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Geology at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

Ruth Crosbie (UK) Fig. 1. The outstaniing landscape and scenery, seen today at Lock Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, has been shaped over millions of years by geomorphological processes. The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park has a unique and very visible geological character. This, and the geomorphological processes that have taken place in the area have been fundamental in shaping the outstanding landscape and scenery of the park. Rolling, relatively low-lying farmland along the southern margins of the park is underlain by Silurian to Carboniferous sedimentary rocks. North of the Highland Boundary Fault, this rolling country gives way to increasingly mountainous land, underlain by more ancient metamorphosed rocks. Many of the visible landforms represent the actions of glacial processes. Classic ‘U’-shaped valleys, such as the north Loch Lomond basin and Strathfillan, were carved by glacial ice. Other features, such as drumlins near Tyndrum and the rolling landscapes south of the Highland Boundary Fault, are the result of sediments deposited by melting glaciers. Such contrasts in the geology and landforms are reflected in similar marked contrasts in land-use patterns. Geological Structure The park contains a wealth of geological and geomorphological features, including some of national and international importance. The Highland Boundary Fault, which separates the Highlands from the Scottish Midland Valley, is well known. Within the park, the fault runs from Arden through Balmaha, Aberfoyle and Loch Venachar, and its line is clearly visible through the islands of southern Loch Lomond. Although less well known, other features include … Read More

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Windmills and building stones: Antigua, West Indies

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands), David AT Harper (UK) and Roger W Portell (USA) In his 2014, Ted Nield (2014) reflects on building stones and what they tell the geologist about where they are. Once upon a time, building stones in Britain were derived locally and told the informed observer something of the local geology (apart from, of course, the exotic stones imported for banks and office blocks). That is, they were built of local stone from the local quarry. Today, stone is imported from as far afield as China, where once they would have been derived locally by horse and cart or canal boat. One place where local stone is still used is Antigua in the Lesser Antilles. For example, Jackson and Donovan (2013) described an attractive, green chloritized tuff, which is used throughout the island as a bright and distinctive building stone. Many old structures in rural areas are still constructed of stone, such as walls, buildings (including ruins) and, the subject of this article, disused windmills. For a general introduction to the geology of Antigua, see Weiss (1994) or Donovan et al (2014). All major stratigraphic units are Upper Oligocene; the regional dip is to the northeast. Betty’s Hope The Betty’s Hope site, in the parish of Saint Peter in eastern Antigua (Fig. 1), is an open air monument administered by the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda. Fig. 1. Outline map of Antigua (redrawn and modified after Weiss, 1994, fig. 3), showing the principal geological subdivisions and … Read More

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Meat-eating dinosaur from Argentina with a bird-like breathing system

Steve Koppes (USA) Mendoza, Argentina. The remains of a new ten-meter-long predatory dinosaur discovered along the banks of Argentina’s Rio Colorado are helping to unravel how birds evolved their unusual breathing system. In September 2008, palaeontologists, led by the University of Chicago’s Paul Sereno, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, have published an article about their discovery in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE. Joining Sereno to announce the discovery at a news conference in Mendoza, Argentina, held on 29 September 2008, were Ricardo Martinez and Oscar Alcober, both of the Universidad Nacional de San Juan, Argentina. The discovery of this dinosaur builds on decades of paleontological research indicating that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Fig. 1. Flesh rendering of the predator Aerosteon with the body wall removed to show a reconstruction of the lungs (red) and air sacs (other colours) as they might have been in life. (Drawing: Todd Marshall c 2008, courtesy of Project Exploration) “Among land animals, birds have a unique way of breathing. The lungs actually don’t expand,” Sereno said. Instead, birds have developed a system of bellows, or air sacs, which help pump air through the lungs. This is the reason birds can fly higher and faster than bats, which, like all mammals, expand their lungs in a less efficient breathing process. Discovered by Sereno and his colleagues in 1996, the new dinosaur is named Aerosteon riocoloradensis (meaning “air bones from the Rio Colorado”). Sereno explained that “Aerosteon, found in rocks dating to the Cretaceous period … Read More

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Geology of the Moray Coast

Dr Sue Beardmore (UK) When most people think of Scotland, the images that come to mind are those of high, heather covered mountains like Ben Nevis, islands like Skye, Arran or Rum, or the endless rugged coastline of the northwest coast. However, there is another half to the country, along the east coast, which few people have explored. For example, the county of Moray offers Burghead Bay, where pill boxes sit half submerged in sand, or there are the frequently climbed sea cliffs below Cummingston and Covesea, and Findhorn Bay, the only natural harbour on the south side of the Moray Firth, where shipwrecks litter the beaches at low tide alongside remnants of an old settlement destroyed by shifting channels. Fig. 1. Baryte mineralisation in Permian sandstone at Hopeman.In terms of geology, the Moray shore provides evidence of the ancient landscape 250mya, easily found by following the coastal path, a walkable distance east from the village of Hopeman. A short detour onto the beach, behind the brightly coloured huts, reaches small outcrops of Permian sandstone, the Hopeman Sandstone Formation, which occurs continuously along the coast for several kilometres. At this particular spot, the sandstone is heavily mineralised with barytes, primarily as cement holding the medium-sized grains in place, but also as concentrations a few centimetres across that give the outcrop an overall speckled appearance and nearly obliterate the original bedding (Fig. 1). Such an outcrop can also be found near Covesea Lighthouse, as can fluorite in characteristic (but difficult to … Read More

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Preliminary study on a large scraper from Central Wyoming

Luke Sattler (USA) This paper is about an unusual artefact from Wyoming that may have been used by prehistoric people. It has now been studied and the preliminary research results are complete. This ancient scraper is a bifacial, thinned, cortical flaked tool, which means that its flakes were struck from the exterior of a chert nodule (hence the remaining cortex, or rough surface, visible on one face, Fig. 1). To make it bifacial, the edges were then flaked on both sides to form a cutting or scraping edge used for working with things like meat and hide, among others possibilities (Walker, Danny, Personal communication 2012). Fig. 1. Front and back view of bifacial scraper, showing flaking by ancient people in Wyoming. Rough surface of a chert nodule is revealed on the surface. (Photo by S Veatch.) The scraper is made out of chert, which is a sedimentary microcrystalline variety of quartz that forms when microcrystals of silicon dioxide grow within sediments. The microcrystals grow into irregularly shaped nodules or concretions, as dissolved silica is transported to the formation site by the movement of ground water or the sea. When there is more than one nodule or concretion forming at the same time and near to each other, they can join together and form large masses or layers of bedded chert. Some of the silicon dioxide in chert is thought to have a biological origin. In some oceans and shallow seas, large numbers of organisms have a silica-rich skeleton (for example, … Read More

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Hunting the Dutch beach of Hoek van Holland for fossils

Bram Langeveld (The Netherlands) Holland is a small country that lies for the most part below sea level, which can be quite problematical. However, if you are a fossil collector hunting for the fossils of animals from the Weichselian (Last Ice Age) and early Holocene, it is not such a bad thing. That is because the Dutch government regularly has sand deposited on Dutch beaches, which is dredged up from the bottom of the North Sea to fight erosion of the beaches by the sea. Taking this one step further, Holland also has large scale land reclamation projects, where whole new parts of Holland are made by spraying sand from the bottom of the North Sea onto a location close to shore until it rises above sea level. Fig. 1. Map of The Netherlands showing Hoek van Holland. Much of this sand is dredged up by big, specially equipped vessels, called trailing suction hopper dredgers, from a location known as ‘Eurogeul’, which is the route for big vessels to reach the port of Rotterdam. Here, the sea is approximately 13m deep, but is deepened to 30m, by removing sand from the bottom. Much of this sand is used to reinforce beaches and for land reclamation projects. However, it is not just sand that is dredged up … Fig. 2. Simple timescale of the late Pleistocene and Holocene.The North Sea Plain If we could travel back in time – approximately 30,000 to 100,000 years ago – we would find ourselves in … Read More

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NZ Orphan mine site taken into care

Tanya Piejus (New Zealand) One of New Zealand’s most contaminated sites, the Tui Mine near Te Aroha, is to be cleaned up. The New Zealand budget for 2007 confirmed that NZ$9.88 million was available for the two-year project. The orphan mine site sits on the western flank of Mount Te Aroha, one of Waikato’s highest peaks. In Maori legend, the spirit of Te Mamoe, son of a Bay of Plenty chief, caused a stream of crystal water to flow from the heart of the mountain. However, that stream has become blighted by acid and metals from the abandoned mine workings and is now almost devoid of life. Fig. 1. Polluted water at Tui Mine Tui Mine’s story began in 1967. Norpac Mining Ltd opened it in order to extract metals, including copper, lead and zinc. The mine prospered and the company found several thousand ounces of gold and silver among the ore.  However, unacceptable levels of mercury in the ore soon proved to be the mine’s undoing. The company buying the ore pulled out in 1973 and, two years later, Norpac went into liquidation. Tui Mine was abandoned. Mining equipment was removed for reuse at other sites or was sold for scrap. Left behind was a large pile of larger ore pieces, along with sand-sized crushed ore (tailings). This was dammed to prevent it slipping down the mountainside but, through neglect, the tailings dam became unstable. In 1980, the Hauraki Catchment Board had to build a gravel embankment to stop … Read More

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Denizens of the Oxford Clay

Robert Broughton (UK) In many ways, Britain is the birth-place of palaeontology, and the heady years of the 19th century saw the discovery of creatures that have inspired the imagination of small boys ever since – myself included. I’m talking, of course, about the dinosaurs. A vast plethora of names abound for the various scraps of bone that were discovered in those days and, unfortunately, many finds today still suffer from this taxonomical mess. Fortunately, however, the British dinosaur scene is undergoing something of a revival with new research and, more importantly, new finds coming to light. This is the story of one of those finds and the bigger picture it fits into. Fig. 1. Ornithopoda incertae sedis – PFL03 in lateral view. Note the prominent projection (prezygapophysis) that would have articulated with the next vertebra behind and provided the rigidity in the spinal column. The attachment site for a bony chevron can be seen to the bottom right. The neural spine is broken along its width, but would have extended an estimated 1 to 2cm. ‘PFL 03’ is probably not the most exciting name in the world. I came up with it, and even I agree it is fairly dull. However, this is my collection number for a small bone that thudded to the floor inside a parcel during August 2008. The parcel’s various contents were the result of a trade with Fiona Jennings (a fellow fossil-hunter), and the small bone was thrown in due to the lack of … Read More

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Blue John: Remarkable fluorite from a limestone cavern

Steven Wade Veatch (USA) Blue John stone is the name given to banded fluorite found in the Castleton area of Derbyshire in England (Ollernshaw, 1964). It has been prized for centuries. Chemically, it is a calcium fluoride (CaF2) and occurs in distinct bands of different colours: blue, white, purple and yellow. The colour banding is thought to be from periodic changes in the composition of the mineralising solution and the physical conditions during its formation (Mackenzie and Green, 1971). The name of this distinctive material is thought to have come from the French “bleu et jaune”, referring to its blue and yellow colours. Blue John is mined from only two places – Treak Cliff Cavern and Blue John Cavern in Castleton. It occurs either in veins up to 7.5cm thick or as nodules in a limestone unit found inside natural caverns beneath a hill west of Castleton. The caverns are now tourist attractions, where visitors can go on underground tours (British Council, 2008). Castleton is an excellent example of a quintessential English town. A beautiful stream quietly flows through this picturesque community of quaint tea shops, inviting pubs, charming cottages and old stone houses. Peveril Castle is a short walk up the hillside. Fig. 1. Located in limestone, deep witihin the Treak Cliff and Blue John Caverns, Blue John has been mined for its beautiful colours for centuries. (D Veatch specimen, photo by S Veatch.) Blue John was first discovered about 2,000 years ago when the Romans mined lead and … Read More

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Rare amber inclusion of harvestman donated to Natural History Museum, London

Terence Collingwood (UK) Recently, I was lucky enough to unearth a prize find – a 40-million-year-old, spider-like insect perfectly preserved in amber. I found the valuable harvestman in a piece of prehistoric amber and considered it to be of such scientific interest that I donated it to the National History Museum in London. Fig. 1. Piece of Baltic Amber, slightly larger than a £2 coin. Amber is the name for fossil tree resin, which is appreciated for its colour and beauty and used for the manufacture of ornamental objects and jewellery. Although not mineralised, it is sometimes considered to be a gemstone. It can also act as nature’s time capsule, telling us about life in ancient forests. This is because, millions of years ago, the original resin was once a gluey trap, which captured small insects as it oozed from tree bark. Therefore, it is extremely important for understanding the history of prehistoric land-living animals, particularly small insects that are not often preserved in rocks. I have been buying, collecting and selling fossils for several years and, more recently, for my shop I Dig Dinos in Rochester High Street. I consider every piece of amber a chance to examine a past ecosystem and an opportunity to gain insight into an extinct age. Therefore, each piece of amber I buy is examined and labelled meticulously and, every now and then, I find something a little different, rare or unusual. (I even make jewellery, bracelets, earrings, cufflinks and charms from this versatile … Read More

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Urban geology: A sunny Sunday in Hoofddorp

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) The last weekend in September 2013 was sunny after more than two weeks of grey skies, rain and even some fog. Saturday was spent as planned, moving bookcases ahead of Karen’s insatiable paintbrush, the walls changing from lime green to white as she progressed. Sunday morning was spent putting some books back onto bookcases, but I had to get out in the afternoon. It might be six months or more before I could venture out again in only a T-shirt, shorts, training shoes and floppy hat. I had my son, Pelham, as field assistant, but where to go? The answer was obvious to me – this was the day to consummate a project that I’d had in contemplation for some years. The Netherlands is not renowned for its pre-Pleistocene geology. There is the type Maastrichtian (uppermost Cretaceous) in the south, some fine Triassic near the German border in the east and odd spots of poorly exposed Tertiaries. Where I live, in Hoofddorp (near Amsterdam Schiphol Airport), we live below sea level on the bed of a drained lake; but what Hoofddorp lacks in surface exposure, it makes up for in building and ornamental stones. To the south and east of the town is a business park in the Beukenhorst district, with a fine range of architectural styles and building materials, both man-made and natural stone. One road, Siriusdreef, in this part of town has intrigued me for years. Street art is widespread in the Netherlands … Read More

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Baffling bones from Lyme Regis

Nigel R Larkin (UK) A recent find from Lower Jurassic marine deposits on the Dorset Coast consists of a curious association of bones and bone fragments that have so far eluded identification, despite being inspected by some top palaeontologists. Is it a shark? Not according to some shark specialists. Is it a fish? Probably, but despite the presence of several complete bones, none have been identified and there are no scales present. Is it regurgitate? Possibly, but there is at least one very long thin bone that is unlikely to have been swallowed and upchucked again whole, and the matrix in which the bones are preserved does vary. So, is it simply a mass of completely unassociated bones? Unlikely, as there are several examples of at least two types of bone within the fossil. So, they are not a random accumulation, but they do remain a mystery. Do you recognise any of the bones? Do take a look and tell me what you think. Discovery of the material Fig. 1. Richard Edmonds trying to work out which piece goes where. I found the first piece of this specimen on the beach beneath the Spittles Slip, east of Lyme Regis in Dorset, during the Symposium on Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy (SVPCA) meeting in the town in September 2011. It was a large block (approximately 40kg) from the Shales-with-Beef Member of the Charmouth Mudstone Formation (Lower Jurassic). Bones were visible in cross section on all four sides, within a layer about … Read More

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Palaeocene lagerstätte in France

Dean Lomax (UK) A Lagerstätte is a sedimentary deposit that exhibits exquisite fossil richness, detail and/or completeness, often preserving fine details, including soft parts, which wouldn’t normally be found as fossils. There are two main types of fossil Lagerstätten: concentration Lagerstätten, which simply consists of large concentrations of fossils found together in deposits such as bone beds; and conservation Lagerstätten, where the defining feature is the preservation of quality rather than the quantity of fossils. A few examples of famous Lagerstätten include the Eocene Green River Formation, which is primarily known from Wyoming, but can also be found in Colorado and Utah. Famous European Lagerstätten include the Solnhofen Formation of Bavaria, Germany. This has produced some spectacularly preserved fossils, including Archaeopteryx, which is considered to be a transitional fossil between dinosaur and bird evolution. Another famous Lagerstätte, situated in central Germany, is the Messel Pit (Grube Messel). This quarry contains Eocene-aged strata and has produced specimens such as Darwinius masillae, identified as a basal primate and described in 2009. Fig. 1. A group searches for fossils in one of the privately owned quarries. (Photo by Dean Lomax.) Geological setting and location Menat is a small village located within the department of Puy-de-Dôme, Auvergne in central France, near the town of Gannat, a town famous for Oligocene and Miocene-aged fossil deposits. The geology of Menat consists of sedimentary rock that includes soft shale layers (including bituminous, pyritious and oil shales) and hard layers consisting of diatomite. The preservation of the fossils … Read More

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Living fossils in a petrified forest

James O’Donoghue (UK) It’s a Welwitschia!  Nestling among 280 million year old fossil tree trunks, this is the rare plant I have been searching for. Two wonders of the natural world – the living, sprawling Welwitschia and the ancient, petrified trees – have fortuitously come together here in Namibia. Separated by more than an immense period of time, they also bear witness to completely different environments. Welwitschia is adapted to the extremes of dryness and heat of a desert while the archaic trees once lined a great floodplain and were felled by melting glacial waters. However, in spite of their many differences, these two plants share a hidden secret. Between them, they reveal the fascinating story of a gigantic landmass that broke apart over 100Ma. Fig. 1. Petrified log showing segmentation caused by compressional stress. The ancient southern supercontinent of Gondwana existed for hundreds of millions of years and embraced South America, Africa, Madagascar, Australia, Antarctica and parts of Asia. By 280mya, vast cool temperate forests of Cordaites trees covered parts of Gondwana. Cordaites is a primitive relative of the conifers that grew to 30m in height and is best known from the coal swamp forests of 325 to 295mya in Europe and North America. As Gondwana emerged from a great ice age, Cordaites trees lining river floodplains were engulfed by melting glacial waters. This catastrophic flooding resulted in their burial under hundreds of metres of sediment. Over an immense period of time, silica dissolved in groundwater replaced the original … Read More

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Isle of Wight: Dinosaurs down at the farm

Martin Simpson (UK) The Isle of Wight has long been regarded as a world famous fossil locality. It is now called Dinosaur Island, with no less than 29 different species having been found along the southern coast. Indeed, it has recently been ranked in the top seven dinosaur localities worldwide. On the Island, the Lower Cretaceous Wealden rocks crop out at Brighstone, Brook and Sandown Bays. Many of the first dinosaur discoveries were made here by the pioneer collectors, including William Buckland and Gideon Mantell. It is only right, therefore, that the Island now boasts a £3 million lottery funded museum and visitor centre situated at Sandown. This attraction is called Dinosaur Isle and it represents the official scientific repository for local finds. Fig. 1. Dinosaur Farm and Museum. However, there is another, quite different museum dedicated to the Island’s geological heritage and this one is situated right in the heart of dinosaur country on the south-west coast near Brighstone, an area known locally as the ‘Back of the Wight’. In 1993, Dinosaur Farm opened to the public with an exhibition built around a recently discovered brachiosaurid skeleton. The original idea was to use the farm buildings as workshops to clean and prepare the bones in front of the visitors, a project which took many months of painstaking work. The find represented approximately 40% of an animal that was something in the region of sixty feet in length. It is now known as the “Barnes High Sauropod”. In 2001, the … Read More

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Dinosaurs in Scotland

Neil Clark (UK) The existence of dinosaurs in Scotland is not something that is generally well known. Yet, there are at least three different families represented from fossil bones and a number of different footprint types from the Middle Jurassic. Of the bones, there is a sauropod, a thyreophoran, a coelophysid and a theropod. The footprints include large, carnosaur-like footprints, smaller theropod footprints and ornithopod footprints of different types. All this put together sounds like a decent representative dinosaur fauna from a poorly represented part of the Jurassic worldwide. Sadly, most of these dinosaurs are represented by only one or two identifiable bones. Having said that, the fossil remains that we do have in Scotland, contribute significantly to our knowledge of Middle Jurassic dinosaurs. The footprints are more common but are no less important, helping us to understand little known aspects of dinosaur movement and interactions. Fig. 1. View over the Middle Jurassic deposits that contain dinosaurs, at Port Earlish towards Raasay. The first dinosaur remains to be found in Scotland consisted of a single footprint. It was a 49cm long footprint with rounded toes, found on the Isle of Skye in 1982 by researcher Dr Andrews and is now preserved in the collections of the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow. It is now thought that a bipedal herbivorous dinosaur made this footprint, similar to Camptosaurus. There are several difficulties in assigning footprints to particular kinds of dinosaurs. The main one is that we do not have skeletons … Read More

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Mining in Brazil’s ‘Garden of Gold’

Graham Roberts (UK) There is an old maxim in the mining industry that says, “Mines are where you find them”. To put it another way, you cannot change the location of geological deposits. This is frequently unfortunate for all involved and, almost inevitably, takes exploration and mining companies to wherever the best economic mineral deposits can be found, whatever the challenge. Such a quest has recently taken London-listed Serabi Mining plc (Serabi Mining) to the Tapajos region of northern Brazil. The Tapajos was the location of a major artisanal mining gold rush from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. During this time, it has been estimated that up to 30 million ounces of gold may have been extracted, making it one of the largest gold regions in the world. However, despite these figures, this exciting area has been poorly explored to date. Fig. 1. Garimpeiros working gold-rich, weathered bedrock with monitor hoses. The Tapajos region is situated in the Central Amazonian Province, within the Amazon Craton, and is mainly of Proterozoic age. The gold deposits have various geological settings but, amongst these, a dominant NW-SE fracture zone some 100s of kilometres long and about 50km wide is particularly important. Serabi Mining has secured an extensive land position and identified a number of targets along 70km of this zone, in addition to other Tapajos projects. Geological potential also exists for very large, low-grade gold and copper deposits of the porphyry and IOCG (Iron Oxide Copper Gold) types. Fig. 2. Location … Read More

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Fossil forests in the freezer

Stephen McLoughlin (Sweden) South of the craggy limits of Patagonia, Africa and Tasmania, and beyond the piercing gales of the roaring forties and the furious fifties, lies Antarctica – the last great continent on Earth to be explored. Straddling the South Pole, it lies frozen in a winter that has lasted millions of years. Today, only a few plant species more robust than mosses eke out a harsh existence on its warmest fringes. The bitter cold and screaming katabatic winds (a katabatic wind is one that carries high density air down a slope under the force of gravity) that drain off the continental interior mean that few plants and animals can survive in Antarctica year-round. However, this has not always been the case. Through much of deep time, it has not been the ‘white continent’ but a land of green forests and lush swamps. This forested landscape provided habitats for a wide range of terrestrial animals for most of the past 400 million years. The continent’s central location within the ancient southern supercontinent of Gondwana also meant that it held an important role in the exchange of plants and animals between the southern lands. Fig. 1. Map of Antarctica showing the Permian-Triassic basins. Early clues Little was known about Antarctica’s geology or fossil heritage until ‘the heroic era of exploration’ began to unlock the continent’s secrets in the 1800s. Some of the first explorers to realize that vegetation once clothed Antarctica’s landscape were the members of Captain Robert Scott’s team, … Read More

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Mining in ancient Greece and Rome

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) Ancient civilizations had a high demand for raw materials, like clay, diverse rocks and, most of all, metals. These were required for buildings, crafts, agriculture, their armed forces, financial concerns, art and culture. Clays and rocks produced by opencast mining primarily served for the production of bricks and building blocks, which were used for civil and hydraulic engineering. They were additionally extracted for the manufacture of durable goods and art objects, such as dishes and statues. Metals – like gold, silver, copper, tin, iron and lead – being essential raw materials in antique civilisations, were commonly produced by underground mining. Gold and silver were mostly used as raw material for ancient coins. The use of noble metals in monetary economy has been going on since the seventh century BC, when barter trade was successively replaced by a monetary economy. Copper, tin and iron was mostly produced for the manufacture of arms, whereas lead was, among other things, used for the production of water conduits and as a stain for ornamental painting. Fig. 1. Some examples for the use of metals: lead was, among other things, used as stain for ornamental painting (left), whereas silver was used for coins (right). Ancient techniques used for the mining of raw materials Sufficient supplies of metallic and mineral raw materials required systematic mining, since only gold was found in large enough amounts in washes of brooks and rivers to make panning worthwhile. Other metals usually occurred as chemical components of … Read More

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Homotherium: A saber-toothed cat of the North Sea

Dick Mol (Netherlands)and Wilrie van Logchem (Netherlands) Somewhere around the Dutch coast, a mammoth herd, led by an experienced matriarch strolls along a trail on the cold, dry and treeless steppe – the mammoth steppe – typified by tall, tough grasses and Artemisia. The impressive herd numbers about thirty animals, reflecting several generations, young and old, trailing each other on their way to the river (the paleo-Meuse) for a drink. Meanwhile, far off in the background, we notice a stampeding herd of large steppe buffaloes, chased by a pack of lions. Some hyenas are watching the scene with interest from their hideout in the tall, dry grass, eagerly hoping for some leftovers from the anticipated feast. Also hidden by the tall grass, another, strange and unknown predator observes the panorama – a saber-toothed cat. The head of the animal looks fierce. Incredibly long, flattened canines, sharp as daggers, are exposed when this Homotherium opens its mouth… This drama is set in the Netherlands, some 28,000 years ago and it is quite plausible that such a scenario happened in the last part of the ice ages of the Pleistocene epoch. The North Sea is being fished intensively today and Dutch fishermen not only collect flatfish like sole and plaice, living on the sea floor. They also retrieve the weirdest objects – fragments of shipwrecks from days gone by or bombs from World War II, jettisoned by the bombers in the dark days of the previous century. But, the most intriguing discoveries … Read More

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Urban geology: Monumental geology

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) My writings on urban geology are normally centred in the area around my home in Noord Holland, but sometimes I am lucky enough to travel. A personal wish that I have had since I was a teenager was to see and, if possible, board a dreadnought battleship. This whim was finally satisfied in March 2014, when I visited the last surviving dreadnought from World War I, the USN Texas, preserved at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, near Houston (Fig. 1A). What I had not realised was the battleship is interred adjacent to the site of the Battle of San Jacinto, where a rag-tag army of insurgents, following defeat at the Alamo and Goliad, decisively defeated the Mexican army in under 20 minutes in April 1836, thereby winning independence from Mexico for Texas. Fig. 1. Two breathtaking exhibits at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, near Houston, Texas. (A) The dreadnought battleship, USN Texas, commissioned in 1914 and a veteran of two world wars. (B) The San Jacinto Monument, built in 1936 from Cordova Cream Shellstone and the tallest memorial stone column. The San Jacinto Museum of History is in the base. The Battle of San Jacinto is commemorated by a towering monument (Fig. 1B), which is the tallest memorial stone column, about 175m, and some 4.5m taller than the much better known Washington Monument in Washington DC. The San Jacinto Monument is visible over a wide area of this flat coastal plane … Read More

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Colossal tortoises: Climate change and the evolution of Europe’s largest ‘modern’ reptiles

Benjamin Kear (Australia) and Georgios Georgalis (Greece) Most people are familiar with the famous giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands – isolated oddities evolving in the absence of predators on a remote tropical paradise. However, as little as 5mya, continental landmasses (including Europe, Africa and India) also had their own species of giants. However, these were nearly three times the size of their modern cousins, probably close to the mass of a small car, and would have rivalled some dinosaurs for being among the most colossal reptiles of all time. Fig. 1. A life-size reconstruction of the European gigantic tortoise Cheirogaster as displayed in the University of Athens Palaeontological and Geological Museum. This model represents a massive individual of a carapace length of around 2m and was based on finds from Pikermi, near Athens, and the island of Lesvos. The best preserved gigantic tortoise fossils (as opposed to the merely ‘giant’ ones) have been found in Mediterranean Europe, particularly France, Greece and Spain, and were described in the scientific literature as early as 1877. Yet, despite an impressive chronicle of discoveries, the inter-relationships between these different kinds of gigantic tortoises are far from adequately understood. The present, albeit tentative, consensus is that there are at least three separate lineages, all of which achieved maximal body size at about the same point in geological time. Cheirogaster, the genus found in Europe, has a long fossil history stretching back some 50mys to the Eocene and includes up to 11 species. It is … Read More

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Triassic reptiles from the Lower Muschelkalk of Winterswijk

Henk Oosterink (Netherlands) The Lower Muschelkalk (from the Anisian age of the Middle Triassic) of the quarry at Winterswijk in The Netherlands is well known for its beautiful and sometimes abundant finds of reptile footprints and bones. A few, almost complete, skeletons have even been found. Most of the bones come from marine reptiles within the Sauropterygia (that is, ‘winged lizards’, referring to their paddle-like flippers) group. The quarry is one of the most important sites for Triassic reptiles in the world. Every year, between 2,000 and 3,000 people visit this quarry on excursions and during open days, most being fossil collectors. Many new forms of life The Triassic Period is characterised by an explosive development of many reptile groups. For instance, at the end of this period, the dinosaurs appeared. Many new forms of life developed in terrestrial and marine environments. In the Tethys Ocean and its epicontinental seas, some reptiles adopted a semi-aquatic lifestyle allowing them to be functional in the sea as well as on land. Many of these reptiles belonged to the Sauropterygia. Sauropterygians are diapsids – reptiles are divided into two groups, anapsids that include turtles and diapsids that have two holes in the skull behind the orbit. Their skulls have upper temporal openings and, on the back of the skull, the quadrate is immovable and is connected to the squamosal. The sauropterygians lived mainly in the sea, but they did come ashore, for instance, to lay their eggs. This reptile group appears for the … Read More

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Dinocochlea (Part 2): A solution to the mysterious spiral of Hastings

Paul D Taylor and Consuelo Sendino (UK) Last week, In the first par of this two part series (see Dinocochlea (Part 1): The mysterious spiral of Hastings) we introduced Dinocochlea ingens, a gigantic spiral fossil from the Lower Cretaceous Wadhurst Clay Formation of Hastings, Sussex. Discovered in 1921 during the extension of St Helens Road near Old Roar Glen, this fossil immediately excited local and, indeed, national interest. The specimens were despatched to the British Museum (Natural History) where BB Woodward, a mollusc specialist who had recently retired as chief librarian, formally described the fossil as the new genus and new species – Dinocochlea ingens. The clue to Woodward’s interpretation of the fossil is in the name Dinocochlea, meaning ‘terrible snail’. Woodward (1922) considered Dinocochlea to be the largest snail that had ever lived. By piecing together the fragments found by the workmen building the road, he was able to reconstruct the supposed snail as a monster over 7 feet tall, 14 inches wide and with 23 spiral whorls (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Plaster reconstruction of Dinocochlea, measuring more than 2m in length. Not a snail For a short time, Dinocochlea achieved celebrity status and was exhibited in the public galleries of the BM(NH) between the wars. However, its identity as a colossal snail was soon to be challenged. One of Woodward’s colleagues, the eminent fossil mollusc researcher LR Cox, was the main critic. Cox (1929, 1935) pointed to the variability in the tightness of spiral coiling between specimens of … Read More

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Dinocochlea (Part 1): The mysterious spiral of Hastings

Paul D Taylor and Consuelo Sendino (UK) Spiral structures in nature hold a particular fascination on account of their beautiful yet twisted symmetry. The logarithmic spiral coiling of ammonite shells and rams’ horns, the corkscrew helix of a plant tendril, and the planar spiral of a hurricane when viewed from space, all have an aesthetic appeal beyond that of simpler geometrical shapes. Fig. 1. The site in Hastings, as it appears, today where Dinocochlea was discovered during road construction in 1921. This is the first of a two part series on Dinocochlea. The second can be found at: Dinocochlea (Part 2): A possible solution to the mysterious spiral of Hastings. When huge spiral objects were unearthed during road construction in Hastings, almost one hundred years ago, it was not surprising that they attracted the immediate attention of geologists. To this day, the origin of these spirals from the Lower Cretaceous Wadhurst Clay is a puzzle. The story is as follows. History of the find In 1921, St Helens Road in Hastings (now the A2101) was extended westerly to meet up with Seddlescombe Road North (now the A21), thereby providing a bypass to Hastings town centre. Close to Old Roar Glen (a well-known local beauty spot) the workmen excavated a shallow cutting and came across some huge spiral structures lying horizontally in the rock. The engineer in charge of the roadworks immediately notified the Hastings Museum. Those specimens not already bagged as rockery stones by local inhabitants were sent to Dr … Read More

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Mineral classics from Wales

Tom Cotterell (UK) Ask any mineral collector to name a classic mineral locality or region in Britain and they will probably think of Cornwall or Devon, perhaps Weardale in Co Durham, or even the Caldbeck Fells or the West Cumbrian iron mining district in Cumbria – but probably not Wales. This is not to say that Wales has no classic minerals, but is perhaps a reflection of collecting habits and the preference for large, brightly coloured crystals. Wales has a long history of mining dating back to, at least, the Bronze Age, but, unlike some other regions, there does not appear to have been a desire by miners to extract mineral specimens for sale. Indeed, a network of mineral dealers, as was clearly present in Cornwall during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, was totally absent in Wales. One factor is that the establishment of a National Museum in Wales occurred relatively late (in 1907) and did not open to the general public until the 1920s. Before this, there was no central repository for specimens collected in Wales and, consequently, mineral collections with historical significance are rare in the Principality. The university colleges founded during the 1870s and 1880s built up their own academic collections. Earlier still, the Royal Institute of South Wales (founded in Swansea in 1835), established geological collections, but its focus appears (from what records remain) to have been wide ranging and not specific to Wales. Therefore, during the heyday of mining in Wales, the lack of one … Read More

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Bass Rock of the Firth of Forth

Mark Wilkinson (UK) From much of the coast along the Firth of Forth in southeast Scotland, and from coastal hills such as Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, the impressive piece of rock called the Bass Rock forms a prominent landmark. This steep island is the neck of a Lower Carboniferous volcano, rising 107m above sea level. Scuba divers, on the north side of the island, have shown the sea bed to be around 40m in depth, so the neck would be 150m high if we could see it all. The rock is made of phonolitic trachyte, that is, an alkali igneous rock with less silica content than a ‘normal’ trachyte, so the alkali feldspar is accompanied by one of the silica-deficient feldspathoid minerals, such as analcime. Unfortunately, this interesting mineral assemblage is too fine-grained to see easily, except in thin sections under a microscope. In winter, Bass Rock is a dark brown as might be expected, but, in summer, it turns white from both the seabirds that crowd every available surface and their accumulated guano. The shape of the island is significant – clearly the igneous rock was more resistant to erosion than the surrounding sediments into which it was intruded. These country rocks are not visible now, having been eroded away to below water level, with an estimated one kilometre or more of overlying rock removed since the time of intrusion, along with any surface eruption products, such as lavas and pyroclastic rocks. Fig. 1. The Bass Rock from the west. … Read More

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Fossils from the Polish Bathonian clays

Dr Michał Zatoń (Poland) The Middle Jurassic Bathonian stage, which is preceded by Aalenian and Bajocian and overlaid by the Callovian, was established on the basis of oolitic limestones outcropping at Bath in Somerset. This historical and English connection is a major reason I have chosen the Bathonian as a topic for Deposits Magazine. The Bathonian clays in Poland, like the English classic Kimmeridge Clay or Callovian Oxford Clay, are characterised by their rich fossil content. Although some years ago, the Bathonian clays from Poland were not as well known as these two English formations, today they have become progressively more recognised outside of Poland. This is due to an increasing number of publications dealing with different aspects of the clays and the 7th Jurassic Congress held in Kraków (southern Poland) in 2006, during which scientists from all over the world had the chance to meet and actually look at the Bathonian clays. Geological and palaeogeographical background The best outcrops of Bathonian clays are in southern and south-central Poland, in an area called the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland (Fig. 1). Here, the Jurassic rocks, and especially Oxfordian (Upper Jurassic) limestones, form a distinct belt stretching approximately in a south-east to north-west direction. That is why the late Professor Stefan Zbigniew Różycki in 1960, when comparing the area with such classic areas as the Swabian and Franconian Jurassic, called it the ‘Polish Jura’. Fig. 1. A map of Poland without the Cenozoic cover: 1. Pre-Jurassic, 2. Jurassic, 3. Cretaceous; PJ – Polish Jura. … Read More

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