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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.

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.

Agates: A brief introduction to agates in the UK

P W Forster (UK) I have many years of experience collecting and cutting agates. It was my wife who originally had an enthusiasm for these beautiful semi-precious stones and it was because of her enthusiasm that I developed an interest that has now become an obsessive hobby for the both of us. Cabinets in our home evidence the wide range of specimen stones that an amateur collector can discover. Each specimen has identification labels and is catalogued to show the date and the region where it was found. Before starting my first collecting foray, I obtained as much information on the subject as was available. To this end, I found the book ‘Agates’ by H G McPherson most useful. (This book, together with ‘Agate collecting in Britain’ by P R Rodgers, has been extensively used in the writing of this article.) From my research, it became apparent that the Midland Valley of Scotland contained many of the best deposits of agates in Great Britain. With this in mind, we paid the first of many visits to the region. We started searching along the east coast of Ayrshire. This coast abounds with small coves of pebble beaches and large stretches of andersite larvas that stretch out to sea. During the first year, we amassed a large amount of what we thought were agates, but closer examination revealed that we had collected some colourful specimens of jasper as well as some lovely quartz pebbles. This first attempt had revealed that those agates … Read More

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Book review: Strata: William Smith’s Geological Maps, with contributions by Oxford University Museum of Natural History, with a foreword by Robert Macfarlane

This book is truly sumptuous, and yet is also a comprehensive discussion of William Smith’s maps (including the revolutionary ‘A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales, with part of Scotland’) and career. It is beautifully produced, printed on quality paper and the full colour illustrations are outstanding.

Rummages through the core collection of British cephalopods (Part 1)

Neale Monks (UK) Alongside trilobites, ammonites are by far the most popular invertebrate fossils. Whether you’re an enthusiastic fieldworker or more of an armchair geologist, chances are that your collection includes a fair number of ammonites of one sort or another. These may well have names and localities, but details on the ecology of ammonites is often lacking, and relatively few popular books on geology say much about how ammonites lived beyond the fact they were marine invertebrates related to modern squids and octopuses. As it happens, British geologists are well served when it comes to ammonites, with extensive exposures of Jurassic and Cretaceous strata accessible across the country, from the Kent coast to the Isle of Skye. Coastal exposures are the ideal, of course, but old quarries and other inland sites can be fruitful too, and the UKGE website is there to help anyone wanting to build up their own ammonite collection (see https://www.ukge.com/). Belemnites are often found alongside ammonites, and being cephalopods as well, resembled ammonites in many ways. The biggest difference was that they were more squid-shaped animals, with the buoyant shell inside the animal instead of outside. They were probably quite good swimmers, but whether they foraged close to the seafloor like cuttlefish, or high up the water column like squid, remains unclear. It may well be that different belemnites did different things, and the variation we see in belemnite fossils reflects this. But what, if anything, is the quintessential British ammonite? And if such a … Read More

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On the trail of giant brachiopods: Gigantoproductus

Neale Monks (UK) Modern brachiopods are rather obscure animals and even their (supposed) common name, ‘lamp shells’, means little to the average amateur naturalist. However, geologists will be much more familiar with them, because brachiopods are among the commonest fossils in sediments of Palaeozoic age, almost right the way through from the Middle Cambrian to the Late Permian. They were sometimes abundant in the Mesozoic as well, particularly during the Jurassic, and may be quite common in some Cainozoic sediments too. But, on the whole, their post-Permian history was one of decline to a role in marine ecosystems far below that of, say, bivalve molluscs or crustaceans. Having said that, brachiopods have always fascinated me because they were survivors. Unlike so many of the superstar fossil groups, like trilobites and ammonites, brachiopods declined but they did not die out. They are not particularly diverse today, but the 350 or so modern species is not a bad tally, and they can be found in all the world’s oceans, from Scottish sea-lochs to the coast of California, from Hong Kong harbour to the rocky shores of Patagonia. They may be bit-part players in contemporary marine ecosystems, but, in their own way, they seem to be very good at what they do, more than holding their own in seas and oceans dramatically different to the Cambrian ones, where they first evolved. While studying for my degree at Aberdeen, I was lucky enough to do a small research project on a modern brachiopod species, … Read More

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Book review: Trilobites of the British Isles, by Dr Robert Kennedy and Sinclair Stammers

I’ve been waiting for a book like this for a very long time and am delighted that a publication of this quality has now arrived. New books covering British palaeontology are always welcomed by this magazine and we published an article a while ago by the founder of the publisher of this book – David Penney – explaining the need for such guides.

Discovering dinosaurs in Britain: The significance of the British dinosaur record

Dean R Lomax (UK) Palaeontology and Britain In its simplest form, palaeontology is the study of prehistoric life, through examination of fossils. Palaeontology is, however, not just dinosaurs. Dinosaurs constitute a miniscule portion of what palaeontology is. After all, a myriad of different, and often down-right bizarre, organisms lived long before the dinosaurs and ended up as fossils under their feet. Regardless, the imagination and wonderment that dinosaurs create are why they are considered a symbol for palaeontology – they are a gateway into this most incredible of sciences. The geology and palaeontology in Britain is incredibly diverse. Rocks of almost every geological period are exposed and have been studied for hundreds of years. This provided a platform for geology and palaeontology to flourish and evolve. Some rather notable individuals include the geologist, William Smith – the ‘Father of Geology’. In 1815, Smith created the very first geological map of England, Wales and part of Scotland, a ground-breaking achievement. Incredible fossil discoveries found along the beach at Lyme Regis, by the greatest fossil hunter ever, Mary Anning, paved the way for the first scientific descriptions of large, extinct reptiles – the ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. The Rev William Buckland provided the very first scientific description of a dinosaur – this would change the world. Fig. 1. The author pictured with dinosaur footprints at Hanover Point, Brook, Isle of Wight (2014). Our fascination and intrigue in studying and examining the rocks and fossils within has unlocked an ancient, alien world. If you … Read More

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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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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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Mineral classics from Wales

Tom Cotterell (UK) Ask any mineral collector to name a classic mineral locality or region in Britain and they will probably think of Cornwall or Devon, perhaps Weardale in Co Durham, or even the Caldbeck Fells or the West Cumbrian iron mining district in Cumbria – but probably not Wales. This is not to say that Wales has no classic minerals, but is perhaps a reflection of collecting habits and the preference for large, brightly coloured crystals. Wales has a long history of mining dating back to, at least, the Bronze Age, but, unlike some other regions, there does not appear to have been a desire by miners to extract mineral specimens for sale. Indeed, a network of mineral dealers, as was clearly present in Cornwall during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, was totally absent in Wales. One factor is that the establishment of a National Museum in Wales occurred relatively late (in 1907) and did not open to the general public until the 1920s. Before this, there was no central repository for specimens collected in Wales and, consequently, mineral collections with historical significance are rare in the Principality. The university colleges founded during the 1870s and 1880s built up their own academic collections. Earlier still, the Royal Institute of South Wales (founded in Swansea in 1835), established geological collections, but its focus appears (from what records remain) to have been wide ranging and not specific to Wales. Therefore, during the heyday of mining in Wales, the lack of one … Read More

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Barry’s secret dinosaurs

Ryan Clayton (UK) I have always been curious about footprints and trackways made by prehistoric animals, especially dinosaurs, due to the concept that the ground has captured the process of an animal, which is now long dead and their species extinct. I find it even more exciting when the creature that made the tracks is not known from physical remains, as it allows the opportunity for absolutely anyone subsequently to discover bones or even skeletons which can be associated with the preserved trace fossils. An ichnogenus (a genus only known from trace fossils) can be identified, but the actual physical profile of the animal remains a mystery. I’ve known for many years that, not far from the town of Barry in South Wales, there are trackways made by different dinosaur genera and sizes at Bendrick Rock. As a student studying less than 30km away, it would soon be a place I would explore as the workload calmed after my first year in 2015. On scanning the ground when visiting for the first time, I knew all I needed to do was find that first print with the iconic ‘three toes’ or tridactyl track. After that, every depression I could see was a footprint. The opportunity of being able to put my hand down on the same bit of ground on which a dinosaur had walked about 200Ma, which no one has any idea what it looked like, was, for me, extraordinary. Fig. 1. A photograph capturing the density of tracks … Read More

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