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Features in the field: Ignimbrites of the Yr Arddu syncline

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) In July 1979, I was one of more than 20 undergraduate students at the Department of Geology, University of Manchester, to undertake their final year mapping project in the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. My mapping area was the Yr Arddu Syncline, about 4km southeast of Beddgelert in Gwynedd. The rock succession is comprised of slates and sandstones, overlain by acid volcanic rocks, with a range of intrusions (mainly acidic), such as microgranite, but also including dolerite. A feature of this succession was the range of features beautifully exposed in the volcanics and intrusions (Figs. 1 to 4). Fig. 1. Features in acidic igneous rocks, Yr Arddu syncline, North Wales (Upper Ordovician).A: [NGR SH 6267 4554] Large acidic fragment (about 60cm maximum dimension) in Pitts Head Tuff Formation. The fragment shows lenticular lapilli. Such large fragments are the exception rather than the rule in the Pitts Head Tuff Formation.B: [NGR SH 6334 4594] Contact between the Pitts Head Tuff Formation (left) and the Composite Intrusion weathered out as a crack to the right of the hammer. Note that the cleavage of the ‘baked’ tuff has not been picked out by weathering, unlike the unbaked rock to the far left.C: [NGR SH 6267 4579] Bedding in Rhyolite Tuff, dipping steeply to the right. Finer grained tuff (left of centre) overlies tuff with small fragments. The finer grained tuff is overlain, in turn (right of centre), by rubbly tuff with numerous small rhyolitic fragments and then … Read More

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Dinosaurs footprints on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

Mark Wilkinson (UK) If you think of dinosaur hunting, you probably imagine trekking through a parched landscape, reaching the crest of a low hill and catching the first glimpse of a complete skeleton lying half exposed in the next depression. While this might just be true in some parts of the world, the reality of hunting for dinosaurs in Scotland could not be much more different. Hence, a cold and damp day in April 2015 found a small group of geologists from the University of Edinburgh on a slippery foreshore on the northwest extremity of the Isle of Skye. We were hoping not for complete skeletons but, if we were lucky, an occasional bone or tooth – well, perhaps we were hoping, but plenty of geologists have been here before, so the chances of a large find seemed pretty slim. Having said that, the total number of dinosaur bones that have been found in Scotland is still small, so that any bone is likely to be of interest – and could well be a new species, or evidence that a larger taxonomic group known from elsewhere was present on the island in the Jurassic. To add extra scientific interest, the exposures on Skye include a thick Middle Jurassic sequence, representing a time of a rapid dinosaur evolution, but with a poor fossil record worldwide. So any find might be of great importance. We visited several locations on the excursion. There are well-known dinosaur footprints at Staffin Bay on the east … Read More

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Graptolites of Abereiddy Bay

Dr Neale Monks (UK) Graptolites are curious fossils that are common in Lower Palaeozoic rocks where other types of fossils are lacking. The word ‘graptolite’ comes from Greek words that mean ‘writing’ (graptos) and ‘stone’ (lithos), and refer to the fact that graptolite fossils look like pencil marks on stone, partly because they’re flat and partly because of the iridescence of many specimens when freshly exposed. It is generally assumed graptolites were planktonic organisms that occupied an ecological niche like that of modern jellyfish, drifting about the oceans feeding on algae or tiny animals harvested using some sort of filter-feeding mechanism. The impetus for this article was a quick but successful trip to Abereiddy in Pembrokeshire, Wales, about 2.5km from Britain’s smallest city, St Davids (population: 1,800). I had been to Abereiddy many years before on a geological field trip with Andy Gale, who is currently professor of geology at the University of Portsmouth, but I did not have any clear memory of where the fossils were to be found. But, as it happened, this locality is one of those where the fossils are abundant and easily collected – provided you look at the right sorts of rocks. Collecting at Abereiddy Bay Abereiddy is a tiny place, but the bay has become a popular tourist attraction because of a flooded quarry known as the Blue Lagoon. Quarrying for slate ended in 1901 and the sea eventually broke through to the quarry, creating what is, in effect, a small natural harbour. … Read More

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Fossil beetles of Bognor Regis, West Sussex

David Bone (UK) Bognor Regis in West Sussex was wheret I spent my teenage years (a long time ago) and it is still a locality that I regularly visit and to where I also lead fossil hunting expeditions. Having said that, like many foreshore localities with no eroding cliffs, there are times when beach sand hides the underlying geology and a casual visitor can be very disappointed. Alistair describes the London Clay around the sandstone ‘Bognor Rocks’ and their many fossil molluscs, but he also briefly mentions that fossil beetles have been found at this locality. Bognor is one of very few places in Britain where Eocene fossil insects can be found and I have the privilege of being one of only a handful of people that have found them here. I believe that none have been found for at least 30 years due to lack of suitable foreshore exposures or, possibly, sufficiently dedicated collectors. My collections were mainly created in the 1970s and ‘80s, when ideal conditions periodically exposed large tracts of London Clay in the right area of foreshore known as the ‘Beetle Bed’, which is a narrow strip of clay just to the west of the Bognor Rocks (Fig. 1). Here, the London Clay (Division B) is a grey-brown, sticky clay, with occasional claystone nodules known as septaria. Fig. 1. Foreshore exposure of the Beetle Bed, London Clay, Bognor Regis in 1991. (Photo by David Bone.) The London Clay is a fully marine deposit around 55Ma old, … Read More

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Dinosaur quarries of Hastings

Ken Brooks (UK) For over two hundred years, dinosaur bones and other fossils have been found along the beach to the east of Hastings, between Rock-a-Nore and Pett, but by far the most spectacular specimens were collected from local quarries in the nineteenth century. At this time, Hastings was expanding rapidly as a popular seaside resort. As a result, huge quantities of sand, clay (for chimney pots and bricks) and stone were required for new buildings and roads. This is reflected in the large number of local quarries marked on the 1899 Ordnance Survey map of Hastings. Many brickworks were located near outcrops of Wadhurst Clay. As well as clay, this formation also contains beds of sandstone and Tilgate Stone, which is a hard calcareous grit that was quarried for road stone (White, 1928). It was also known locally as ‘Bluestone’ or ‘Hastings Granite’ (Abbott, 1907). While the natural erosion of cliffs on the coast revealed occasional fossils, inland quarrying provided a more rapid and continual exposure of specimens. These included dinosaur bones from the geological section known today as the Hastings Group (Ashdown Sands and Wadhurst Clay – sedimentary beds which date from 141 to 137Ma and belong to the Valanginian Stage within the Lower Cretaceous). For many years, I have been curious about the exact locations of these long-abandoned quarries, but my research was really inspired by a ‘behind the scenes’ visit to the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London. Here, in the storeroom, were huge dinosaur bones, … Read More

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Mary Anning: Jurassic dragons from Whitby

Oscar Roch (Age 10, USA) This amazing article about the life of Mary Anning, was written by Oscar Roch who is just TEN years old, for a school project. It is his own work, with just books and guides to help obtain facts. After receiving the handwritten project in the post, we have been so impressed, we promised to feature it. Introduction I have chosen to do my project on an amazingly, intelligent palaeontologist whose very existence was a miracle to everyone.  Who (Legend has it) was an ordinary child, but when lightning struck and nearly killer her, she transformed into a child of extraordinary knowledge and energy.  She grew up in poverty, therefore to help the family; she had to search for fossils, to then sell.  Unfortunately, her father died in debt.  But, after all these hardships in her early years, she pulled through and changed the knowledge of palaeontology.  This wonderful woman was named Mary Anning, the Princess of Palaeontology. Model of Charmouth beach, part of Oscars Mary Anning project. He made this (with help from grandad) using ground up material from the beach. This was presented by him to the whole school assembly. Birth On 21st May, 1799 a child was born that would ‘Change the world for the better’.  Mary Anning was born in Cockmoil Square, in the small resort town of Lyme Regis in Dorset, England. She was the daughter of Richard Anning and Mary Moore.  Mary Anning had nine other siblings, but sadly only her … Read More

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Salthill Quarry, Clitheroe: A resource revitalised

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands), Paul Kabrna (UK) and Pelham H Donovan (The Netherlands) A while ago, SKD published a critique of the poor geoconservation practices on one of England’s most productive Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) of Mississippian age – the so-called scraped surface at Salthill Quarry, Clitheroe, Lancashire (Grayson, 1981; Bowden et al., 1997; Kabrna, 2011, locality 4; see also Salthill Quarry, Clitheroe: A resource degraded) (Fig. 1; and see also Donovan, 2011). The locality is one of the best sites for Mississippian (Lower Carboniferous) echinoderms in northern Europe. It is particularly good for crinoids, but also for rarer blastoids and, if you are willing to process bulk samples, the spines and plates of echinoids (Donovan et al., 2003; Donovan & Lewis, 2011; Donovan, in press). However, when it was visited by SKD in 2010, the geological features were being overgrown by grasses and other plants; that is, the geological SSSI was being transformed, passively, into a botanical nature reserve. Fig. 1. The crinoid bank (locality 4 of Kabrna, 2011) as it was in 2010, largely obscured by grass (after Donovan, 2011, fig. 1). Collectors (left and middle) approximately define the poor exposure of bedded limestone at that time, which extended a little way past the bush in the centre. The best collecting was along this line and lower, where crinoid debris accumulated as a fossil-enriched gravel. For an earlier view of this slope, see Donovan (2012, fig. 3A, B). This situation persisted until recently. In April … Read More

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Carboniferous fossils protecting the coastline at Barton on Sea

David N Lewis (UK) and Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) Many people regard fossils, quite rightly, as rare and exotic objects. Yet how often do people come into contact with palaeontological remains without appreciating it? Probably the easiest example to cite is that of quarried stone, either appearing as facing stones or, in a less aesthetically pleasing setting, when ground down or crushed for concrete or road ballast. Often, quarried stone is utilised a large distance from its source. For example there are no exposures of Carboniferous Limestone in the Netherlands, yet this rock is common in Dutch towns and cities where it is found as facing and decorative stones, far from its origins in Belgium and elsewhere. Obviously such uses of rock are to be admired visually but not hammered; yet this is not necessarily always the case. In this article we introduce you to exotic blocks of Carboniferous Limestone which are so situated that they are actively worn down by the elements, exposing the treasures contained within. Fig. 1. Maps of southern Britain and Christchurch Bay (after Lewis et al. 2003). The cliffs of the famous fossil collecting area of Barton on Sea are part of the (often slumped) sea cliffs of Christchurch Bay in Hampshire and Dorset, extending, in the west, from Friars Cliff, near Christchurch, to Milford-on-Sea, near Lymington in the east (Fig.1). These are composed of Eocene clays and sandstones, overlain by Pleistocene plateau gravels (Fig. 2) and have been systematically eroded over long periods … Read More

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Mull’s famous fossil tree (Part 1): Chrissie and the tree

Rosalind Jones (UK) There’s a saying on the Isle of Mull – “If you come to Mull the once you return again for sure” – and it’s not an idle boast, as those who have visited and subsequently revisited this ‘geological Mecca’ will agree. Second largest of the Inner Hebrides, Mull is famous for its Tertiary igneous geology – 6,000 feet of basalt lavas intruded by a complex of concentric bodies, ringed about three igneous centres. With its unique ring dyke of mixed acid and basic magma, Tertiary granites yielding Lewisian dates, and magnetic reversals in the lavas that make compass bearings untrustworthy, Mull is an enigmatic venue for geologists. The island’s best-known fossils are plant remains, including Ginkgo, Platinus, Corylites and Quercus, all preserved in Tertiary lake sediments deposited between lava flows. Once over collected, fossils from the famous Leaf Beds at Ardtun are now protected, as the site is an SSSI. But the biggest and most noteworthy fossil is ‘Macculloch’s Tree’. Remotely situated opposite Ardtun, on the tip of the Ardmeanach peninsula, it is a phenomenon that, if you visit Mull, you really should see. Fig. 1. Burg House. © Pete McHugh.I first came across Mull’s fossil tree as a geology student in 1966. Its location was pointed out while I was in the Ardtun Leaf Beds gully, so I scrambled over slippery rocks, past hexagonal columns of basalt and down to the shore to see. The panorama I beheld took my breath away. Fig. 2. Goat track … Read More

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Recollecting rocks and minerals

Malcolm Chapman (UK) Collecting is natural. We all do it to a greater or lesser degree and what we collect is motivated by many factors including value and the appeal to the eye. Rarity is often a factor, as is cost, and interest can be awoken by someone you are related to, a teacher or a friend. So how did I become involved with collecting rocks and minerals? It was a television programme called Serendipity, which was broadcast about 35 years ago. Not long before (and at great cost), I bought some amber jewellery. And, then, there on the TV, was a young lady walking along the beach at Aldeburgh and picking up stones – not many, considering the number surrounding her, but a few handfuls. She was collecting amber and she had gathered an admirable collection for free, which would have made most people envious. The grey matter started working. Aldeburgh was some distance away, but, close at hand, was the beach at Sheerness and I knew about longshore drift…. By the action of wind and tide, stones on the east coast work their way south and north-facing beaches, like Sheerness, gather the stones moving from north of that point. Therefore, I decided that amber should be on Sheerness beach. I had never studied the stones on a beach before, but I believed that there could be many glamorous stones that I could find such that I envisioned making jewellery with them, mostly pendants. My experience was that they … Read More

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Arthropleura: A prehistoric bug hunt

Joe Shimmin and Stephen Day (UK) Picture yourself strolling through lush, green woodland, on an Earth unspoiled by man and yet to witness the rise of the dinosaurs. You’d be forgiven for feeling at peace with the world, even slightly euphoric – that is until you stumbled across the giant Arthropleura, a millipede relation as long as a park bench. This encounter might make even the most enthusiastic creepy-crawly hater think twice before squashing the bug in front of them under foot! I (JS) had a slightly less dramatic (but still very exciting) experience involving the creature while on a recent fossil hunting trip to Crail in Fife. On investigating some sandstone ledges that ran across the shore to the south-west of this pretty little fishing village in western Scotland, my eyes were drawn to what could only be a huge set of fossil tracks in the rock. The stratum in which they had been preserved also contained plant remains such as Stigmaria roots, as well as sections of tree trunks and branches. Fig. 1. The pretty fishing village of Crail, Fife as seen from the Arthropleura track find site. I took numerous photographs of the track, which measured about 3m long by 30cm wide and also of other, similar tracks nearby, in the hope that someone might be able to identify what kind of creature had created them. My guess was that it was some sort of amphibian, but I wasn’t sure. All I knew was the thing that … Read More

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Fossil sea urchins from the Middle Eocene of the Bartonian of Christchurch Bay, UK

David N Lewis (UK) The spectacular fossil gastropods and the teeth of sharks – found at the type locality of the Middle Eocene Bartonian in Christchurch Bay (Hampshire and Dorset) – overshadow the other fauna and flora found there. However, among the ‘Cinderella’ groups are the echinoids (sea urchins). Several kinds, both ‘irregular’ and ‘regular’, can be found, some preserved with superb detail. Fig. 1. Sketch maps to show the location of Barton-on-Sea (modified after Lewis & Donovan, 2008).The coastal holiday resorts of Christchurch Bay, near the New Forest, include Highcliffe to the west, Milford-on-Sea to the east, and the well-known Barton Cliffs of Barton-on-Sea between the two (Fig. 1). All lie within the Hampshire Basin of southern England. This coastal stretch is famous for its extensive range of well-preserved Eocene fossils found in the sea cliffs and on the foreshore. The most fossiliferous area is sometimes referred to simply as ‘Barton’, and the clays and sands in which the fossils are found as the ‘Barton Beds’. Of particular interest to fossil collectors, students and holiday-makers alike are the abundant fossil molluscs and the teeth of sharks. However, there are other fossils too, including plants, microfossils, a wide variety of other invertebrates such as bryozoans, brachiopods, corals, crabs, echinoderms (brittle-stars, starfish and sea urchins) and worms, and vertebrates including fishes, reptiles and rare mammals (see Hooker, 1986). Trace fossils can also be seen in the clay sequences. In fact, some of the clays allow considerable fine detail of the fossils … Read More

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Pliocene bryozoans in the Suffolk Coralline Crag

Paul D Taylor and Rory Milne (UK) Britain is not richly endowed with fossiliferous Pliocene localities. However, the Red and Coralline Crags of East Anglia make up for this deficiency in the sheer abundance and quality of their fossils. Whereas the Red Crag, famous for its gastropods and bivalves, takes its name from the colour of the sediment, the Coralline Crag is named for its ‘corallines’. But what exactly are these? Despite the name, which suggests corals or perhaps coralline algae, the corallines of the Crag are actually bryozoans, popularly known as ‘moss animals’ or ‘sea-mats’ (see Issue 12 of Deposits: Bryozoans: more than meets the eye). In fact, the Coralline Crag is a bryozoan limestone and represents a rare example of a non-tropical limestone in the British geological record. The main outcrop of the Coralline Crag runs between Gedgrave near Orford in the south, to Aldeburgh in the north, forming a low ridge almost parallel to the Suffolk coast (Fig. 1). There are also small outliers further south at Sutton and Tattingstone, but the latter is now submerged beneath a reservoir. Lateral equivalents of the Coralline Crag can be found in Belgium and Holland (for example, see Bishop & Hayward 1989). Fig. 1. Outcrops of the Coralline Crag in Suffolk (shown as yellow).Deposition occurred in shallow water, about 4Ma, along the margins of the ancient North Sea. Giant submarine dunes – sandwaves – swept the fragmented remains of bryozoans and other shells along the seabed, leaving behind the spectacular, … Read More

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Book review: William Boyd Dawkins, the Victorian Science of Cave Hunting: Three Men in a Cavern, by Mark Wright

William Boyd Dawkins is an immensely fascinating character, who dominated British geology during his time, and yet is mostly forgotten today. He received a professorship and a knighthood, along with many top awards, and yet Mark Wright, in this excellent biography, describes him as “a liar and probably a cheat”.

Henry VIII’s lost ruby: The ‘Regale’ of France

Steven Wade Veatch (USA) Glittering jewels, precious metals and religious relics – ranging from a spine from the Crown of Thorns to a twig from the Burning Bush, and sundry relics of saints – were important to all medieval monarchs as physical symbols of power, pomp and religious expression. King Henry VIII (1491-1547) of England was no different and had one of these venerable objects – a ruby. Fig. 1. Henry VIII, The king can be seen sporting several jewels in this 1531 painting. Henry prized the French Regale, a ruby fashioned into a cabochon. It remained in Henry’s private collection until he died at the age of 55 in 1547. Image public domain. A ruby (Al2O3) is a gemstone and a variety of the mineral corundum (aluminium oxide). It is one of the hardest minerals on Earth (9.0 on the Mohs mineral hardness scale of 10) and ranges in colour from pink to blood-red. Traces of the element chromium cause the red colour to bloom in rubies. The Latin word for red, ruber, is the basis for its name. The other variety of gem-quality corundum is sapphire. The ruby is extremely rare and considered the king of the gemstones, with its magnificent colour and exceptional brilliance. Louis VII (1120-1180) became the first King of France to visit England when he made a pilgrimage in 1179 to St Thomas Becket’s shrine at Canterbury. He spent the night there, and made several offerings, including the ‘Regale’, considered the finest gem in … Read More

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Fossil hunter’s guide to the Yorkshire coast

Samuel McKie, with Tilly Dalglish (UK) The stretch of coast from Speeton to Holderness is often forgotten by tourists and fossil collectors alike; certainly compared with places such as Whitby or destinations along the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. However, the shore of the East Riding has many beautiful sights and a rich history. From Viking settlements to eighteenth century sea battles, and Neolithic standing stones to Victorian seabird hunting, there is evidence here of humans fighting, farming, hunting and praying spanning many thousands of years. Fig. 1. Flamborough sponge bed at Sewerby Cliffs. But the stones of the shore tell a far older story. The coast starts chronologically at Speeton sands, where the Jurassic sandstones found at Whitby, Ravenscar, Scarborough and Filey end with a small Kimmeridge Clay exposure, before giving way to the Cretaceous strata of Flamborough Head. This small peninsular confronts the North Sea around 30km north of the Humber’s Spurn Point. Following the coast southward, exposures from almost the entire Cretaceous period are present (120 to 70Ma old). After this, the glaciation till (or boulder clay) smothers the land from Bridlington southwards. Fig. 2. Map of Flamborough Head and geological features. Flamborough has a rich variety of wildlife: orchids flower and seabirds nest on the chalky cliffs in summer, while seals and porpoises shelter in the bay in the winter months. This is recognised at an international level by the site of special scientific interest (SSSI) designation, which prohibits damage to the habitats. The RSPB and The … Read More

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On the trail of Shetland’s volcano

Allen Fraser (UK) For a land area of just 1,468km2, yet within a staggering 2,731km of coastline, Shetland has probably the most complex and diverse geology and geomorphology to be found anywhere in the World. Part of Shetland’s Geopark plan was a suggestion from the community of Northmavine that a geological gateway be established to their area at Mavis Grind, and a volcano trail be set up around the dramatically beautiful Eshaness. Fig. 1. Map of Eshaness. Although it is hard to imagine today, some 350Ma ago, the peninsula of Eshaness was a fire and lava-belching volcano. In fact, the name “Esha Ness” comes from the Old Norse language and means the “Headland of Volcanic Ashes”. The beaches and cliffs of Eshaness show many fine examples of the rocks that formed in this ancient volcano and tell us something of the environment in which the volcano grew. Fig. 2. The Eshaness peninsula. Setting the scene Eshaness’ story begins some 400Ma (in the Devonian period) when three of the Earth’s tectonic plates converged and eventually formed a huge continent now referred to as Pangaea. This collision threw up the Caledonian Mountain chain that was originally of Himalayan proportions but which rapidly began to erode. Rivers carried the erosion products (sediments) into lakes that formed in valleys between the mountains and on the plains below the foothills of the mountain chain. At this time ‘Britain’ lay in equatorial latitudes so the rocks we see exposed today were often laid down in environments … Read More

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Geopark Shetland: A journey through the 35th European Geopark

Allen Fraser (UK) In September 2009, the Shetland Islands were awarded the accolade of becoming the thirty-fifth European Geopark. This is fantastic news for the isles. It acknowledges the importance of Shetland’s incredible geology and creates opportunities to promote it to an international market and develop partnerships with other members. When visiting, the best place to start your journey into Shetland’s ancient past is at Shetland Museum, in Lerwick. Here, displays take you back into the mists of time, revealing vanished landscapes and the amazing events behind them. All across Shetland, the rocks and landscapes tell an endless story – of oceans opening and closing, of mountain building and erosion, of ice ages and tropical seas, volcanoes, deserts and ancient rivers, of land use, climate change and sea level rise, and of minerals and miners. Around 360mya, a walk through where Lerwick is now, would have meant a wade across fast-flowing rivers, in a climate like that in Death Valley, California. How do we know? Well, if you take a stroll around Lerwick, and walk from the Knabb to the Sletts and out to the Sands of Sound, you can see for yourself. Here, flat-lying beds of thick, buff-coloured sandstone begin to acquire rounded pebbles and cobbles of pink and white quartz. These sandstone beds tell us that fast flowing rivers once deposited their loads in the area and that flash floods occasionally scoured the riverbed, leaving trains of far-travelled cobbles and pebbles embedded in the sandy layers. These rivers … Read More

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Fossil insects from the Lower Cretaceous of southern England

Dr James E Jepson (UK) It was over 150 years ago that the first major work began on the fossil insects of the Lower Cretaceous of England. The pioneers were Victorian naturalists, including the Rev Osmond Fisher, John O Westwood and, in particular, the Rev Peter Bellinger Brodie. 1845 saw the publication of Brodie’s A History of the Fossil Insects in the Secondary Rocks of England, the earliest English language book on fossil insects and the first major study of the fossil insects of England. The Victorians collected and described many species from Wiltshire, Dorset and the Weald, and started the ball rolling for British palaeoentomology. The twentieth century saw little activity in British Cretaceous palaeoentomology. At this time, there was a shift towards the Palaeozoic insects from the Carboniferous, with Herbert Bolton leading the way – Bolton’s major work was published in a monograph on British Carboniferous insects in 1921–1922. A few descriptions were made on British Cretaceous insects in the early twentieth century, most notably Anton Handlirsch’s monograph of fossil insects (1906–1908) included some British Cretaceous insects; but there was no major studies completed. However, in the late twentieth century, interest in the Cretaceous insects of Britain was reawakened by Edmund A Jarzembowski, with his studies on Wealden insects and later the Purbeck insects with Robert A Coram. Into the twenty-first century, Jarzembowski and Coram have remained a driving force for the study of Lower Cretaceous insects of southern England and, through their work and their collaborations with … Read More

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White Scar Cave

William Bagshaw (UK) White Scar Cave takes its name from the limestone outcrops or “scars” that overlook the entrance. This part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is dominated by the ‘Three Peaks’ – Ingleborough, Pen-y-ghent and Whernside. Their distinctive shapes are due to their geological structure, which consists of nearly horizontal layers of grit and shale that rest on the Great Scar Limestone. White Scar Cave was formed under Ingleborough between 400,000 and 100,000 year ago, in warmer periods that occurred between the Ice Ages of the Pleistocene. In August 1923, Christopher Francis Drake Long, a student on vacation from Cambridge University, discovered a slight fissure on the slopes of Ingleborough. He decided to investigate. Wearing only his summer walking clothes of shirt and shorts, and lighting his way with candles stuck in the brim of his hat, he crawled into the low passage. Spurred on by the distant roar of water, he struggled over jagged stones and across rock pools until, eventually, he found himself at the foot of a waterfall. He continued along a stream passage to a cascade and then returned to the surface to announce his find. On a subsequent expedition, Long discovered a subterranean lake. Undeterred by the cold water, he swam across it. A massive boulder, later nicknamed ‘Big Bertha’, lay wedged in the passage beyond. He squeezed past, only to find his path blocked by a boulder choke (a jumbled mass of rocks). Long intended to open the cave to visitors. However, … Read More

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Geology at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

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

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Geology of the Moray Coast

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

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Denizens of the Oxford Clay

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

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Blue John: Remarkable fluorite from a limestone cavern

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

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

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

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Baffling bones from Lyme Regis

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

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