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Geology Museums of Britain: Wells & Mendip Museum, Somerset

Jon Trevelyan (UK) One rainy afternoon in March, rather than getting wet collecting fossils near Radstock, I abandoned my plans and paid a brief visit to the Wells & Mendip Museum in Somerset. It is not a geology museum, but it does have some great geological exhibitions. The museum (Fig. 1) was founded in 1893 by Herbert E Balch, who was a well-known amateur archaeologist, naturalist and caver; and the museum was intended to showcase his extensive collections of historical artefacts and natural specimens. Fig.1. The entrance to the museum, in the beautiful square in front of the cathedral. When you arrive in the lobby, you can’t help but notice a magnificent two-metre-long skeleton of an ichthyosaur (Fig. 2). This was found in the Lower Jurassic Blue Lias quarries at Keinton Mandeville (which is 200 to 150 million years old), during which time, a warm sea covered Somerset. In fact, the area around the town of Street, not far from Wells, has been an important source of ichthyosaur skeletons. Fig. 2. The ichthyosaur (Ichthyosaurus tenuistris), which was discovered by Thomas Hawkins, a nineteenth century collector of marine reptiles. A fossilised example of an eye socket is also on display next to the main specimen. We know that this ichthyosaur preyed on an extinct form of squid or cuttlefish (Phragmoteuthis), because the small hooks from the squids’ arms are clearly visible in its stomach. In the museum, there is also an exhibition on the ‘Netherworld of Mendip’, which explores the subterranean … Read More

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Book review: Cro-Magnon: The Story of the Last Ice Age People of Europe, by Trenton W Holliday

The Cro-Magnons were a population of early modern humans (that is, they were physically indistinguishable from us, today), who lived in Europe between about 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, during the Upper Palaeolithic period. This information comes from Trenton Holliday’s excellent book, which tells the story of these people in the context of recent scientific advances. However, while it does not shy away from complex scientific issues, the book is written with a light, understandable touch.

Locations on the Isle of Wight – a personal view

Alison Cruickshanks (UK) In the final part of my article, I will look at locations on the Isle of Wight. Anyone who has visited the Isle of Wight will know that the island is famous for dinosaurs. Indeed, popular visitor attractions include the museums at Dinosaur Isle, Blackgang Chine (which has its own model Dinosaur land) and Dinosaur Farm. Dinosaur Isle is an interactive fun-packed museum that is a popular island attraction. What makes the Isle of Wight so special is its varied geology that changes as you go from one side of the Island to another. For example, in the north, you can collect from the Oligocene; in the south, you can collect from the Cretaceous; and, in the south-east and west, you can collect fossils from the Eocene. Some locations, such as Whitecliff Bay and Alum Bay, have vertical beds. Alum Bay is famous for the different coloured sands that fill souvenirs in gift shops all over the island. These sands are from vertical beds representing the Eocene succession (Barton Group, Bracklesham Group, London Clay and Reading beds). I visited many locations on the Isle of Wight. Here I am at one of them, Shepherds Chine. I spent a week on the Island with my husband looking at ten locations but I will concentrate on three of the most memorable during my visit. Whitecliff Bay We stayed at the caravan park on the cliff top at Whitecliff Bay and made this our first point of call. One of … Read More

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Locations in the Norfolk Area – a personal view

Alison Cruickshanks (UK) In the first part of this article, I discussed locations in the Suffolk area. Since then, I have visited a few locations in the neighbouring county of Norfolk including West Runton, Weybourne, Overstrand and Hunstanton. Most of the rocks in Norfolk are Cretaceous. However, you also find deposits from the Pleistocene period that yield a wide variety of fossils. Therefore, this article will cover fossils from both of these geological times. There are also many other interesting and productive locations in Norfolk, but this is just a few of the most popular. Overstrand Overstrand can be a very unpredictable location as fossils found here come from deposits that are below beach level. There is also a sea defence and several groynes that, together, limit excessive beach scouring. However, if you’re lucky and scouring does occur, you can find some good specimens. This normally happens during the autumn and spring months after prolonged northerly winds (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Overstand during scouring conditions. The cliffs at Overstrand are of glacial origin and contain no fossils. However, there is a small fault, just passed the granite sea defence, where a small section of chalk with overlying Wroxham Crag (formally Weybourne Crag) can be seen. This provides a good opportunity to examine exposures normally obscured by sand and gives you an idea of the formations below beach level from where the fossils are washed out. The Wroxham Crag was deposited during the Pleistocene period. The upper sequences are known as … Read More

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Geology Museums of Britain: Radstock Museum, Somerset

Jon Trevelyan(UK) Contained in what was once the Radstock Market Hall (Fig. 1), this is perhaps one of my favourite local museums. Maybe it is because the museum is close to wonderful relics of the Somerset coal industry and to the Upper Carboniferous plant fossils that were a waste product. (My maternal grandfather was a miner in one of the two collieries in Aberdare in South Wales, and my mother took me collecting on the tips when I was young.) Fig. 1. The museum is located in the old Radstock Market Hall. In fact, in the Radstock district, there are still some tips where you can find plant fossils. Nearby is also the impressive ‘volcano’ at Midsomer Norton, which will always be a monument to coal miners who laboured in the coalmines of this part of the world (Fig. 2). (It is a tip containing waste from the Old Mills and Springfield collieries.) However, this museum is not really a geology museum. It has a lot of geological exhibits, but rather it is a museum of Somerset coalfield life, but no less fascinating for that. There are permanent displays covering two floors within the listed building. On the ground floor, there is the history of the 75 or so coalmines that once existed, and the mining communities of Radstock and the local trades and industries which supported the miners and the industry. This includes, on entry, a gorgeous horse-drawn carriage from the Co-op (Fig. 3). All this, along with some … Read More

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Locations in the Suffolk Area – a personal view

Alison Cruickshanks (UK) Fossil collecting was never an interest of mine until I met my fiancé, husband. Alister’s interest in palaeontology is evidenced by the fact that he is production manager of this magazine and, after we first met, he started encouraging me to accompany him on collecting trips. After our first trip to Ramsholt, I quickly became fascinated in finding the remains of life that lived millions of years ago and exploring the environments in which they lived. I have also found that there can be adventure and challenges when visiting locations to collect fossils, especially during the harsh, stormy weather conditions that are always the best time to collect. For anyone who believes that looking for fossils is boring, they should try it for themselves and find out just how exciting it really can be. In the first part of this article, I will examine locations in my home county of Suffolk. The second part will look at the Norfolk coast and the final part will explore coastal sites on the Isle of Wight. So far, I’ve been to five locations in Suffolk: Covehithe, Easton Bavents, Pakefield, Ramsholt and Corton. All of these I have found very interesting even though I have only found fossils at some of these places. This is because the walking and exploring can be just as exciting as finding fossils. Ramsholt Fig. 1. Evening on the beach at Ramsholt. Ramsholt used to be my home territory until I moved to the Southwold area. … Read More

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Conulariids: fossilised jellyfish

Maria C Sendino and Paul D Taylor (UK) Fossils such as ammonites, trilobites, crinoids and shark’s teeth understandably attract the most attention from fossil enthusiasts. However, other groups can provide equally fascinating insights into the history of life and ought not to be neglected. Among these ‘Cinderella fossils’ are conulariids. Found in late Precambrian (Ediacaran) to Triassic marine deposits, conulariids survived for more than 350ma, disappearing about 200 million years ago, at a time when the continents were clustered together into a huge landmass called Pangaea. However, they are most common in Middle Ordovician to Permian rocks. Almost 400 species of conulariids have been described from around the world, and in some places they are abundant enough to lend their name to particular geological units, for example the Conularia-Sandstone in the Upper Ordovician of Jordan. Fig. 1. A species of Conularia from the Lower Carboniferous of Indiana showing the aperture closed by lappets. Affinities What are conulariids? Initially, they were thought to be molluscs because of their pyramidal-cone shape that is vaguely reminiscent of a straight nautiloid. Others believed them to be worm tubes. For a long time they were classified as ‘Problematica’, which is a formal way of admitting total ignorance about their affinities. They have also been placed in a phylum of their own, the Conulariida. This uncertainty results from the lack of preserved soft parts. However, strong evidence has emerged in recent years showing that conulariids belong to the same class – Scyphozoa – as jellyfish and … Read More

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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin 1881 to 1955: a geologist priest in Hastings

Ken Brooks (UK) Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was born in the Auvergne region of France on 1 May 1881. His enthusiasm for science developed in his childhood, partly through the influence and encouragement of his father, who was a keen naturalist. In 1899, at the age of 18 and having completed secondary education, he joined the Society of Jesus as a novice. While severe intellectual discipline was a characteristic of his Jesuit Order, it also included instruction in all branches of science, particularly geology and zoology. Fig. 1. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1955. Shortly after and as a result of legislation in France directed against the religious orders, the Jesuits moved to the Channel Islands and, in 1901, transferred their juniorate to the institution Notre Dame de Bon-Secours at Maison St Louis in Jersey. Teilhard stayed here for three years studying theology and philosophy, but he was also able to spend time developing his interest in geology. In fact, it is said that he never went for a walk without a hammer and a magnifying glass. In 1905, Teilhard was sent to Egypt to gain teaching experience at the Jesuit College of St Francis in Cairo, where he studied and taught physics. For the next three years, his naturalist inclinations were developed through field trips into the countryside near Cairo studying the existing flora and fauna as well as fossils from Egypt’s very ancient past. He also made time for extensive collecting of fossils and for correspondence with palaeontologists in … Read More

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Celebrating the Ashdon Meteorite

Michael E Howgate One hundred years ago, a grapefruit-sized lump of rock ended its four and a half billion year long journey through space by crashing into a field in northwest Essex. To be more precise, at 1pm on Friday, 9 March 1923, Frederick Pratt, a thatcher and farm labourer, heard what he described as a loud “sissing” noise, and a couple of seconds later saw: a projectile fell about ten or fifteen yards from him, causing the earth to spout up like water” (News report in The Times newspaper, 7 June 1923). Three days later and suitably equipped, he went back to the spot with a friend and they dug up the ‘Ashdon’ meteorite. Being a sensible chap, he knocked a piece off, presumably to check that it was not just a common flint he had unearthed, and then took it to the local police station. The Saffron Walden bobbies were not interested, so he took it home to Wendens Ambo. Here, he showed it to his vicar, the Reverend Francis W Berry who, being an alumnus of Trinity College Cambridge, showed much more interest. Berry recognised the importance of Pratt’s find and purchased it from him, so that he could donate it to the Mineralogical Department of the British Museum (Natural History). The keeper of mineralogy, Dr. George T Prior, a noted expert on meteorites visited the site three months later with both Frederick Pratt and the Rev. Berry in attendance. (Prior’s description of the Ashdon meteorite appeared … Read More

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Neale Monks (UK) Belemnites are common fossils, and most collectors will have a few of these distinctive, bullet-shaped fossils in their collections. In fact, belemnites have been recognised as something other than mere stones for thousands of years. As a result of their remarkably phallus-like shape, the Ancient Egyptians associated them with their male fertility god Min. Mediaeval Scandinavians believed that elves used them as candles, while in England they were called Devil’s thunderbolts and were thought to have been formed during lightning storms. Belemnites even had magical uses. In pre-industrial England, one remedy for eye infections of horses was to grind them up and blow the dust into the poor animals’ eyes. But what sort of animals were belemnites? Where did they live and what did they eat? And what was the function of that heavy, conical calcite structure we know today as the belemnite guard? Fossil belemnites When belemnite fossils are found, it is usually only the calcitic guard that is present. That the thing is made from calcite is unusual – most cephalopod shells are made from aragonite. This holds true for nautilus shells and cuttlefish shells today, and ammoniate shells in the past. Fig. 1. Comparing a life-sized model belemnite with a common fossil find. The fossil belemnites are actually only a small part of the animal, since the soft tissue would have decayed away. In fact, the chambered part of belemnite shells was made from aragonite and greatly resembled the chambered shells of other cephalopods. … Read More

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The British Carboniferous Limestone

Neale Monks (UK) The rocks we know in Britain and Ireland as the Carboniferous Limestone were laid down between 363 and 325 million years ago, during a period when global sea levels were particularly high, a condition that geologists refer to as a transgression. The climate was tropical, and the warm, shallow seas that covered much of the British Isles teemed with life. Consequently, the Carboniferous Limestone is often highly fossiliferous, and good exposures can yield vast numbers of crinoids, brachiopods, corals, bryozoans and other types of marine fossil. Despite being known as the Carboniferous Limestone, one thing notably absent from this formation is coal. Coal is made from the fossilised remains of trees, and the forests and freshwater swamps where those trees grew could only develop once sea level had dropped. Coal-bearing sediments weren’t laid down until the second half of the Carboniferous Period, when sea level was relatively low. International stratigraphyThe International Commission on Stratigraphy refers to the interval of time between 359 and 299 million years ago as the Carboniferous Period, but, historically American geologists recognised two periods instead: the Pennsylvanian and the Mississippian. These were roughly equivalent to what geologists elsewhere considered the Lower and Upper Carboniferous, so the ICS has standardised the Pennsylvanian and Mississippian as the two epochs within the Carboniferous. However, it isn’t quite as simple as sea level dropping in the middle of the Carboniferous and all the subsequent sediments of the period being terrestrial in nature. What tended to happen was … Read More

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Geology museums of Britain: Kendal Museum of Natural History and Archaeology, Cumbria

Jon Trevelyan (UK) Kendal Museum is one of those charming, cluttered museums I feared were dying out (Fig. 1), but still seem to defy the odds and continuing surprising visitors. Like the museum in Whitby (see Geology museums of Britain: Whitby Museum, Yorkshire), at Kendal, there seems to be exhibits stuffed anywhere possible, with surprises everywhere you look. The museum itself is a local museum in Cumbria, on the edge of the Lake District in northwest England. It was founded in 1796 and includes collections of local archaeology, history, geology and natural history from around the globe, but especially from the Lake District itself. Fig. 1. A model boat and bicycle – typical of the eclectic displays. In April 2011, Kendal Museum achieved the Visitor Attraction Quality Assurance Scheme assessment, awarded by Visit England. It is managed by Kendal College on behalf of South Lakeland District Council and is part of the Arts and Media campus at the North End of Kendal. History The Museum of Natural History and Archaeology is one of the oldest museums in the UK, with displays of local and global natural history, and archaeology. Kendal’s first museum was founded in 1796 by William Todhunter, who exhibited a collection of fossils, minerals, plants, animals and antiques. In 1835, the Kendal Literary and Scientific Society took over the museum and, as the collection grew, the museum had to be rehoused several times. In 1913, the current building was offered to the Town Council to house the museum. … Read More

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Book review: Essex Rock – Geology beneath the Landscape by Ian Mercer and Ros Mercer

To be fair, Essex has never been famed or well-regarded for its geology, at least not by me. I know it has its locations – Walton-on-the-Naze springs to mind – but not a lot else. However, this guide is set to change all that. Full colour photographs and illustrations (on virtually every page), with 416 pages of excellent text, with particularly good sections on the London Clay and Red Crag, it is as good as it gets. It is worth owning for its own sake, even if you are not going to, or are living in, Essex.

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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Book review: 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.