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Hexanchus gracilis: A shark from the Lower Chalk of Hunstanton

S M Bowerman (UK) Sharks of the genus Hexanchus belong to the family Hexanchidae and are more commonly known as six gilled sharks or cow sharks. They are well known for the difference in shape between teeth of the upper and lower jaw. They are first recorded in the Jurassic. Smart (2001) states that Hexanchidae are represented in the English late Cretaceous by two species: Hexanchus microdon and H. gracilis, both species being known only from rare isolated teeth. I collected a single specimen of H. gracilis, which is the subject of this short article. It was found at Hunstanton, in Norfolk in the UK (TF 673414), from the Upper Cretaceous Lower Chalk, Middle Cenomanian, Varians Chalk, Schloenbachia varians zone. Fig. 1. The striking cliffs at Hunstanton (picture courtesy of Andrea Clark). It is an incomplete specimen from the lower jaw. The specimen shows only two cusps of a possible seven. These appear to be accessory cusps. The posterior aspect of the specimen is not preserved therefore the principle cusp is not seen. The cusps show no signs of serration and the specimen remains in chalk matrix with the lingual aspect uppermost. The root is rectangular and slightly convex. Tooth width is 5mm, and its height is 3mm. Fig. 2. Hexanchus gracilis (Ref. No. H/619). Further reading Fossils of the Chalk: Palaeontological Association Guide No 2 (2nd edition), edited by Andrew B Smith and David J Batten, The Palaeontological Association, London (2002), 374 pages (Paperback), ISBN: 0901702781 References Smart, P. … Read More

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Hastings (Part 3): When Dinosaurs Roamed

Ken Brooks (UK) The beach from Rocka-Nore to Pett Level is rich in fossil evidence. Even the most insignificant fossils are important because they provide clues that enable us to reconstruct the ancient environments of this area. Between 100 and 140 million years ago, much of southern England was covered by lakes and lagoons. Rivers flowing from the London area and the west deposited great quantities of sand and silt on extensive flood plains. Molluscs, fish and freshwater sharks lived in the lakes and rivers, while the land was dominated by crocodiles, turtles and dinosaurs. Fig. 1. The Hastings coastline today. Eventually, their fossilised shells, scales, teeth, bones and footprints were preserved in the layers of sediment. Carbonised plants, such as horsetails, ferns, cycads, conifers and tree ferns, indicate that the summers were hot and dry (with frequent fires), followed by wet and humid conditions in wintes. Millions of years later, when Africa collided with the European plate, southeast England was pushed upwards into a vast dome-shaped structure, known as the ‘Wealden anticline’. Since then erosion has removed many layers of rock and exposed the sandstones and clays which now form the cliffs between Hastings and Pett. Fig. 2. Hastings during the Lower Cretaceous (© Stuart Handley). Bones and footprints of Iguanodon are among the most common dinosaur remains, although other very interesting fossils have recently been found in the Hastings area. These include the spines and vertebrae of Polacanthus, a tooth from Baryonyx and quillwort plants still in their … Read More

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Walrus of the Norwich Crag: Alachtherium cretsii

Alister Cruickshanks (UK) The Norwich Crag at Easton Bavents, Southwold in Suffolk is one of the only locations where mammalian remains from the Pleistocene Epoch can be found, in situ, at an accessible location in the UK. The Norwich Crag splits the Antian and the Baventian. At Easton Bavents South Cliff, the Norwich Crag Shell Bed is missing. Instead, there is a fine gravel layer with laminated clay and sand, which yields occasional remains. This bed is equivalent to the Lower Shell Bed of the North cliff at Easton Bavents, One of the latest theories suggests that this was once a pre-historic fast flowing river, which flowed into a larger estuary that was present at the North Cliff during the Pliocene Era. The North Cliff itself has a stone layer above the Norwich Crag Shell Bed. This bed comprises three main bands: the upper, middle and lower beds, but varies considerably along this stretch of cliff. The Norwich Crag Stone bed is directly below the Baventian Clay, both of which are from the Baventian stage which is 1.55 to 1.6 million years old, from the Pliocene Era. The Norwich Crag Shell Bed is Antian in age, which is 1.6 to 1.7 million years old. Fig. 1. Fine gravel layer with laminated clay and sand. A complete lower mandible of a walrus was discovered in situ after high tides during 1993, by my father and me. At this time, the specimen could not be fully identified and spent ten years at … Read More

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Fossil hunting in Oxfordshire, UK

Mike Thorn (UK) If you ask someone to think of Oxford, they will not usually picture warm tropical beaches and azure coral seas. However, go back to the middle Jurassic and you would be hard pushed to find a dreaming spire or student on a bicycle anywhere. At that time, around 160 million years ago, Oxfordshire lay beneath a shallow, tropical seaway at about the same latitude that the southern Mediterranean occupies today. Over the course of the middle Jurassic, this seaway varied in depth, but remained close to nearby land masses from which a lot of sediment was derived (Fig. 1). A great thickness and variety of limestones, sandstones and clays were deposited over several tens of millions of years. Fig. 1. Southern England during the middle Jurassic, 160 million years ago. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there were many working quarries in the Oxford area, exploiting the abundant clay and limestone for the brick and building stone industries. Quarrymen were frequently paid to look out for fossils and these turned up in abundance, fuelling the academic debates on evolution taking place at the time. Fig. 3. Geological Context for Kirtlington Quarry and Dry Sandford Pit. Sadly, many of these quarries have now been filled in and, for the casual fossil hunter in Oxfordshire, it might seem that there are now few opportunities to collect. However, Kirtlington Quarry and Dry Sandford Pit are two old quarries which are open to the public and at which there is … Read More

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Hastings (Part 1): Field trip from Rock-A-Nore

Ken Brooks (UK) This is the first of three articles on the geology and fossils in the cliffs and foreshore to the east of Hastings. This one is intended as a field trip. The geology here is all Lower Cretaceous and is some of the best in Britain if you are interested in this period of time. Follow the Hastings seafront eastwards to the ‘Old Town’ and the famous ‘net shops’ in Rock-A-Nore Road. Below the high, sandstone cliffs of the East Hill, you will find the Fishermen’s Museum, the Blue Reef Aquarium (a sea-life centre), a large car park and public toilets. This field trip begins at the last stone groyne and continues along the beach towards Ecclesbourne Glen, nearly one kilometre (half a mile) to the east. The massive sandstone cliffs of the Upper Ashdown Formation are overlain by the shales and sandstones of the Wadhurst Clay. A distinct junction between one horizontal bed of rock and another often marks a period of erosion. This may have been followed by a change in the environmental conditions where a different grade or type of sediment was deposited. In this area, the lower part of the cliff is hidden under a scree slope of broken rocks, but there is one small exposure in situ at beach level. Here, there are flattened branches of carbonised wood lying horizontally within a silty mudstone. These were probably washed into a river or lake, then later covered and compressed by sedimentary layers. The leaves … Read More

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Hastings (Part 2): Geology and fossils

Ken Brooks (UK) During the Lower Cretaceous period, between 110 and 145 million years ago, Britain was part of the European land-mass. Southeast England was covered by meandering rivers, extensive flood-plains, lakes and lagoons which extended across to central France. Rivers flowing from the London Uplands and the west brought huge quantities of sand, silt and mud, which were deposited over the whole area. Fig. 1. Starlight Cove These sediments later became the sandstones and clays of the Ashdown Sandstone and Wadhurst Clay within the Hastings Beds. Structures in the rocks, combined with fossil evidence, can be used to reconstruct the ancient environments and communities of this period. For example, the siltstones, clays and sandstones have preserved features such as river channel and flood plain deposits, as well as a rich variety of fossilised plants and animals. Fig. 2. An infilled river channel. The carbonised remains of horse-tails, ferns, cycads, conifers and tree-ferns indicate that Southern England had a sub-tropical climate with seasonal rainfall, perhaps like the Mediterranean today. Freshwater sharks and shellfish lived in the lakes and rivers, while the land was dominated by crocodiles, turtles and dinosaurs. Today, their scales, teeth, bones and footprints may be found along the stretch of beach between Rock-a-Nore and Pett Level. Fig. 3. Crocodile tooth: Goniopholis. Around 100 million years ago, the great weight of the sediments, combined with geological faulting, resulted in a gradual subsidence of the southeast. As a warm, shallow sea began to cover most of England and northern … Read More

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Thanet Anticline’s shifting shorelines: two millennia of change

Dr Richard J Hubbard (UK) Introduction The Thanet Anticline is an uplifted area forming the northeast corner of Kent and is home to the four coastal towns of Birchington, Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate (Fig. 1). Historically, the area has been known as the Isle of Thanet and, in this article, I will look at sediment deposition and erosion around the upstanding anticlinal structure and how shorelines have shifted during the past two thousand years. I will finish with some thoughts about how shorelines might look one hundred years from now. The article is based on material drawn from three guidebooks published by GeoConservation Kent, written by Geoff Downer and myself (see below). Fig. 1. The Isle of Thanet. Sketch map of northeast Kent to show the geography of the Wantsum Channel at the time of the Roman occupation. Today’s shoreline is superimposed with some medieval settlements added for orientation. The Isle of Thanet is elevated and forms an ‘island’ because of the underlying structural geology. Note the location of the offshore seismic line published by Ameen (1995), on which the cross section of Fig. 4 is based. (Figure 87 from The Smugglers Trail, Hubbard & Downer, 2021.) This article has also been written to accompany a book review that was recently published by Deposits (see Book review: The Smugglers Trail – Geology of the Thanet Coastline from Broadstairs to Cliftonville, by Richard Hubbard and Geoff Downer). Thanet has been a high standing area for more than 300 million years and … Read More

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Heavy rains and storms in Dorset: Collecting fossils

Tony and Anna Gill (UK) The best time to look for fossils in Dorset is after heavy rain and winter storms. These conditions make the cliffs unstable and collapse. High winds produce rough seas, which wash the mud away, leaving the nodules that contain the fossils exposed on the beach. The beginning of November 2005 saw a period of heavy rain and strong winds. This stormy weather continued for several days and on 5 November gale force 10 winds, before a high tide, exposing new material (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. A large landslip, approximately four hundred metres east of Charmouth, contains most of the best fossil horizons. This slip is illustrated with the sea crashing into it (Fig. 2). The large stones in the picture below do not contain any fossils. If they did, they would not be there. The best place to look for smaller fossils is around these large stones. Some of the pyrite ammonites found here can be up to 25cm to 30cm in diameter. Fig. 2. The storm crashing against the cliffs at Charmouth. The flat stones, which are from the Obtusum Shales, sometimes contain the ammonite Asteroceras Planicosta and usually the smaller ammonites Promicroceras Planicosta (Fig. 3). Fig. 3. Charmouth was the seabed in Jurassic times, some 195 million years ago. The football shaped and sized, Stellare Nodules, when broken, contain calcite crystals. Occasionally though, an ammonite can be found inside the larger ones. These ammonites can be up to 50cm across, but unfortunately, most … Read More

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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.

Complete marine crocodile skull found at Whitby on the North Yorkshire

Byron Blessed (UK) 9:30am, Saturday, 15 April 2006. I set off with my fossil- hunting party from my shop “Natural Wonders Ltd” on Grape Lane in Whitby. The weather was overcast but fine, and bright enough for the sun to break through later in the day. As I led the 15-strong party up the famous Whitby Abbey steps and along the Cleveland way to Saltwick Bay, no one could have anticipated this would be the day that I would find the best fossil I have ever collected. Fig. 1. Byron and faithful sidekick investigate the rock further. My fossil-hunting trips are really designed for the complete beginners: those who don’t know what they are doing, who have no idea about the safety issues involved in fossil collecting, and certainly have no idea what type of rocks to look for. Therefore, I had designed this trip to suit these needs, so that people can then go out and “do it themselves”. The great thing about fossil collecting is that you never know what you’re going to find when you get onto the beach. So, after a run through of the “golden rules of fossil collecting” (tides are dangerous, cliffs are dangerous, bring the suitable equipment), it was straight into the shingle to search for the nodules containing the best ammonites. Fig. 2. One freshly excavated croc skull. Our return trip to Whitby is always along the foreshore past Saltwick Nab and under the East Cliff (also known as “the Scaur”). It … Read More

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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.

Book review: Mortimer Forest Geology Trail, edited by Andrew Jenkinson and illustrated by Gillian Jenkinson and John Norton

This small, yet informative, booklet takes you on a four-mile walk to 13 sites and through 15 million years of Earth history. The Mortimer Forest Trail is a geology trail in Shropshire that is famous for its outstanding fossils and varied geology. The trail mostly examines Silurian formations such as the Wenlock and Ludlow series.

Early Eocene London Clay deposits at High Ongar, Essex (Part 2)

Bob Williams (UK) In the previous part of this article (see Early Eocene London Clay deposits at High Ongar, Essex (Part 2)), I located the beds exposed at High Ongar in Essex (TQ 556809) within the general, stratigraphic framework of the London Clay. I also argued that examining the habitats in which families of crustacea live today provides clues about the sort of habitats that may have existed when the London Clay in the pits at Aveley in Essex and Ongar (TL 562024) was deposited. In this part, I will continue this comparison using modern lobsters, shrimps and other animals to provide clues about the habitats that may have existed at Ongar and at various other London Clay sites when their fossil relatives were alive. I will also show how one can locate a site like Ongar within the stratigraphic column. Fig. 1. Estimated position of the clay exposures at High Ongar Essex and nearby Aveley, showing the London Clay sedimentary deposits. At this point, it is worth bearing in mind the conditions in which the London Clay deposits are believed to have been laid down. London Clay is not one, uniform deposit. There are a number of sedimentary horizons within the deposit, each horizon reflecting the environment in which it was formed. Broadly, the London Clay is thought to have been laid down in a marine environment influenced by a tropical or subtropical climate. Water depth is thought to have averaged about 200m, but would obviously have varied locally. … Read More

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Book review: The New Forest – Geology and Fossils, by James Barnet

Those of you who have read a few of my book reviews will know that I love geo-guides to small geographical areas, rather than just the big geological scientific issues. In fact, there are lots of good UK guides like this one, to areas such as Dorset and Yorkshire, and many areas of Scotland and Wales, for example. And this is another excellent example of that genre.

Early Eocene London Clay deposits at High Ongar, Essex (Part 1)

Bob Williams (UK) I first encountered the geological deposit known as the “London Clay” when I accompanied a friend to an exposure of the stuff. He told me that it was good for collecting fossils. It was and I was taken aback by the quality and quantity of fossil material. However, I knew nothing at all about the geological details of the sediment. However, like all keen amateurs, I wanted to know more about the deposit. To the uninitiated, the name “London Clay” suggests a single, uniform deposit. However, in truth, it does not fit that description. The name is given to a sedimentary deposit that contains at least five different and distinctive horizons (referred to as Divisions A to E). They were laid down in early Eocene times (50 to 54Ma) in conditions that were particular to slightly different environments or habitats (I use the terms interchangeably in this article). In a non-scientific way, the London Clay environments can be compared to the environments found in an ocean such as the Indian Ocean. Fig. 1. Estimated position of the clay exposures at High Ongar Essex and nearby Aveley, showing the London Clay sedimentary deposits. In broad terms, it is possible to describe the Indian Ocean as having warm, marine waters, being subject to tropical or sub-tropical climates and containing particular life forms. However, a variety of individual habitats can also be found in the Indian Ocean. There are shallow waters, deep waters, coastal waters, reef systems, trench systems, rocky … Read More

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Fabulous Fluorite: Derbyshire Blue John

Richard M Haw (UK) Blue John is a unique variety of blue-purple banded fluorite. Hydrocarbons or oils have been deposited on some of the crystal surfaces while the mineral was forming. These oil layers are partly responsible for giving the stone an alternate blue and white banding, best seen when the stone is cut in section. It is not known to occur anywhere else in the world and is confined to an area of about 1km³ of the Carboniferous “reef” limestones at Castleton in Derbyshire. Fig. 1. Old picture taken sometime in the 1870s, showing miners digging in the Old Dining Room, now part of the show caves. I have been involved with the public caverns here for a while and I am sure many of you have visited them. However, there are many people who have never even heard of Blue John, so the following article gives a general overview without intending to be too technical. The area Castleton is a small village located in Derbyshire’s “Peak District” between the cities of Manchester and Sheffield. The village is dominated by the ruins of Peveril Castle that was built by the Normans to oversee lead mining in the area. The scenery around Castleton forms a dramatic backdrop and the rolling limestone hills end abruptly atthe vertical face of Mam Tor. Beyond and to the north are the gritstone moors known as the “Dark Peak” that eventually lead up to the two-thousand-foot-high plateau of Kinder Scout. Castleton and the surrounding area … Read More

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Geology museums of Britain: The National Stone Centre, Derbyshire

Jon Trevelyan Britain has a long and proud history of geological museums (and museums that have significant geological collections) dating back at least to early Victorian times. One need only think of William Smith’s revolutionary and magnificent, 1829 Rotunda in Scarborough to understand this (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. The Rotunda, Scarborough. Here, Smith’s fossils were (and are once again, after significant renovation to the building) arranged up a spiral staircase in the order they occur in the rock column – an extremely modern way of doing things. And, of course there is Richard Owen’s Victorian masterpiece, the Natural History Museum in London with, among many other things, its dinosaurs and exhibits of other fossils (Fig. 2). Fig. 2. The Natural History Museum, London. However, the venerable NHM raises an important question. To create a display for the public, to what extent should museums use push-button technology and pretty pictures, rather than displays of the actual subject matter? In recent years, it seems that museums increasingly want to cater merely for children (and certainly not adults), who (apparently) can only be engaged by technology rather than, for example, a well-labelled and beautifully prepared fossil ammonite. The belief seems to be that they simply cannot look at exhibits in the way that Victorians did – with specimens set out in cabinets – but rather, need to be engaged by electronics and graphics that are one remove from the subject matter itself. I suspect that it was this belief that lead the NHM … Read More

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Book review: Trilobites, Dinosaurs and Mammoths: An introduction to the prehistory of the British Isles, by James McKay (for the Palaeontological Association)

This is an interesting little booklet and very much a new departure for the Palaeontological Association. You will be aware that I have reviewed several of its many excellent fossil guides in this magazine. However, this recently published tome is somewhat different.

Barton Beds of Hampshire

Ray Chapman (UK) The cliff exposure of the Barton Beds between Highcliffe in Dorset and Barton on Sea in Hampshire are the type section of the Bartonian age and are highly fossiliferous. They are Middle Eocene in age and were deposited between 41.3 and 37Ma. They extend to Southampton in the east, Wareham in the west and Fordingbridge in the north with some other minor exposures in Southeast England. Fig. 1. The Barton Beds viewed from Highcliffe. The beds are marine clays, silts and sands deposited in a generally shallow sea that stretched to the southeast of the present shoreline and across the Hampshire-Dieppe Basin. Terrestrial input was from the west and northwest. The environment was sub-tropical partly because the average global climate was higher than today and partly because Britain was about 100 further south of its current position. The beds are alleged to contain some 600 species of molluscs, marine vertebrates, reptiles and other taxa. Christchurch Bay, between Milford on Sea and Bournemouth, has developed over the last 10,000 years. Previously, the ‘proto-River Solent’ ran eastwards from the rivers Frome, Piddle, Stour, Avon and other small rivers. It ran behind what is now the Isle of Wight along what is now the Solent and joined the large ‘Channel River’ flowing westwards from the Rhine, Rhone and Seine. At the end of the last glacial period, the chalk ridge to the south, which joined what is now the Needles on the Isle of Wight and Handfast Point on Studland, … Read More

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Mary Anning and the Jurassic Dragons

Ray Goodwin (UK) It was a hot and sultry summer afternoon in August 1800. A happy crowd was gathered in the small town of Lyme to watch an exhibition of horse jumping in the nearby Rack Field. No one could have guessed that, before the day was out, tragedy would strike from the skies and three women would lie dead beneath a clump of elm trees. With a little 15-month-old baby in her arms, Elizabeth Haskings and two young friends hurried for shelter as, late in the afternoon, the sky darkened and torrential rain began to pour down from the heavens. Minutes later, a brilliant flash of lightning hit the trees and a terrible thunderclap reverberated around the nearby cliffs. As the rain stopped, a horrified crowd walked towards the trees and, amid the charred remains, they saw the outlines of three huddled bodies lying on the ground. The three women were terribly burnt and had been killed instantly. Sheltered by the body of Elizabeth, the baby lay unconscious but, after bathing in water, soon recovered consciousness. Legend has it that she was transformed from being a quiet, ordinary baby into a child of exceptional liveliness and intelligence. Whether this was strictly true or not, we may never know.  However, it is a fact that the child, whose name was Mary Anning, was destined to become one of the greatest palaeontologists of the early nineteenth century. Mary Anning was born on 21 May 1799 in the small Dorset town of Lyme. … Read More

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Seeds from the London Clay

Joe Shimmon (UK) With good luck and perseverance, some beautiful fossils can be collected from the London Clay, which outcrops in the south east of England. The phosphatic remains of crustacea, fish and other, rarer vertebrates are well known, and information and images of them are easily accessed, particularly on the Internet site: Sheppey Fossils. (See also Fred Clouter’s article, The genesis of a website, for a review of this website.) However, the formation’s hugely diverse floral assemblage is often overlooked, with little easily accessible information to be found on the web. Therefore, in this short article, I aim to introduce the most interesting of the London Clay’s plant fossils – its fossil seeds. Fig. 1. Various seed shapes. The London Clay Formation is a marine geological formation of Ypresian (Lower Eocene Epoch, about 56 to 49Ma) age. It consists of stiff, bluish-coloured clay, which becomes brown when weathered. And it provides one of the most varied fruit and seed floras in the world, which also happens to be the only diverse flora fossil assemblage from the Lower Eocene in Europe. There are 500 or so recognised species, which would have inhabited mangrove and tropical habitats much like Indonesia or East Africa today – bordering a warm, shallow ocean. Commonly found are specimens belonging to magnolia, vines, dogwoods, palms, laurel and bay, with a third of the fossil species present belonging to genera that are still found living today. Fig. 2. A selection of seeds. London Clay seed fossils … Read More

To access this post, you must purchase Annual subscription, 12 Month Subscription or Monthly subscription. The genesis of a website

Fred Clouter (UK) The Isle of Sheppey is situated at the mouth of the Thames estuary and is a part of the North Kent marshes. The north coast of the island has about 5km of London Clay exposures that are highly fossiliferous. The London Clay here was laid down between 54 and 48mya, during the Eocene epoch, on the shallow shelf of a semi-tropical sea near the estuary of a major river system. I cannot remember just when it was that I decided to embark on the project of building a website about fossils and fossil collecting in the Isle of Sheppey. However, I do know that a combination of factors led to it. The first was my rapidly growing collection of fossils from this area. The second was the book London Clay Fossils of the Isle of Sheppey that the then Medway Lapidary and Mineral Society had decided would make a good Millennium project. Information covering the fantastic fossils found there was not readily available. The only information often could only be found in old and difficultto- obtain monographs written in the Nineteenth Century or books written in French relating to fish fossils found in Britain or in Belgium and Holland where there are deposits of a similar age. As this book was a collective undertaking, my role was to take the pictures. This meant that I would have access to fossils from many private collections as well as some held in various museums. Lastly and most importantly, was … Read More

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Check those damaged ‘Megalodon’ teeth

Michael E Howgate (UK) Back in the days when I gave my ‘Doctor Dinosaur’ talks to museums, school groups and ‘gifted children’, I would take with me: a plaster cast of the Baryonyx claw; a beach rolled Iguanodon vertebra; and, star of the show, ‘a fossilised dinosaur poo’ (which, in reality, was an Ichthyosaurus coprolite from Lyme Regis). These were some of my collection of props, which helped engage the children through what might otherwise have been a run-of-the-mill slide presentation. Some of the bits-and-pieces I picked up to pass around among the children were a selection of broken and hence dirt cheap Carcharodon megalodon teeth (Fig. 1). (I use Carcharodon instead of the more correct Carcharocles as it is still in common use. The term ‘Megalodon tooth’ is often used by fossil dealers as a short-hand term.) These stood in for the teeth of every child’s favourite dinosaur, the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex. I would pass the teeth round and get the children to feel the serrated edge as a prelude to explaining how a serrated blade was better at cutting steak – or even a loaf of bread – than a sharper carving knife. “Only try this at home if you are supervised by both parents” was my health and safety rider at the end of this explanation. Fig. 1. Half of a C. megalodon tooth. A cheap and cheerful stand-in for a T. rex tooth. Carcharodon (now Carcharocles) megalodon, which used to be considered the ancestor of the … Read More

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Writhlington revisited: A polychrome perspective (Part 3)

Biddy Jarzembowski, Chris Proctor and Ed Jarzembowski (UK) In this concluding part of the mini-series, we show the archaic wet forest at Writhlington (Fig. 9) which is the most familiar palaeohabitat associated with the Carboniferous age of coal. In the absence of flowering plants, the forest was less biodiverse than today’s tropical forest and more varied along the river banks (Fig. 5 in Part 2) than in the swamp. We also look in on the denizens of a forest pool (Fig. 10) and restore an extinct giant millipede (Fig. 11), one of the largest arthropods that ever lived, represented by tracks and body fossils there. An archaeorthopteran insect was seen at a distance in Part 1 (Fig. 3) and a brand-new image of another, but close up, is presented here (Fig. 12). The fossiliferous rock tipped at Writhlington represents only a fraction of Carboniferous time, much more being locked up in the mass of peat that turned into coal. The latter went mainly to fire Portishead Power Station in North Somerset and would have included peatland palaeohabitats not reconstructed here. It is the ancient fresh-water floodplain (making up the miner’s ‘roof shale’) that has been explored in detail so far. More information can be found in:Jarzembowski, E. A. 2004. Atlas of animals from the Late Westphalian of Writhlington, United Kingdom. Geologica Balcanica, 34: 47-50, pls 1-2.  Jarzembowski, E. A. 2018. Writhlington Geological Nature Reserve. In Geological sites of the Bristol Region. BRERC, Bristol.Proctor, C. J. and Jarzembowski, E. A. 1999. Habitat … Read More

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Writhlington revisited: A polychrome perspective (Part 2)

Biddy Jarzembowski, Chris Proctor and Ed Jarzembowski (UK) In Part 1 of this article (Writhlington revisited (Part 1): A polychrome perspective), we focused on forest arthropods associated with scale trees (Figs. 1 to 4) that were found in the Coal Measures of Writhlington batch, near Radstock, in southwest England. We now move on to other palaeohabitats represented there some 308 million years ago. All too often, reconstructions and restorations of the Carboniferous combine diverse organisms in a single view of the terrestrial realm. (They are frequently likened to the modern Amazon, but apart from being tropical with luxuriant vegetation, the ancient communities differed in composition, species richness and sedimentary environment.) We have departed from this with several different scenes here based on the fossil assemblages and rock lithologies: mixed forest (Fig. 5), river floodplain (Fig. 6) and river channel, the latter with some large (Fig. 7) and small (Fig. 8) animals. Fig. 5. The mixed forest is depicted on drier swamp margins as near the raised river banks (levees). This diverse community is still dominated by scale trees (Lepidodendron and Sigillaria species) but with an understorey of seed ferns (Alethopteris and Neuropteris spp.) and tree ferns (Pecopteris sp.). The more herbaceous cover is provided by horsetails (Sphenophyllum, Calamites and Annularia spp.). The plant names are given generically because the species are based on details of bark and foliage which are too small to see in the painting. Fig. 6. A muddy, upper delta floodplain with temporary shallow lakes and ponds … Read More

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Book review: Fossils of the Kimmeridge Clay Formation (Palaeontological Association Field Guide to Fossils No 16), edited by David M Martill and Steve Etches (pictures editor, Robert F Loveridge)

I always wait expectantly for the publication of a new Palaeontological Association guide to fossils and, when they turn up, I am never disappointed. This is undoubtedly another triumph. This guide attempts to bring the diversity of its flora and fauna together in a single work, for the first time.

Writhlington revisited: A polychrome perspective (Part 1)

Biddy Jarzembowski, Chris Proctor and Ed Jarzembowski (UK) Thanks to ‘King Coal’, it is perhaps all too easy to visualise the Carboniferous Period – and especially the Pennsylvanian Subperiod – in black and white or shades of grey. The Earth’s first tropical forests – which gave us peat which turned to coal – were, however, perhaps no less colourful than some modern forests. The long-term project at Writhlington, near Radstock, currently in Bath and North East Somerset (UK), has produced a rich fossil record from the Farrington Formation dating back some 308myrs BP (to the late Asturian (Westphalian D) subage or late Moscovian). Not only has it produced many specimens, but has also allowed meaningful correlation between fossil assemblages and rock types (lithologies) left discarded on the waste tip (batch) of the former Lower Writhlington Colliery. (The finds at Writhlington can be explored by a list of further reading, which will be given in Part 3.) In the closing years of the last century, one of us (Chris) produced several reconstructions in traditional black and white, which illustrated several learned papers and regional museum displays. These included the palaeohabitat as well as selected species. Here, Biddy has applied paint brush and water colours for the first time to these scientific restorations for a new audience – tantalisingly, due to the remoteness of the age of coal. Ed has composed some explanatory notes to accompany the pictures in this three-part mini-series. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the RJG Savage … Read More

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Book review: Measures for Measure: Geology and the Industrial Revolution, by Mike Leeder

I sat down to read this over Christmas and what a good read it turned out to be. The appropriate word is ‘eclectic’ – because Measures for Measure is written for all us with an interest in the industrial history of Great Britain, and its impact on the landscape, economy, social history and culture. It’s a great read as it dots about linking places and ideas together, with the link always being the geology.