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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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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.

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

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

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

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

Book review: A Guide to Fossil Collecting on the East Dorset Coast

After having favourably reviewed the first two books in this three part series, I must admit I was very much looking forward to the publication of this last one. And, of course, I wasn’t disappointed. This is the third in a series of guides to safe and responsible fossil collecting along (this time), the East Dorset coast from the Chalk cliffs at Bat’s Head, across what are some of Dorset’s more remote coastal locations, to Hengistbury Head.