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

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

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

Dinosaur track investigation

Jack Shimon (USA) My “Fossil Grandpa” took me to visit this neat site when I was in Texas last summer (2013). We drove to a small rural community, where it seemed there wasn’t anything to find. However, my Grandpa pointed out me to a small trail, full of flowers that Jane (my sister) had stopped to admire, which eventually led down a steep trail into the riverbed. This was definitely not a popular hiking trail and I doubt many people (except geologists) have been to this spot. The site is an ‘Earthcache’, which, in the USA, is a type of geological site that teaches you about a unique geoscience feature. I have been to several Earthcaches in Texas and to at least four in other states (Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina and Florida); and have learned some interesting lessons. Here, our job was to study the dinosaur tracks and answer some questions. Fig. 1. Jane and me at the dinosaur tracks. We are each standing by a footprint. (Photo by Julie Shimon.) What type of dinosaur made these tracks? A theropod like Velociraptor or T-rex, or maybe even the recently discovered Lythronax argestes? It must have been some type of carnivorous predator; and to think I was standing right where it walked so long ago. It was a little frightening to imagine one coming along and what that would be like in real life. Fig. 2. Dinosaur track. (Photo by Julie Shimon.) The first task was to measure the stride. The … Read More

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

Encountering desert deposits in Oman

Clarissa Wright (UK) Oman is a geologically fascinating country, where the bedrock beautifully exposes a one-billion-year history. I had the opportunity to explore this country in a group expedition, during which we pursued our own scientific studies from January to March 2014. My geological observations during the expedition were opportunistic and involved a variety of sights, having traversed from east to west from Muscat, across the dusty plains of the Empty Quarter (Rub’ Al Khali) desert to the Dhofar Mountains of Qamar. Rub’ Al Khali: The Empty Quarter desert The Empty Quarter desert is the largest sand desert expanse in the world (Peter Vincent, 2008) and is considered to have great oil prosperity under the dunes. The desert may lack bedrock exposure, but it is home to some unexpected sedimentary deposits. We found the light golden sand to be littered with brown bubbly balls – geodes (Fig. 1). When broken open, the insides are glazed with white calcite crystals sparkling in the desert sun. These had formed when rock cavities filled with crystallised calcite. In time, these balls of calcite weathered out from the host rock, before being transported by water and deposited here on the desert plains. Fig. 1. Geode in the Empty Quarter desert. These were not the only interesting deposits found. Strangely shaped pebbles of flint and dark metallic-like forms also lay here (in an area previously documented to have archaeological interest). One can see how these appear to have been hand carved by humans thousands of … Read More

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

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

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

Geology of islands

 Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) Islands are attractive places to visit, not just for geologists. Nonetheless, for us, they provide three advantages that favour collecting and research in the Earth Sciences. One of the attractions of an island is its small size in comparison with continents. The corollary of this small size is its relatively long coastline. Assuming that our island is not the mound of sand with a palm tree so loved by cartoonists, a long coastline indicates abundant exposures of rock, commonly well-exposed and accessible. Second, because of their relatively small size, islands offer a limited possible area of outcrop. The island may be volcanic in origin, so you may have one (or a few) volcanoes and its deposits to map, log and sample, producing a self-contained study. A particular sedimentary deposit may be (probably will be) limited to a single island. If you want to determine the palaeontology or palaeoenvironments of this deposit, the only place it can be studied is on one island. To give one example (among many), the Middle Miocene Grand Bay Formation, exposed on the east coast of Carriacou in the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles, includes the only crinoid-rich deposits in the Caribbean Islands. I had been studying the few Antillean fossil crinoids for ten years until I went to Carriacou and the sum total of specimens I had collected until then could have rested, comfortably, in the palm of one hand. From Carriacou, I collected bags of crinoid-rich bulk sediment samples (Donovan and … Read More

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

Nebraska, USA: Wonderful fossils, natural history museums and public art depicting fossils

Robert F Diffendal, Jr (USA) Nebraska is known by vertebrate palaeontologists as the place in North America where there is a very complete Cenozoic geologic record of mammalian evolution over the last thirty-five million years or so. All you have to do is visit any of the many major natural history museums in the USA and in many countries around the world, including the UK, to see fossil skulls, articulated skeletons and large slabs of rock containing bones of fossil mammals from Nebraska to verify this assertion. Nebraska is also the site of Cretaceous rocks containing the oldest known Cretaceous fossil flower and many other parts from fossil plants. It also contains dinosaur footprints and trackways, and skeletons of marine plesiosaurs, mosasaurs and large marine fish, as well as terrestrial and marine invertebrate fossils and marine microfossils. Upper Carboniferous rocks exposed at the surface in parts of south-eastern Nebraska have yielded fossil terrestrial plant fossils, marine stromatolites and other marine plant fossils, marine invertebrates, fish and even some fossil bones of amphibians and early reptiles. All in all, Nebraska is a vast storehouse of wonderful fossils that continues today to yield them up to collectors, both professional and amateur. These fossils can be found on both private and public lands, and in state and federal parks and museums. To match this geological heritage, Nebraska (a large state in area with a small population) has a wonderful natural history museum – the University of Nebraska State Museum (UNSM) – on the … Read More

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

Erratic rocks in fields and beaches of the Isle of Wight

 Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) The Isle of Wight is a marvellous place for the geologist on holiday, but there must be a suspicion that it has all been done before. When I first visited the island in 1999, my late wife Trina said that, of course, I would want to geologise at some point. She was surprised at my immediate and emphatic reply of ‘no’, until I explained that every square inch of the island was already ‘claimed’ by so many geologists and groups of geologists that I could not possibly get involved without starting a priority war. I was there to relax, not fight. Fig. 1. Outline map of the Isle of Wight, showing the positions of the principal settlements and villages mentioned in the text, and Sites 1-3. Key: CP = Chessell Pottery; EC = East Cowes; OH = Osborne House; 1-3 = collecting sites mentioned in the text. Today, I have a different approach. The family Donovan goes to the Isle for their summer holidays most years and I still go to the island to relax, not fight. But I am now working on a range of projects on the Island that are unlikely to impinge on other peoples’ research, while informing my own interests. These have included identifying borings in fossil wood from the Cretaceous greensands that have been misnamed since the nineteenth century (Donovan and Isted, 2014) and exploring closed railway lines using a geological field guide published a hundred years ago (Donovan, 2015). … Read More

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

Khajuraho stone temples of India

Khursheed Dinshaw (India) Khajuraho, in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India, was the cultural capital of the Chandela rulers of the tenth century and, even today, is a place that pays homage to artistic talent. There was no mechanisation involved in the labour intensive process, where artists hand sculpted slabs of stone into medieval sculptures depicting gods, demigods, nymphs, other celestial beings, humans and animals. Several thousand statues and iconographic carvings can be seen in the temples of Khajuraho. The stone temples are known for their mature temple architecture steeped in eroticism. Of the 85 richly carved temples built more than a thousand years ago, 22 have survived the test of time. Dr Devangana Desai, a well known art historian, has commented: The Khajuraho temples represent a creative moment in Indian art when artistic talent combined with religious aspirations to produce a meaningful form. Aesthetically they express a superb harmony of architecture and sculpture.” The name ‘Khajuraho’ is derived from the Sanskrit word Kharjuravahaka, where Kharjura refers to the date palm and Vahaka means the carrier. It is believed that two imposing date palm trees formed the gate to the temple complex. Kharjur also refers to scorpion in the local language of Bundelkhandi. Another derivation comes from the scorpions in the garland of Lord Shiva, while yet another philosophy states that it represented women who bore the scorpion shape on their thigh. However, there is no debate on the aesthetics, beauty and finesse of the sculptures of Khajuraho. The … Read More

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

Histology of a sauropod rib bone from the Wessex Formation, Hanover point, Isle of Wight

Megan Jacobs (Isle of Wight) In September 2015, I went to Compton Bay on the Isle of Wight to hunt for dinosaur bones. It was equinox tides all week, so an ideal time to get out on the furthest rocks of the Wessex formation, dating from the Barremian stage of the early Cretaceous (about 130Ma) also famous for the bone debris beds, which are highly fossiliferous. Time passed and I hadn’t had a great amount of luck. So, deciding today was not my day, I decided to head home. As I turned, I glanced down to see a beautiful piece of rib bone with the most amazing internal structure I’ve ever seen (Fig. 1). But also nothing like I’ve ever seen before. Fig. 1. The bone when found at Hanover Point, Isle of Wight, September 2015. I took it show my tutor, David Martill, at the University of Portsmouth. He was quick to identify it as being from a sauropod, due to the large air cavities now filled in with a clear mineral banded by pyrite. He then followed the identification by: “how’d you fancy cutting it in half for a thin section?” I was dubious about the idea at first: I’d never looked at a bone and thought ‘you know what, that would be better cut in half’. But I went along with it and handed over my prize. What is a thin section? A thin section is an approximately 30µm thick slice of rock, or in this case, … Read More

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

Geology and landscape of Levisham and Newtondale, Yorkshire

WAJ Rutter (UK) and HC Costigan (UK) This article is about the geology and geomorphology of the Levisham Bottoms and Newtondale area of Yorkshire. This is an interesting strip of virtually level land, which forms a shelf at about 150m above sea level, between Levisham Moor and the bottom of Newtondale. It is a fascinating geological region that allows a visitor to see exposures of Middle Jurassic rocks and Quaternary deposits from the Ice Age, together with examples of interesting glacial geomorphology. There are many noteworthy features, including features within the solid bedrock indicating the depositional environment of the Middle Jurassic strata, and the drift geology of ice-age deposits, including erratics. The aim of this article is to allow the reader to understand the geological processes and features at this locality. The strata of Levisham Bottoms comprises of Middle Jurassic, fluvio-deltaic rocks and Upper Jurassic marine deposits. The beds dip at an angle of approximately 5° due south, and contain no faulting, folds or crush zones (Robinson, 2010). The bedrock geology of the area is detailed in the table accompanying this article. The topography has been created primarily by quaternary glacial and post glacial Devensian activity. Fig. 1. Ginkgo huttonii, from the Long Nab member of the Scalby Formation.The environment in the Middle Jurassic consisted of a large river delta flowing into the Cleveland Basin, bound to the north by the Mid-North Sea High, and to the west by the Pennine High (van-Konijnenburg-van Cittert and Morgans, 1999; Powell, 2010) and … Read More

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

Features in the field: Ignimbrites of the Yr Arddu syncline

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) In July 1979, I was one of more than 20 undergraduate students at the Department of Geology, University of Manchester, to undertake their final year mapping project in the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. My mapping area was the Yr Arddu Syncline, about 4km southeast of Beddgelert in Gwynedd. The rock succession is comprised of slates and sandstones, overlain by acid volcanic rocks, with a range of intrusions (mainly acidic), such as microgranite, but also including dolerite. A feature of this succession was the range of features beautifully exposed in the volcanics and intrusions (Figs. 1 to 4). Fig. 1. Features in acidic igneous rocks, Yr Arddu syncline, North Wales (Upper Ordovician).A: [NGR SH 6267 4554] Large acidic fragment (about 60cm maximum dimension) in Pitts Head Tuff Formation. The fragment shows lenticular lapilli. Such large fragments are the exception rather than the rule in the Pitts Head Tuff Formation.B: [NGR SH 6334 4594] Contact between the Pitts Head Tuff Formation (left) and the Composite Intrusion weathered out as a crack to the right of the hammer. Note that the cleavage of the ‘baked’ tuff has not been picked out by weathering, unlike the unbaked rock to the far left.C: [NGR SH 6267 4579] Bedding in Rhyolite Tuff, dipping steeply to the right. Finer grained tuff (left of centre) overlies tuff with small fragments. The finer grained tuff is overlain, in turn (right of centre), by rubbly tuff with numerous small rhyolitic fragments and then … Read More

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

Exploding star missing from formation of solar system

Chelsea Leu (USA) A new study, published by University of Chicago researchers challenges, the notion that the force of an exploding star forced the formation of the solar system. In this study, published online in Earth and Planetary Science Letters in November 2012, authors Haolan Tang and Nicolas Dauphas found the radioactive isotope iron 60 – the telltale sign of an exploding star – low in abundance and well mixed in solar system material. As cosmochemists, they look for remnants of stellar explosions in meteorites to help determine the conditions under which the solar system formed. Some remnants are radioactive isotopes, that is, unstable, energetic atoms that decay over time. Scientists in the past decade have found high amounts of the radioactive isotope iron 60 in early solar system materials. “If you have iron 60 in high abundance in the solar system, that’s a ‘smoking gun’ – evidence for the presence of a supernova,” Dauphas, professor in geophysical sciences, told me during a meeting in his office in October 2012. Iron 60 can only originate from a supernova, so scientists have tried to explain this apparent abundance by suggesting that a supernova occurred nearby, spreading the isotope throughout the explosion. However, Tang and Dauphas’ results were different from previous work. They discovered that levels of iron 60 were uniform and low in early solar system material. They arrived at these conclusions by testing meteorite samples. To measure iron 60’s abundance, they looked at the same materials that previous researchers had … Read More

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

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

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

Ute arrow straightener made of Jurassic dinosaur bone

Gavin Noller (USA) I am currently studying an arrow straightening tool left behind by the Ute Indians of the Northern Colorado Plateau long ago. The artefact is made of an unusual material – a Jurassic dinosaur bone. As I work with this object (which is more than 13 decades old), I imagine a scene when it was used: A group of Ute braves are sitting on a forested mountain slope that overlooks the plains where the braves and their families have camped. They are manufacturing arrowheads and straightening the shafts of their arrows for hunting. The day is quite peaceful. The sun is shining – showering the landscape with its blissful, gratifying warmth and light. In the distance, the dark silhouette of a herd of grazing bison is visible. One brave – Leaf Who Rides on the Wind – has a tool for straightening the shafts of arrows. It is made of a peculiar material that is like bone, but is as hard as rock, and all the other braves believe it contains great medicine. The arrow straightener that Leaf Who Rides on the Wind uses is part of a large dinosaur bone. The bone was smoothed, so it could fit into his hand. A single long groove was put in to the bone to straighten the shafts of arrows, so they would hit their intended target, straight and true. Fig. 1. View of arrow shaft straightener made of dinosaur bone from a Jurassic bone bed. (From the G Noller … Read More

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

Florissant fossil spider discovery

Zachary J Sepulveda (USA) and Steven Wade Veatch (USA) The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is known worldwide for its late Eocene (34Ma) fossil plants and insects. Recently, a fossil spider was discovered at the commercial quarry, which is near the fossil beds (Fig. 1). Due to the condition of the fossil, it can only be assigned to the family Lycosidae (see table) (Rasnitsyn, 2012). If correct, this classification would make it a wolf spider. This fossil wolf spider lived 34Ma under Florissant rocks, within the forest litter or on short herbaceous plants (Meyer, 2003). Based on its modern relatives, it would have had colours that helped camouflage it, allowing it to hide from its prey (Meyer, 2003). According to the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument fossil database, only one other member of the family Lycosidae (from the Greek word for ‘wolf’) has been discovered there. Petrunkevitch (1922) described this fossil and assigned it to the species Lycosa florissanti, from a well-preserved fossil specimen. Spiders belong to the class Arachnida. Unlike insects, arachnids have eight legs instead of six, have two body sections instead of three, and do not have antennae or wings. Taxonomy of wolf spider from the Florissant Fossil QuarryKingdom:AnimaliaPhylum:ArthropodaSubphylum:ChelicerataClass:ArachnidaOrder:AraneaeSuborder:LabidognathidaeFamily:LycosidaeThese spiders are incredibly successful – with a lineage stretching back millions of years. With over 100 genera and 2,300 species, they are capable predators spread throughout the entire globe and can inhabit almost every type of environment. From shrub lands to coastal forests, from gardens to alpine meadows, … Read More

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

Dinosaurs footprints on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

Mark Wilkinson (UK) If you think of dinosaur hunting, you probably imagine trekking through a parched landscape, reaching the crest of a low hill and catching the first glimpse of a complete skeleton lying half exposed in the next depression. While this might just be true in some parts of the world, the reality of hunting for dinosaurs in Scotland could not be much more different. Hence, a cold and damp day in April 2015 found a small group of geologists from the University of Edinburgh on a slippery foreshore on the northwest extremity of the Isle of Skye. We were hoping not for complete skeletons but, if we were lucky, an occasional bone or tooth – well, perhaps we were hoping, but plenty of geologists have been here before, so the chances of a large find seemed pretty slim. Having said that, the total number of dinosaur bones that have been found in Scotland is still small, so that any bone is likely to be of interest – and could well be a new species, or evidence that a larger taxonomic group known from elsewhere was present on the island in the Jurassic. To add extra scientific interest, the exposures on Skye include a thick Middle Jurassic sequence, representing a time of a rapid dinosaur evolution, but with a poor fossil record worldwide. So any find might be of great importance. We visited several locations on the excursion. There are well-known dinosaur footprints at Staffin Bay on the east … Read More

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

Phenomenal fossil fern: Forgotten for 40 years

Stephen McLoughlin (Sweden), Benjamin Bomfleur (Sweden) and Vivi Vajda (Sweden) On some occasions, it is the hard sweat and toil of palaeontologists labouring in the field at carefully planned excavation sites that yields the prize specimen on which careers are built. On other occasions, it is the chance discovery by an amateur collector that may yield that special fossil. We present an account of one such remarkable fossil discovery by an eccentric farmer in southern Sweden. However, more remarkable is that this exceptional fossil remained unstudied and largely unnoticed in a major museum for almost 40 years, before its true significance was realised. The story begins near Lake Korsaröd, in the heart of the southern Swedish province of Scania. Gustav Andersson (born 16 May 1915; Fig. 1) owned a small homestead bordering the shores of this lake. Fig. 1. Gustav Andersson (right) at the site of the fossil wood discovery (taken some time in the 1970s). (Image: Nils Nlisson.) Although Gustav made a living from farming, his true passion was natural history and he even adorned the walls of his house with his own sketches of Mesozoic scenes. Although he never received any formal scientific training, Gustav was an avid reader and had a keen eye for nature. He used these skills to identify a great range of plants on his property down to the rare ground orchids that episodically bloomed on the local volcanic soils. He also identified Neolithic burial sites, flints, stone clubs and other ancient human artefacts … Read More

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

Graptolites of Abereiddy Bay

Dr Neale Monks (UK) Graptolites are curious fossils that are common in Lower Palaeozoic rocks where other types of fossils are lacking. The word ‘graptolite’ comes from Greek words that mean ‘writing’ (graptos) and ‘stone’ (lithos), and refer to the fact that graptolite fossils look like pencil marks on stone, partly because they’re flat and partly because of the iridescence of many specimens when freshly exposed. It is generally assumed graptolites were planktonic organisms that occupied an ecological niche like that of modern jellyfish, drifting about the oceans feeding on algae or tiny animals harvested using some sort of filter-feeding mechanism. The impetus for this article was a quick but successful trip to Abereiddy in Pembrokeshire, Wales, about 2.5km from Britain’s smallest city, St Davids (population: 1,800). I had been to Abereiddy many years before on a geological field trip with Andy Gale, who is currently professor of geology at the University of Portsmouth, but I did not have any clear memory of where the fossils were to be found. But, as it happened, this locality is one of those where the fossils are abundant and easily collected – provided you look at the right sorts of rocks. Collecting at Abereiddy Bay Abereiddy is a tiny place, but the bay has become a popular tourist attraction because of a flooded quarry known as the Blue Lagoon. Quarrying for slate ended in 1901 and the sea eventually broke through to the quarry, creating what is, in effect, a small natural harbour. … Read More

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

Geology of East Greenland

James Cresswell (UK) Eighty percent of Greenland is covered by ice and, in places, this is up to 3.4km thick. So, Greenland might not immediately spring to mind as a place to go to observe rocks. However, it is a huge country and the ice-free area, at 410,000km2, is nearly twice the size of the UK. This is generally sparsely vegetated, leaving the rocks beautifully exposed and the geology incredibly easy to see. The area of East Greenland around Scoresby Sund, Kong Oscar and Kejser Franz Joseph Fjords is the largest ice-free area in Greenland. It also has incredible geodiversity, with basement rocks as old as three billion years, an almost complete sedimentary record of the last 1.6byrs and huge volumes of flood basalts from the splitting of the Atlantic. If you were an alien and wanted to try to piece together the geological story of Planet Earth – but could only visit one area – East Greenland would be the place to go. Fig 1. A simplified geological map of East Greenland. The geological history of Greenland is vastly long and spans 3.8byrs. Its oldest rocks are the 3.8byr-old Isua Complex, situated in West Greenland, near the capital Nuuk. These rocks are the Earth’s oldest, most well-preserved sedimentary and volcanic rocks, and they contain carbon particles that most likely originate from the oldest known life on the planet. To put into perspective just how old these rocks are, try to imagine that the planet is only one year old. … Read More

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

Fossil beetles of Bognor Regis, West Sussex

David Bone (UK) Bognor Regis in West Sussex was wheret I spent my teenage years (a long time ago) and it is still a locality that I regularly visit and to where I also lead fossil hunting expeditions. Having said that, like many foreshore localities with no eroding cliffs, there are times when beach sand hides the underlying geology and a casual visitor can be very disappointed. Alistair describes the London Clay around the sandstone ‘Bognor Rocks’ and their many fossil molluscs, but he also briefly mentions that fossil beetles have been found at this locality. Bognor is one of very few places in Britain where Eocene fossil insects can be found and I have the privilege of being one of only a handful of people that have found them here. I believe that none have been found for at least 30 years due to lack of suitable foreshore exposures or, possibly, sufficiently dedicated collectors. My collections were mainly created in the 1970s and ‘80s, when ideal conditions periodically exposed large tracts of London Clay in the right area of foreshore known as the ‘Beetle Bed’, which is a narrow strip of clay just to the west of the Bognor Rocks (Fig. 1). Here, the London Clay (Division B) is a grey-brown, sticky clay, with occasional claystone nodules known as septaria. Fig. 1. Foreshore exposure of the Beetle Bed, London Clay, Bognor Regis in 1991. (Photo by David Bone.) The London Clay is a fully marine deposit around 55Ma old, … Read More

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

Dinosaur quarries of Hastings

Ken Brooks (UK) For over two hundred years, dinosaur bones and other fossils have been found along the beach to the east of Hastings, between Rock-a-Nore and Pett, but by far the most spectacular specimens were collected from local quarries in the nineteenth century. At this time, Hastings was expanding rapidly as a popular seaside resort. As a result, huge quantities of sand, clay (for chimney pots and bricks) and stone were required for new buildings and roads. This is reflected in the large number of local quarries marked on the 1899 Ordnance Survey map of Hastings. Many brickworks were located near outcrops of Wadhurst Clay. As well as clay, this formation also contains beds of sandstone and Tilgate Stone, which is a hard calcareous grit that was quarried for road stone (White, 1928). It was also known locally as ‘Bluestone’ or ‘Hastings Granite’ (Abbott, 1907). While the natural erosion of cliffs on the coast revealed occasional fossils, inland quarrying provided a more rapid and continual exposure of specimens. These included dinosaur bones from the geological section known today as the Hastings Group (Ashdown Sands and Wadhurst Clay – sedimentary beds which date from 141 to 137Ma and belong to the Valanginian Stage within the Lower Cretaceous). For many years, I have been curious about the exact locations of these long-abandoned quarries, but my research was really inspired by a ‘behind the scenes’ visit to the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London. Here, in the storeroom, were huge dinosaur bones, … Read More

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

Mary Anning: Jurassic dragons from Whitby

Oscar Roch (Age 10, USA) This amazing article about the life of Mary Anning, was written by Oscar Roch who is just TEN years old, for a school project. It is his own work, with just books and guides to help obtain facts. After receiving the handwritten project in the post, we have been so impressed, we promised to feature it. Introduction I have chosen to do my project on an amazingly, intelligent palaeontologist whose very existence was a miracle to everyone.  Who (Legend has it) was an ordinary child, but when lightning struck and nearly killer her, she transformed into a child of extraordinary knowledge and energy.  She grew up in poverty, therefore to help the family; she had to search for fossils, to then sell.  Unfortunately, her father died in debt.  But, after all these hardships in her early years, she pulled through and changed the knowledge of palaeontology.  This wonderful woman was named Mary Anning, the Princess of Palaeontology. Model of Charmouth beach, part of Oscars Mary Anning project. He made this (with help from grandad) using ground up material from the beach. This was presented by him to the whole school assembly. Birth On 21 May, 1799 a child was born that would ‘Change the world for the better’.  Mary Anning was born in Cockmoil Square, in the small resort town of Lyme Regis in Dorset, England. She was the daughter of Richard Anning and Mary Moore.  Mary Anning had nine other siblings, but sadly only her … Read More

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

Salthill Quarry, Clitheroe: A resource revitalised

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands), Paul Kabrna (UK) and Pelham H Donovan (The Netherlands) A while ago, SKD published a critique of the poor geoconservation practices on one of England’s most productive Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) of Mississippian age – the so-called scraped surface at Salthill Quarry, Clitheroe, Lancashire (Grayson, 1981; Bowden et al., 1997; Kabrna, 2011, locality 4; see also Salthill Quarry, Clitheroe: A resource degraded) (Fig. 1; and see also Donovan, 2011). The locality is one of the best sites for Mississippian (Lower Carboniferous) echinoderms in northern Europe. It is particularly good for crinoids, but also for rarer blastoids and, if you are willing to process bulk samples, the spines and plates of echinoids (Donovan et al., 2003; Donovan & Lewis, 2011; Donovan, in press). However, when it was visited by SKD in 2010, the geological features were being overgrown by grasses and other plants; that is, the geological SSSI was being transformed, passively, into a botanical nature reserve. Fig. 1. The crinoid bank (locality 4 of Kabrna, 2011) as it was in 2010, largely obscured by grass (after Donovan, 2011, fig. 1). Collectors (left and middle) approximately define the poor exposure of bedded limestone at that time, which extended a little way past the bush in the centre. The best collecting was along this line and lower, where crinoid debris accumulated as a fossil-enriched gravel. For an earlier view of this slope, see Donovan (2012, fig. 3A, B). This situation persisted until recently. In April … Read More

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

Utah: A geologist’s wonderland

Chetan Patel (USA) Often referred to as the Red Rock Country, the state of Utah boasts some of the most breathtaking landscapes formed from years of erosional artistry. Dominating this impressive landscape is the Colorado Plateau that spans the four states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Adjacent to the Colorado Plateau, separated by the Wasatch Fault Zone, is the Basin and Range Province, another expanse of geological wonder formed during the Laramide Orogeny. These spectacular landscapes, dominated by the eponymous red rock, offers geologists a great opportunity to study both modern and ancient processes in great detail. With favourable weather and easily accessible outcrops, Utah serves up an exciting geological journey. Fig. 1. Map showing extent of the Colorado Plateau. Within Utah, resides what is commonly referred to as the mecca of sequence stratigraphy, the Book Cliffs. These offer a wonderland of stratigraphic sequences to the travelling geologist. In fact, hosting a wide variety of easily-accessible outcrops, Utah has become a premier location for the study of sequence stratigraphy, specifically in the oil and gas industry. The well-exposed outcrops offer a detailed look into facies relationships providing the perfect outcrop analogues to subsurface exploration. The name “Book Cliffs” was coined by the early settlers of the region to which the alternating layers of shale and sandstone resembled the pages of a book on its side. Fig. 2. The Book Cliffs in the foreground. The Book Cliffs lay within the Colorado Plateau, with the escarpment spanning over 250km and … Read More

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

Carboniferous fossils protecting the coastline at Barton on Sea

David N Lewis (UK) and Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) Many people regard fossils, quite rightly, as rare and exotic objects. Yet how often do people come into contact with palaeontological remains without appreciating it? Probably the easiest example to cite is that of quarried stone, either appearing as facing stones or, in a less aesthetically pleasing setting, when ground down or crushed for concrete or road ballast. Often, quarried stone is utilised a large distance from its source. For example there are no exposures of Carboniferous Limestone in the Netherlands, yet this rock is common in Dutch towns and cities where it is found as facing and decorative stones, far from its origins in Belgium and elsewhere. Obviously such uses of rock are to be admired visually but not hammered; yet this is not necessarily always the case. In this article we introduce you to exotic blocks of Carboniferous Limestone which are so situated that they are actively worn down by the elements, exposing the treasures contained within. Fig. 1. Maps of southern Britain and Christchurch Bay (after Lewis et al. 2003). The cliffs of the famous fossil collecting area of Barton on Sea are part of the (often slumped) sea cliffs of Christchurch Bay in Hampshire and Dorset, extending, in the west, from Friars Cliff, near Christchurch, to Milford-on-Sea, near Lymington in the east (Fig.1). These are composed of Eocene clays and sandstones, overlain by Pleistocene plateau gravels (Fig. 2) and have been systematically eroded over long periods … Read More

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

Mull’s famous fossil tree (Part 1): Chrissie and the tree

Rosalind Jones (UK) There’s a saying on the Isle of Mull – “If you come to Mull the once you return again for sure” – and it’s not an idle boast, as those who have visited and subsequently revisited this ‘geological Mecca’ will agree. Second largest of the Inner Hebrides, Mull is famous for its Tertiary igneous geology – 6,000 feet of basalt lavas intruded by a complex of concentric bodies, ringed about three igneous centres. With its unique ring dyke of mixed acid and basic magma, Tertiary granites yielding Lewisian dates, and magnetic reversals in the lavas that make compass bearings untrustworthy, Mull is an enigmatic venue for geologists. The island’s best-known fossils are plant remains, including Ginkgo, Platinus, Corylites and Quercus, all preserved in Tertiary lake sediments deposited between lava flows. Once over collected, fossils from the famous Leaf Beds at Ardtun are now protected, as the site is an SSSI. But the biggest and most noteworthy fossil is ‘Macculloch’s Tree’. Remotely situated opposite Ardtun, on the tip of the Ardmeanach peninsula, it is a phenomenon that, if you visit Mull, you really should see. Fig. 1. Burg House. © Pete McHugh.I first came across Mull’s fossil tree as a geology student in 1966. Its location was pointed out while I was in the Ardtun Leaf Beds gully, so I scrambled over slippery rocks, past hexagonal columns of basalt and down to the shore to see. The panorama I beheld took my breath away. Fig. 2. Goat track … Read More

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

Recollecting rocks and minerals

Malcolm Chapman (UK) Collecting is natural. We all do it to a greater or lesser degree and what we collect is motivated by many factors including value and the appeal to the eye. Rarity is often a factor, as is cost, and interest can be awoken by someone you are related to, a teacher or a friend. So how did I become involved with collecting rocks and minerals? It was a television programme called Serendipity, which was broadcast about 35 years ago. Not long before (and at great cost), I bought some amber jewellery. And, then, there on the TV, was a young lady walking along the beach at Aldeburgh and picking up stones – not many, considering the number surrounding her, but a few handfuls. She was collecting amber and she had gathered an admirable collection for free, which would have made most people envious. The grey matter started working. Aldeburgh was some distance away, but, close at hand, was the beach at Sheerness and I knew about longshore drift…. By the action of wind and tide, stones on the east coast work their way south and north-facing beaches, like Sheerness, gather the stones moving from north of that point. Therefore, I decided that amber should be on Sheerness beach. I had never studied the stones on a beach before, but I believed that there could be many glamorous stones that I could find such that I envisioned making jewellery with them, mostly pendants. My experience was that they … Read More

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

Antarctic amphibian from 245 million years ago

Sarda Sahney (UK) The beautiful thing about the Antarctic is that it is one of Earth’s last unexplored frontiers. New climatoligical, geological and palaeontological advances are regularly made on this continent and, recently, the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology announced the discovery here of a fossilised amphibian that lived more than 245Ma during the Triassic period. Its presence suggests that the climate at the time here was mild enough to allow cold-blooded creatures to live near Pangea’s southern margin, at least seasonally. This news is of particular relevance to my work, so I was very excited when I heard about it. For those of you who want to get technical, the amphibian, Parotosuchus was a large predatory temnospondyl that inhabited lakes and rivers. Put more prosaically, it was basically a 2m (6.5ft) long animal that superficially resembled a modern day crocodile, but was actually an amphibian. Fig. 1. Parotosuchus , discovered in the Fremouw Formation of the Transantarctic Montains. Parotosuchus differs from modern-day amphibians because of its form, large size and the fact that it was covered in a scaly skin. It was similar in that it was amphibious, so liked to live both in the water and on land (but never far from the water), and also swam in an eel-like fashion. Previously, Parotosuchus remains have been discovered in Germany, Kazakhstan, Russia and South Africa. In fact, southern Africa was, until now, considered to be its most southerly range. However, in the Triassic period, Africa and Antarctica were joined together … Read More

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

Mineral collecting ‘Down Under’

Tony Forsyth (Australia) I got the collecting bug at about eight years of age, collecting (or ‘fossicking’ as it is called in Australia) fossilised sharks’ teeth and ancient whalebones eroding out of beach cliffs in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia. Some forty plus years later, I’ve still got the bug. However, nowadays, I tend to be more interested in collecting crystallised mineral treasures (although, my sharks’ teeth still hold pride of place in my showcase) and it is the mineral wealth of Australia that I will discuss in this article. Fig. 1. Map of Australia showing locations mentioned and an inset map comparing relative size of Australia and continental USA. In 1996, I started a website called The Australian Mineral Collector (www.mineral.org.au). After dabbling in web design, I saw the Internet as a great way to convey information about my hobby. Since that time, I have had countless thousands of visitors to the site, as well as countless emails from fellow collectors, many asking the same sort of question, for example, ‘Where can I go to find minerals in Australia? I’ve got three days to kill in Sydney and two days in Melbourne, and I want to find some nice specimens.’ Unfortunately, in many cases, I have had to tell them that it’s not at all easy. Fig. 2. The author and an old Cornish boiler at the Atlunga Gold Field, Central Australia.Firstly, let me draw you a picture of Australia. It is a very big country and, for those … Read More

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

Arthropleura: A prehistoric bug hunt

Joe Shimmin and Stephen Day (UK) Picture yourself strolling through lush, green woodland, on an Earth unspoiled by man and yet to witness the rise of the dinosaurs. You’d be forgiven for feeling at peace with the world, even slightly euphoric – that is until you stumbled across the giant Arthropleura, a millipede relation as long as a park bench. This encounter might make even the most enthusiastic creepy-crawly hater think twice before squashing the bug in front of them under foot! I (JS) had a slightly less dramatic (but still very exciting) experience involving the creature while on a recent fossil hunting trip to Crail in Fife. On investigating some sandstone ledges that ran across the shore to the south-west of this pretty little fishing village in western Scotland, my eyes were drawn to what could only be a huge set of fossil tracks in the rock. The stratum in which they had been preserved also contained plant remains such as Stigmaria roots, as well as sections of tree trunks and branches. Fig. 1. The pretty fishing village of Crail, Fife as seen from the Arthropleura track find site. I took numerous photographs of the track, which measured about 3m long by 30cm wide and also of other, similar tracks nearby, in the hope that someone might be able to identify what kind of creature had created them. My guess was that it was some sort of amphibian, but I wasn’t sure. All I knew was the thing that … Read More

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