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Geology museums of Britain: The Hunterian, Glasgow

Jon Trevelyan (UK) This is the second of my articles on the geology museums of Glasgow (see also Geology museums of Britain: Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow). The Hunterian contains for some Scotland’s finest collections, covering subjects such as Roman artefacts from the Antonine Wall (fascinating, given that its big, southern, brother – Hadrian’s Wall – gets all the attention), and scientific instruments used by eminent Scottish scientists, James Watt, Joseph Lister and Lord Kelvin. In fact, the Hunterian’s whole collection is ‘Recognised’ as nationally significant in Scotland. It is also home to one of the most distinguished public art collections in Scotland. However, as always, it was the geology and palaeontology that I went to visit (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. The hall of the museum, with the geology and palaeontology exhibits set out below. The Hunterian’s founding collection came through the bequest of the eponymous Dr William Hunter (1718-1783). The museum itself opened in 1807, and a catalogue was published in 1813 (Fig. 2) by Captain John Laskey, who took visitors through the museum room by room and case by case, describing the items on display. Fig. 2. The catalogue of the original museum contents, by Captain John Laskey, with a lovely shark’s tooth from the original collection. And, apparently, the fossil collections are among the largest in the UK and were built up over the last 200 years from departmental research and teaching collections. Fig. 3. Ripple marks covered in trace fossils. Fig. 4. Copious fossils on … Read More

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Geology museums of Britain: Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow

Jon Trevelyan (UK) When I went up to Glasgow to attend my son’s graduation, I deliberately made some time to visit Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum to explore its 22 galleries. These cover everything from art to animals, Ancient Egypt to Charles Rennie Mackintosh and much, much more besides. However, the reason why I am including Kelvingrove in my series covering the geology museums of Britain, and the real reason for my visit, is its gorgeous collection of fossils, in particular, significant ones found from Scotland and, indeed, in and around Glasgow. Located in the beautiful Kelvingrove Park (Fig. 1), the art gallery and museum opened in 1901 and is clearly a firm favourite with local people and visitors. It has stunning architecture (Fig. 2) and a family friendly atmosphere; and has relatively recently been redesigned – without losing its Victorian traditions and ideals – so that it is upgraded for the twenty-first century. Fig. 1. The museum is located in Kelvingrove Park, which necessitates a lovely walk through the grounds of this Victorian, public park. Fig. 2. The magnificent frontage of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. In fact, Kelvingrove started life as typical Victorian museum (Fig. 3), founded by (as the guide puts it): … the wealthy classes to assert their cultural worth and improve the people of the city”. Fig. 3. The roof of the Victorian entrance hall. However, as I say, there have been improvements, which were achieved by asking Glasgow residents what they approved of the … Read More

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Geology museums of Britain: Yorkshire Natural History Museum, Sheffield

Jon Trevelyan (UK) Fig. 1. The museum’s logo. To no little fanfare, this new museum of natural history (and, in particular, fossils) opened on 13 August 2022. James Hogg, who is Chairman at the Yorkshire Natural History Museum (Fig. 2), only had the idea for it earlier this year. Fig. 2. The museum from the outside. James (Fig. 3) true passion for palaeontology came when he was a student. His background is one an economist (in particular, the economic history of institutions and economic growth). However, his idea for the museum is based on his interest in growing a public institution so as many can benefit as possible in the long-run. Fig. 3. James Hogg, with the skull of a huge ichthyosaur. After the idea of the museum took shape, James quickly renovated what was a badly dilapidated property (Figs. 4 and 5) to make it happen. Fig. 4. The inside of the building earlier this year. Fig. 5. The refurbishments have had to be extensive. Now finished, the museum’s exhibits include fossils that have been found along the Yorkshire coast from the Jurassic period, from ammonites to belemnites to those huge behemoths, such as ichthyosaurs, that once hunted in the Jurassic oceans. However, not only is the museum a store for natural history specimens, it will also actively research the collection and will provide visiting academics free access to it. That is, the stated purpose of the museum is to create a dedicated natural history museum in the north … Read More

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The dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight

Simon Clabby (UK) There has been much written about the dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight over the years. For example, Gideon Mantell, who discovered Iguanodon in 1821, wrote a book on the geology in 1847, in which he refers to its fossil fauna. However, like all sciences, palaeontological research does not stand still. Every year, our knowledge about dinosaurs changes as new discoveries are made. This is true even of the Isle of Wight, which, since the 1980s, has experienced a sudden upsurge in research, making many books on the subject now out of date. The first dinosaur discoveries took place in antiquity, with local stories of “stone horses” (presumably Iguanodon, due to its horse-like skull) being found in the cliffs. However, the first scientific discoveries took place in 1829, when William Buckland (describer of Megalosaurus) described some Iguanodon material from Yaverland. The mid 1800s was a time of massive interest in dinosaur research, with the Rev. William Fox, curate at Brighstone village (not far from the fossil-rich cliffs at Brighstone bay) apparently neglecting his duties to look for fossils. In fact, he managed to discover four new species during his tenure at Brighstone. Fig. 1. Brighstone Bay. There was a bit of a lull in the early twentieth century, with nothing new being discovered until the 1970s. However, since then, at least three new species have been described, and a further seven previously known species being reassigned to new taxa. The dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight almost … Read More

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The violent story of Cumbria’s ancient volcanoes

Ian Francis and Bruce Yardley (UK) The violent eruption that occurred near the Pacific island of Tonga in January 2022 reminded the world of the ferocious power of volcanoes. The most destructive eruptions can bury huge areas in layers of ash and lava, generate tsunamis, and even alter the Earth’s climate by injecting vast quantities of ash and aerosol droplets high into the atmosphere. Modern Britain is luckily far from any active volcanoes (Vesuvius in Italy, and the volcanoes of Iceland are the nearest to us), but this was not always the case: geological evidence shows that around 455 million years ago, during the Ordovician Period,an intense, but short-lived, periodof volcanic activity took place inwhat is now the Lake District. The geological record of that activity is mainly found in Lakeland’s high and rugged central fells, stretching from Ennerdale and Wasdale in the west, across to Haweswater in the east. Most of the Lake District’s highest fells are found in this central belt, including the Coniston fells, Pillar, Great Gable, Kirk Fell, the Sca Fells, Esk Pike, Crinkle Crags, the Langdales, Helvellyn and High Street (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Volcanic rocks form the high central fells of the Lake District. The image shows banded volcanic ash beds (tuffs) on the flank of Glaramara, looking east over Heron Crag (in shadow), Ullscarf, and beyond the Helvellyn range. (Photo: Stuart Holmes.) As far back as the early nineteenth century, those familiar with the rocks and landscape of the Lake District (such as … Read More

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The Spittles Landslip, Lyme Regis

Richard Edmonds (UK) On the evening of 6 May 2008, a 300m section of the cliffs east of Lyme slid towards the sea creating one of the most spectacular landslides in recent years. Members of the local fire brigade were training along Gun Cliff, the easterly promenade of the town, and they, along with local residents, witnessed the event. Apparently, a flock of seagulls were suddenly spooked into flight amid much squawking, which drew people’s attention to what was happening. A huge block of dark, Lower Jurassic shale was sliding over the sea cliff and onto the beach accompanied by a deep rumbling noise and, shortly after, a strong smell of sulphur. Luckily, it was high tide and no one was on the beach at the time. I suspect that if anyone had been, they would have seen numerous small falls, cracks and movements taking place before the main failure and would have had time to get away. However, the risk to the public was obvious and the Lyme Regis coastguard team were called as dusk descended. Fig. 1. An ariel view of the Spittles Landslip from the Maritime Coastguard Agency helicopter. Maritime ©Coastguard Agency/Dorset County Council. The following morning revealed the extent of the landslide, especially from the air. There are a few perks in my job with the County Council and as a member of the local coastguard rescue team, but someone had to go up in the new Maritime Coastguard Agency helicopter and I was picked as … Read More

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Fenestella and other bryozoans in the Carboniferous rocks of the British Isles

Paul D Taylor (UK) Ask a geologist to name a fossil bryozoan found in the rocks of the British Isles and the most likely answer will be Fenestella. The net-like fossils of Fenestella are especially abundant in the Carboniferous Limestone (Figs 1 and 2), although the genus, as used in its broadest sense, is also present in the Silurian, Devonian and Permian deposits of Britain. Fig. 1. Colony of Fenestella (s.l.) nodulosa from the Lower Carboniferous of Calcot Quarry, Halkyn Mountain, Flintshire. Branches forming the characteristic meshwork fan outwards from the colony origin. Fig. 2. Large colony of Fenestella (s.l.) flabellata from the Carboniferous Limestone of Fife in Scotland. Fracturing of the meshwork is evident. While Fenestella dominates almost all bryozoan assemblages found in the British Carboniferous, a variety of other bryozoans are commonly found. Some Carboniferous bryozoans inhabited reefs or mounds, others were components of non-reef marine communities where they lived together with brachiopods, crinoids and corals at a time when the British Isles was situated close to the equator. All Carboniferous bryozoans constructed immobile colonies consisting of numerous individual zooids, with crowns of tentacles used to capture tiny planktonic algae floating in the water around. Our knowledge of the diversity of Carboniferous bryozoans in the British Isles has increased enormously during the last 50 years through the studies of David E Owen, Ron Tavener-Smith, Adrian J Bancroft and Patrick N Wyse Jackson. Yet, and in common with bryozoans from other geological periods, Carboniferous bryozoans are too often perceived … Read More

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Geology Museums of Britain: Portland Museum, Dorset

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

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A crinoid find and a brief history of collecting these animals

Fiona Jennings (UK) I am a collector of fossil crinoids that, along with many other types of fossils, are common on the coast of North Yorkshire. The best crinoid fossil I have found so far is the large block of jumbled stems pictured. I found it at Skipsea, a few miles from Tunstall, on the Holderness coast, one November a while ago. The block measures 18 inches across, is 6.5 inches thick and has a circumference of 23 inches. I was totally surprised when I saw it resting on the mud, as I’d only been on the beach for about ten minutes. My friend Harry tells me that this block is an erratic, carried to the beach from further north, by glacier ice during the last glaciation. Fig. 1. The block. I always have fun on my fossil hunting trips, but the biggest laugh of this particular day came as I tried to get the fossil off the beach. After finally squeezing it into my husband’s rucksack, I then had the trouble of lifting the bag onto his back. Fortunately, he managed to lug my find back to the car, because it was definitely coming home with us whether he liked it or not! Fig. 2. Magnified view of the crinoid block. I find crinoid fossils fascinating, but the history of their collection interests me the most. In the past, disc-shaped segments from their stems were used to make necklaces and rosaries. As a result, they were once known as … Read More

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A very brief Introduction to the Quaternary

By Joe Shimmin The Quaternary comprises the Pleistocene and the Holocene and is the youngest of the geological periods. It dates from approximately 1.8 million years ago right up to the present, with the large majority of this time being filled by the Pleistocene. The Holocene spans a geological ‘blink of an eye’, beginning only 10,000 years ago at the start of the present interglacial and continues today. What sets the Quaternary apart from other geological periods is a suite of high frequency climate fluctuations, with very cold stages being interspersed by warmer stages. This type of climate fluctuation is believed to have occurred at various other times in the Earth’s history, but most of the evidence for these has been wiped out over millions of years. However, the glacial/interglacial or warm/cold stages of the Quaternary have, in many cases, left us enough evidence of their existence for the Quaternary scientist to be able to attempt to reconstruct these past environments with some degree of success. Fig. 1. Glacial beds at Benacre, Suffolk Serbian mathematician, Milutin Milanković, formulated the accepted theory for why climate oscillations have occurred in this period, in the first half the twentieth century. According to ‘Milanković, Quaternary climate was, and is, influenced by three factors: Factor 1: the shape or ‘eccentricity’ of the Earth’s orbit around the sun, which varies over a cycle of approximately 100,000 years.Factor 2: The tilt or ‘obliquity, of the Earth’s axis, which varies over a cycle of approximately 41,000 years.Factor 3: … Read More

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Finding Ophthalmosaurus – the eye lizard

By Paul de la Salle Ophthalmosaurus – the ‘eye lizard’ – is so called because of its enormous eyes, presumably of crucial importance when diving to enormous depths in the Jurassic seas in search and pursuit of its favourite prey, the belemnite. This was a large ichthyosaur, supremely adapted to its marine environment. Some fossil collectors think it should be called ‘Ribosaurus’ on account of the number and size of its ribs that are usually broken into hundreds of pieces when found. Fig. 1. Block as found – 24 June 2007. Fig. 2. Ribs. Individual vertebrae and rib sections of this, the only ichthyosaur known from the Lower Oxford Clay, are fairly common finds. However, I was lucky enough to find a partial articulated skeleton this summer, in the drainage ditches of a Wiltshire gravel pit. Fig. 3. Concretion before cleaning. Fig. 4. Another concretion before cleaning. Recent heavy rains had washed away some of the clay from the bank exposing a large pyritic concretion packed with bones, including a humerus. When I dug into the bank, I was amazed to find both front paddles, including both humeri and about 50 paddle bones. Many of the bones were fused together in life position. Fig. 5. Front and rear flipper. Fig. 6. The left paddle. Fig. 7. Loose vertebrae. Over the next week or so, I recovered quite a bit more of the skeleton but the head had been washed away by one of the floods that had deposited the gravel … Read More

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German Miners in Cumbria

By Jean Tyler One fine Summer’s day in 1564, a group of men on horseback made their way westward from Carlisle along the rough road to Keswick. One of their number rode with the covered wagon that contained clothing, personal chattels and the tools of their trade – mining. These men came from Germany and were the finest miners and smelters in the world. They were here in England at the request of the English Crown and their job was to extract the rich, glowing copper from the mineral veins of Lakeland. So begins the story of mining in this country. The first group of ten men arrived in Keswick in 1564 and were easily accommodated in local lodgings. What a flurry of excitement this must have caused in this little town that consisted of no more than one muddy street with a few squalid yards running off it. At that time, the housing was of timber and wattle daub construction with bracken-thatched roofing. Behind the houses ran strips of land with middens, pigsties and more very basic housing – buildings that were little more than hovels. The arrival of the Germans created a flutter amongst the local girls who were soon vying with each other for the attention of these small, tough men from overseas. Unhappily, some of the inhabitants were suspicious of the foreign strangers who were set to earn good money doing a proper job and violent confrontation eventually resulted in one of the incomers, Leonard Stoulz, … Read More

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British fossil elephants

By Adrian M Lister Fig. 1. From a realistic scale model at the Natural History Museum, London. Note the sloping back and the double ‘finger and thumb’ at the end of the trunk. (© Natural History Museum, London.) The elephant family (Elephantidae), like that of humans, originated in Africa. Finds from the late Miocene of southern and eastern Africa show that, by between seven and six million years ago, true elephants had arisen, probably from advanced mastodonts, which are related to stegodons. Between those dates and about four million years ago, the earliest representatives of the three great stocks of elephants – the African elephant (Loxodonta), Asian elephant (Elephas) and mammoth (Mammuthus) all make their appearance in the African fossil record. Loxodonta, of course, stayed in Africa, while Elephas eventually migrated north and east into its current range in south-east Asia. The first true elephant fossils in Europe are of the Mammuthus lineage. In Britain, these first make their appearance in the Red Crag of Suffolk, now dated to around 2.6 million years old. The fossils are not common, but three well-preserved molars from Rendlesham can be seen in Ipswich Museum. This material has recently been attributed to the species Mammuthus rumanus, on the basis of the primitive appearance of the back molars with only ten complete enamel loops (Lister and van Essen, 2003). Fig. 2. A molar from one of the earliest mammoths in Europe, Mammuthus rumanus, from the Red Crag of Suffolk, Ipswich Museum. (Photo by H van … Read More

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The Elgin Marvels

By Neil Clark (UK) Not to be confused with the Elgin Marbles, the Elgin Marvels actually come from the Elgin area of Scotland. They are well known fossil reptiles and their footprints, of Permo-triassic age, that were collected from old sandstone quarries mostly over a century ago. They are partly what inspired me to take up palaeontology although, at that time, I had never actually been to Elgin, nor ever seen the fossils. It was through the lectures of Professor Euan Clarkson of Edinburgh University in the 1980s that I first became aware of these animals. However, it was not until much later that I came face to face with the Elgin Marvels themselves. Sketch map of the geology around Elgin. In the summer of 1996, while recovering from a broken leg as a result of dinosaur hunting on the Isle of Skye (see my article in Issue 12 of Deposits), I was asked to give a talk on my exploits at an Open University Summer School in Edinburgh. Most of the talk was concerned with the study of dinosaur footprints, their interpretation and identification. After the lecture, I joined the students in their usual nocturnal social discussion groups. It was at this time that I was approached by one of the students who claimed to have seen some ancient footprints in the bedded sandstones near Elgin. The student, Carol Hopkins, invited me to Elgin to have a look at the footprints she had found. I could not pass up … Read More

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Lake District: Landscape and Geology, by Ian Francis, Stuart Holmes and Bruce Yardley

I recently reviewed another of the guides in Crowood Press’s excellent “Landscape and Geology” guides, which was undoubtedly a great read. And this one is equally good, with great, full colour pictures, maps and diagrams, and easy to read text, with descriptions of interesting walks and what can be seen on them.That is, there are easy-to-understand explanations of how the rocks formed and how the geology affects the landscape, and there is also an n exploration of the long human story of the landscapes.

Book review: Isle of Wight: Landscape and Geology, by John Downes

This is another guide in the excellent “Landscape and Geology” series of local geological guides published by The Crowood Press. And this is as good as the others. Admittedly, it has a wonderful subject matter, because the Isle of Wight is a geological gem with its 110km long coastline displaying a range of rocks dating from Lower Cretaceous to Oligocene age. I know from personal experience that many of its sands and clays contain collectable fossil bivalves and gastropods, and its famous dinosaur footprints attract attention from both geologists and tourists, with always the possibility of finding a bone or two.

Book review: Minerals of the English Midlands, by Roy E Starkey

Goodness me! This is a massive work (432 pages) – but written with enthusiasm from the heart, with authoritative text, lovely photos throughout, fascinating anecdotes and history, with detailed geological descriptions of all the relevant counties. Now, I’m no expert on minerals, which fall well outside the scope of my interests. However, I cannot praise this book too much.

Fossils re-united

Brandon Lennon (UK) My kind of collecting requires collectors to be in the right place at the right time. Science directs fossil collectors to the right place, but it is good luck that puts them there at the right time. The latter is often referred to as “serendipity” and what … Read More

Book review: The Chalk of the South Downs of Sussex and Hampshire and the North Downs of Kent (Geologists’ Association Guide No 74) (vols 1 and 2), by Rory N Mortimore

I have to admit, I was beginning to wonder where Prof Rory Mortimore’s update of his excellent Chalk of Sussex and Kent was. And now I know. It wasn’t a second edition he was working on, but this magnificent magnum opus in two volumes covering a vastly greater area than that other guide. And the wait was more than worthwhile. The thoroughness, writing quality, content and publication standards are superb.