry sites were exploited, which finally resulted in a total number of 650 mines. Today, about half of them are either abandoned or worked out. Historical studies provide evidence that … Read More

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Roman quarries in Austria and Germany: A short sight-seeing tour

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) This is the third of four articles on the quarries of the ancient world and later, and, in particular, the marble that was quarried there and the works of art made from it. The first is Mining in Ancient Greece and Rome and the second is Marble from the Isle of Paros – a tour of the ancient quarries. The ancient methods used An antique quarry is interesting because it is a place where raw material for buildings and sculptural works was extracted to specific sizes and shapes with the technical methods of that time. The mining techniques did not change very much from the earliest phases of human civilization until the end of antiquity, even though the methods used continuously improved over time. In ancient Greece, single blocks of the stone were separated by smashing several key holes into the rock wall, into which wooden wedges were driven. After that, the wedges were moistened, causing their expansion and the cracking of the block along the line of holes. For a better control of the rock fracture, long groves were carved into the blocks with iron tools, into which key holes were subsequently inserted. Alternatively, the blocks were completely split off from the rock walls by deep cuts in the rock and then separated from the ground using crowbars (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Separation of single blocks of rock using a crowbar and leverage. Since archaic times, rock saws have also been used. In the Roman … Read More

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Marble from the Isle of Paros in Ancient Greece: A tour of the ancient quarries

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) This is the second of four articles on the quarries of the ancient world and later, and, in particular, the marble that was quarried there and the artwork that was made from it. The first was Mining in Ancient Greece and Rome. Some introductory words In general, marble represents a coarse-grained metamorphic rock primarily consisting of the minerals calcite (CaCO3) and dolomite ((Ca,Mg) (CO3)2). The word ‘marble’ may be derived from the Greek term ‘marmaros’ (μάρμαρος), which means ‘shiny stone’. The earliest use of the rock dates back to the fourth millenium BC, when it was considered, for the first time, as appropriate material for the construction of buildings and the production of rather primitive sculptures. In the Classical era starting at the beginning of the fifth century BC, its use was subject to a remarkable increase, which, among other things, entailed the prevailance of this shiny material in ancient Greek architecture and sculptural art. At that time, marble was simply termed ‘white stone’ or ‘Pentelic, Hymettus or Parian stone’, thereby indicating its preferential origin from the quarries of Naxos, Paros and Mount Pentelicus. Although these mines attained extraordinary eminence in antiquity, marble was also exploited from the quarries of Eleusis, Tripoli, Argos, Selinus, Syracuse, Skyros and other places. Marble from Paros – a very particular stone Each marble originating from a local quarry is characterised by very specific features. Stone material from Mount Pentelicus is distinguished by its white colour and fine-grained texture, rather high … Read More

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Wieliczka Salt Mine of Poland (Part 2)

Khursheed Dinshaw (India) This the second of two articles on the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland. The first (Wieliczka Salt Mine of Poland (Part 1)) covered some of the highlights that can be seen there. This one covers some more of these features, but also deals with the geology of the site. The journey began in the Miocene period, which was about 13.5Ma, when the crystallisation of salt dissolved in sea water occurred. These salt deposits combined with rocks that normally accompany salt that occupied what was known as the Pre-Carpathian Sink. Subjected intensively to the tectonic process, these salt deposits shifted and folded. About 6,000 years ago, the local people of Wieliczka in Poland started to produce salt by evaporating salty water. In the thirteenth century, when the sources of the salty water were almost exhausted, they began to sink wells hoping to find salty water under the ground. In 1289, at the bottom of one of the wells, the first lump of the grey rock salt was found and that was the beginning of the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Today, the mine is divided into two portions. While its upper stratum is the block type, its lower stratum is of the stratified type; and visitors learn about salt, its excavation and types as they walk with their designated guides across chambers, pathways, tunnels, chapels and lakes. In the olden days, the equipment to transport salt from one level to another included wooden carts and trolleys. At Wieliczka, these are … Read More

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Wieliczka Salt Mine of Poland (Part 1)

Khursheed Dinshaw (India) The Wieliczka Salt Mine of Poland was included in the first UNESCO World Heritage list in 1978. It is also on the Polish List of Historic Heritage and, when visiting, provides an interesting way to get to know how salt has been mined underground for almost nine centuries. In the summer, almost 8,000 tourists a day visit Wieliczka, which has 500 tour guides and 400 miners maintaining the mine. After buying your ticket, you are allotted a guide who will take you around the mine. Patrycya, our guide, has been on the job for 20 years and we enthusiastically followed her to explore the beauty, material culture and historic heritage of the mine and its excavated complex. Fig. 1. Kinga – the patroness of the miners, along with other salt sculptures. We opted for the tourist route, which lets you explore chambers, galleries, chapels and lakes. The mine has been opened to the public with this route since the end of the eighteenth century and has more than 300km of galleries and almost 3,000 chambers. It is divided into nine floors at depths varying from 64m to 327m. We went down to the third floor, which is at a depth of 135m. To get to the first level, one has to walk down 380 wooden steps, but the walk is comparatively easy. There are a total of 800 steps that tourists walk in the mine and, after the tour ends, a lift takes you to the exit … Read More

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Fake fossils by the hundred: Johann Beringer’s ‘lying-stones’

Paul D Taylor (UK) The sorry tale of Johann Beringer has been part of the folklore of palaeontology for almost 200 years. In 1726, Beringer published a book illustrating some extraordinary ‘fossils’ reputedly found in the rocks close to Würzburg in southern Germany. However, very soon after its publication, Beringer realised that he had been tricked and that the specimens were fakes. The truth about the deception – and its perpetrators – is still shrouded in mystery, and the story of Beringer’s Lügensteine (’lying-stones’) ranks with Piltdown Man as the greatest of all fossil frauds. Who was Beringer? No portrait exists of Johann Bartholomew Adam Beringer (1667–1740) despite the fact that he was an important figure in Würzburg during the early eighteenth century. The son of an academic, Beringer became Chief Physician to the Prince Bishop of Würzburg and Duke of Franconia (Christoph Franz von Hutten) and to the Julian Hospital, and was also the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Würzburg University. Like other learned men of the time, Beringer kept a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ said to contain ammonites, belemnites and sharks’ teeth. He seems to have led a conventional life for someone of his high standing until May 1725, when an unfortunate train of events was set in motion. Three young men employed by Beringer to supply him with fossils delivered the first of a truly remarkable series of specimens purported to have been found at Mount Eibelstadt, a few kilometres south of Würzburg. These are the … Read More

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Musée-Parc des Dinosaures (Dinosaur Museum-Park) in Mèze, France

Fred Clouter (UK) Just a few kilometres inland from the Mediterranean Sea in the south of France, and not too far from Montpellier, is an extraordinary theme park. Driving along the D613 from Mèze towards Pezenas, a life size model of a Spinosaurus comes into view perched high on an embankment. Apart from some other very small signs, this is the main indication that the park is nearby. Fig. 1. Spinosaurus seen from the road from Meze. The Musée-Parc des Dinosaures (Dinosaur Museum and Park near the town of Mèze in the department of Hérault and is the largest site museum in Europe to feature dinosaur eggs and bones. Children can embark upon an amazing scientific adventure with the help of simple words displayed on large explanatory notice boards that are both fun and educational. All along the pathway that winds through the shady pine trees, children and adults can go back in time as they follow the trail punctuated with skeletons and life-size reconstructions. Fig. 2. Entrance to the park with children’s area. Fig. 3. Carnivore skull display. Fig. 4. Triceratops skeletal reconstruction. Fig. 5. Triceratops diorama. The other museum park within the Mèze site features the origins and evolution of man – from man’s earliest fossil skulls from Africa and his evolutionary journey out of Africa towards Homo sapiens. As you walk around the park, there are various exhibits reconstructing scenes of life from the famous fossil skeleton named Lucy and the australopithecines from Africa, to the Neanderthals. … Read More

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Urban geology: A rostroconch in Hoofddorp

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) Part of my job is to provide service teaching for the University of Leiden. The university lacks a geology department, but my colleagues and I provide tuition in stratigraphy and palaeontology for life science students at the undergraduate and masters degree level. One of my favourite practical classes is a building stones tour of a part of Leiden that is rich in Mississippian (Lower Carboniferous) limestones, which are packed with fossils. These have been used for facing stones, external stairs and paving slabs. Many have been in place for some hundreds of years and many have been etched by slow solution by rainwater as a result. Common fossils include crinoid columnals, tabulate and rugose corals, brachiopods, and molluscs (Donovan, 2016; van Ruiten and Donovan, in review). These are most commonly seen in two dimensions and random sections, a different view of life to what the life scientists are usually accustomed. One group of fossils in these rocks were a mystery until recently, but we now know they are sections through rostroconchs (Donovan and Madern, 2016, p. 349), an extinct group of Palaeozoic molluscs. Rostroconchs were formerly considered to be an ancient group of bivalves and they are certainly bivalve-like in appearance, but lack an articulation of interlocking teeth and a ligament. That is, the shell is a univalve, a one-piece structure. I had only seen the sections of rostroconchs in building stones in Leiden. It was therefore gratifying, shortly after publication of these fossils, to … Read More

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Erzberg Mine in Austria: An iron ore reserve with a long tradition

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) The Erzberg Mine is situated in the Austrian county of Styria. From a geological point of view, it belongs to the so-called greywacke zone, which represents a band of Palaeozoic metamorphosed sedimentary rocks intercalated between the Northern Limestone Alps and the Central Alps. The Erzberg Mine is the world’s largest deposit of the iron mineral siderite (FeCO3), which is mixed with ankerite (CaFe[CO3]2) and dolomite (CaMg[CO3]2). Due to this mixture of different mineral phases, the concentration of iron ranges from 22% to 40% and adopts an average value of 33%. The annual output amounts to about two million tons of iron ore, which is transported to blast furnaces in Linz and Leoben-Donawitz. According to current estimations, the ore reserves will allow mining activity for another 30 to 40 years. History of the Erzberg Mine There are lots of myths regarding the founding date of the iron mine on the Erzberg. According to the opinion of several scholars and a few written documents of dubious veracity, the mine was already established in the year 712, which would imply a use of the deposit by Slavic peoples. However, there exists better evidence that foundation of the mine took place in 1512, which was also the inauguration year of the Oswald church in the village Eisenerz. Fig. 1. The Erzberg Mine with its characteristic appearance, photographed from the north (Pfaffenstein). First documentary mention of the Erzberg Mine is from 1171. In the fourteenth century, the Reigning Prince of Styria … Read More

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Highlights from the Museum am Löwentor in Germany

Jack Wilkin (UK) The Museum am Löwentor in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, is one of the world’s greatest depositories of fossils. The museum was founded in 1985 and, since then, it has built up a vast collection of over 4.1 million fossils and has a 3,500m2 exhibition space, spilt over two levels. It is organised in chronological order. As you progress through the building, you can trace the evolution of life on Earth from the first cells all the way to the present, telling a more-or-less complete story of Germany’s geological history. This brief article will focus on just a few of the highlights at the museum. The amber collection The museum houses roughly 30,000 amber specimens from around the world, including samples from the Dominican Republic, the Baltics and the Lebanon, to name just a few places. The highlights of the collection include the largest piece of amber in the world from the Miocene of Borneo, as well as the world’s biggest damselfly and dragonfly inclusions. Triassic vertebrates There is an extensive collection of Triassic vertebrates from Baden-Württemberg, including, not just complete skeletal reconstructions, but also realistic life models. Fig. 1. Exhibits at the museum.One group that is featured in the exhibit were the placodonts – an enigmatic group of marine reptiles that superficially resemble turtles, although the two groups are unrelated. Many species, such as Placodus gigas, had large, flat teeth designed for crushing shells. The apex land predator of Central Europe at the time was the 5.6m, Batrachotomus. It … Read More

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Giant trilobites and biotite nodules in Portugal

Peter Perkins (UK) The generally accepted reason for the fame of Arouca is Princess Mafalda, born 1195, who was responsible for the convent becoming Cistercian. Here is an interesting story – she was beatified in 1793. However, I won’t go into that now, but it is well worth investigating. For this article, there are other reasons for its fame, at least among geologists. Arouca is 38km to the south east of Oporto, in northern Portugal, and gives its name to one of two geoparks in Portugal. In Arouca Geopark (Fig. 1), which has an area of 330km2 (just a little smaller than the Isle of Wight), there are two quite remarkable geological features, one palaeontological and the other concerning igneous petrology. Fig. 1. Map of Arouca Geopark. A geopark is an area of significant size that has a particular geological heritage, with a certain number of sites of special importance – scientific quality, rarity, aesthetic appeal and educational value. It must also have a sustainable strategy for development to be accepted as a member of the worldwide network of geoparks. There are 42 in Europe, in 16 countries. The other Portuguese Geopark is Naturtejo, through which the River Tagus flows. There are nine geoparks in the British Isles, for example, NW Highlands (Scotland), Copper Coast (Ireland), Fforest Fawr (Wales) and the English Riviera. The website, http://www.europeangeoparks.org, gives website addresses for all. The geology of Portugal is very complex. There are no strata younger than Triassic, except for Holocene deposits in … Read More

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New museum in northern Greece: The Siatista Historical Paleontological Collection, the first record of a stegodon in Europe and the making of the straight-tusked elephant

Dick Mol (The Netherlands), Evangelia Tsoukala (Greece), Evangelos Vlachos (Greece), Anna Batsi (Greece), Hans Wildschut (The Netherlands), Dimitra Labretsa (Greece) and Wilrie van Logchem (The Netherlands) The Historical Palaeontological Collection of Siatista (HPCS), housed in a school building in Siatista, Kozani, Macedonia in Greece, was studied by the authors during the summer of 2009. The collection was assembled by local people from 1902 onwards, under the initiative of Nikolaos Diamantopoulos. Anastasios Danas, a high school teacher at the Trampantzeion Gymnasium in Siatista, was the main collector and he founded the Siatista’s palaeontological collection in 1906. The recovered records of the collection are minimal and it is not always clear from which locality the fossils were collected. However, the archived documents indicate that all the fossils were collected in the larger region of Siatista. Fig. 1. Replica of the Pleistocene straight-tusked elephant, Elephas antiquus, the eyecatcher of the Siatista Museum In 1972, Prof Ioannis Melentis, famous for his studies and publications on the fossil proboscideans of Greece, realised the importance of the collection and, in 1980, he became involved in the study and management of the collection, which was officially donated to the community of Siatista in 1994. The first exhibition was held in the Trampantzeion in 1982. In 2011, the collection was put on display in this beautiful building in Siatista, which was built in 1888. In a short time, it became one of the attractions of Siatista, telling the story of the large pachyderms that once roamed the northern … Read More

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On fossil beaked whales, phosphorites and ocean floors

Klaas Post (The Netherlands) In 2007, the vessel, Anita, was fishing with bottom gillnets in about 400m-deep waters northwest of the island of Mykines in the Faroe Islands (about 62˚05’N-09˚28’W). One day, fisherman Bjarni Jacobsen from the village of Sumba in the Faroe Islands, observed a strange object in the nets. At first sight he thought it was a peculiar stone (stones often get entangled in the nets). However, he soon realised that it had to be something different and put the object aside. He later believed it to be a bone or a head of a large animal or reptile and – acknowledging that fossils of large mammals or reptiles are unknown in the Faroe Islands – handed it over to a local museum. After time and much travel, the enigmatic object was identified as a rostrum – the anterior part of the skull – of the 10 to 8myr-old extinct beaked whale, Choneziphius planirostris (Post & Jensen, 2013). Fig. 1. The Anita rostrum; dorsal and lateral view.Beaked whales The shy, deep diving and squid-eating beaked whales (Ziphiidae) are, after the dolphins (Delphinidae), the most species-rich family of extant cetaceans (with 22 living species). Their obscure behaviour is the reason that some of the species were – until a few years ago – never seen and just known from skulls found on distant beaches. They range from medium sized (3m – the pygmy beaked whale, Mesoplodon peruvianus) to up to very large animals (12m – Baird’s beaked whale, Berardius … Read More

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Miocene, mud and more: Miste 2013

Bram Langeveld (The Netherlands), Colin van Elderen (The Netherlands) and Stef Mermuys (The Netherlands) ‘Miste’… This word has an almost magical meaning for many fossil collectors in The Netherlands and neighbouring countries. That is because the extremely fossiliferous Miste Bed lies close to the surface around the municipality of Winterswijk-Miste, which, in turn, lies close to the Dutch-German border in the Eastern Netherlands (Fig. 1). The Miste Bed (Aalten Member, part of the Breda Formation) was deposited about 15Ma (during the Middle Miocene), in a shallow subtropical sea. The fossils preserved in the sandy sediments are extremely diverse: over 600 species of molluscs (Janssen, 1984; Parren, 2005) and dozens of species of sharks, rays (Bor et al, 2012) and bony fish (Hoedemakers and Van Hinsbergh, 2013) have been found, but also marine mammals (Schneider & Hessig, 2005), sea stars (Jagt, 1991), sea urchins, bryozoans and corals. Fig. 1: Overview of the Miste dig, with many enthusiastic collectors (photo by Ronald Pouwer). Inset: map of The Netherlands (drawing by Jerry Streutker) showing the location of Miste (red dot). However, this fossil wealth is not easily accessible. To be able to assemble a decent collection, you need to dig a rather large exposure. Establishing a large hole reaching into the Miste Bed is a lot of work, because you need to excavate approximately 4m on private property. A number of digs have previously been organised at Miste, of which at least three were by the Dutch ‘Werkgroep voor Tertiaire en Kwartaire Geologie’ … Read More

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Emeralds from the Hohe Tauern (Austria): A precious stone with a long history

Dr Robert Sturm (Australia) The mineral, emerald, represents the green variety of the hexagonal silicate mineral beryl, which has the chemical formula Be3Al2Si6O18. Its colour may be interpreted as the result of the addition of vanadium and chromium ions into the crystal lattice. In fact, the etymology of the word “emerald” is derived from Vulgar Latin, where esmeralda (f.) or esmeraldus (m.) represented a commonly spoken variant of Latin smaragdus, which itself originates from the Greek smaragdos for “green gem”. From a historical point of view, the beginnings of emerald mining are in Ancient Egypt, where gem stones were already being unearthed in the fifthteenth century BC. The famous emerald mines located in Sikait and Sabara supplied Europe with precious minerals for more than thousand years. The gemstone was also highly sought after by the monarchs of India, Persia and the Ottoman Empire, such that it became an important merchandise. When South America fell under the domination of the Spanish crown, the European conquerors were confronted with a vivid emerald trade that ranged from Columbia to Chile and Mexico. In 1573, the Columbian Muzo mine was captured by the Spanish army and thereafter represented the most important production site in the world for emerald of gem quality. Nowadays, emerald is a highly esteemed gemstone achieving similar prices as equally sized diamonds. Due to the high demand, it is also produced synthetically. The process was developed by IG Farben in 1935, but satisfactory results were only achieved by Johann Lechleitner in … Read More

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Unusual association of a Recent oyster and a slipper limpet

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

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