Jon Trevelyan (UK) If Yorkshire really is ‘God’s Own County’, then clearly the Almighty is an enthusiastic geologist. Just how lucky is the Yorkshire man who, on the same day, can see some of the best and most varied geology in the world, set out in glorious coastal and mountain … Read More
Dick Mol and Bernard Buigues (The Netherlands) The ivory industry is flourishing using mammoth tusks and, illegally, the tusks of modern elephants. The growing hunt for mammoth tusks hampers palaeontological research and, as the two ivories are hard to distinguish, enforcement of endangered species legislation is impeded. Changes in legislation may not be practicable. However, education of the mammoth hunters may result in a win-win situation. This has now begun and the resulting co-operation has already lead to, and may lead to, more important discoveries and the securing of the remains for scientific exploration. Introduction The use of mammoth ivory for the construction of tools and artefacts is already known from Palaeolithic time. Our ancestors have used it for weapons and ornaments. The quality of the ivory of woolly mammoths, Mammuthus primigenius, found in the permafrost of Siberia as well as in North America (Alaska, USA and Yukon, Canada), is of outstanding quality and easily processed by the ivory industry. The quantity of traded ivory is substantial and the first overview of those traded amounts has been archived by Tolmachoff (1929). After this inventory, the trade has continued at an accelerated pace, especially during the last decade. Apart from the commercial value for the ivory industry, individual collectors and natural history museums often want to possess complete tusks. These intense collecting activities destroy enormous amounts of palaeontological data and obstruct the investigation of Pleistocene mammals and their habitats. It was our objective to start a discussion on how to counteract … Read More
Richard M Haw (UK) Blue John is a unique variety of blue-purple banded fluorite. Hydrocarbons or oils have been deposited on some of the crystal surfaces while the mineral was forming. These oil layers are partly responsible for giving the stone an alternate blue and white banding, best seen when the stone is cut in section. It is not known to occur anywhere else in the world and is conﬁned to an area of about 1km³ of the Carboniferous “reef” limestones at Castleton in Derbyshire. Fig. 1. Old picture taken sometime in the 1870s, showing miners digging in the Old Dining Room, now part of the show caves. I have been involved with the public caverns here for a while and I am sure many of you have visited them. However, there are many people who have never even heard of Blue John, so the following article gives a general overview without intending to be too technical. The area Castleton is a small village located in Derbyshire’s “Peak District” between the cities of Manchester and Shefﬁeld. The village is dominated by the ruins of Peveril Castle that was built by the Normans to oversee lead mining in the area. The scenery around Castleton forms a dramatic backdrop and the rolling limestone hills end abruptly atthe vertical face of Mam Tor. Beyond and to the north are the gritstone moors known as the “Dark Peak” that eventually lead up to the two-thousand-foot-high plateau of Kinder Scout. Castleton and the surrounding area … Read More
Deborah Painter (USA) In many states of the United States and in many locales in the United Kingdom, there are historic markers at the site of an important historic home or event. However, I wonder if every accessible rock formation had its own historic marker, would more people take the time to learn about it? The entire history of the planet is seen in rock formations. Just west of the town of Hancock, in the state of Maryland, USA at Mile Marker 74 on Interstate 68 (coordinates 39° 43’ 11.54” N, 78° 16’ 58.29” W) is the Sideling Hill road cut, a textbook example of tight folds in a mountain (Fig. 1). Until relatively recently, the visitors centre located adjacent to the cut was a perfectly complete historic marker. It gave travellers not only a place to stop to buy refreshments and relax at a picnic table surrounded by shade trees. It also provided an opportunity to read about the history of a spectacular cut in a mountain resulting from a need for safer transportation through a difficult and rugged stretch of road. Fig. 1. View west along Interstate 68 and US Route 40 (National Freeway) from the Victor Cushwa Memorial Bridge as it passes through the Sideling Hill Road Cut in Forest Park, Washington County, Maryland. (Credits: Famartin, Wikimedia Commons.) The centre still helps motorists see a geological formation safely from a walkway and an enclosed bridge. Sideling Hill’s transportation story goes back to the earlier days of road … Read More
Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) The city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands is surrounded by a great defensive earthwork on its landward side, the Stelling van Amsterdam (= Defence Line of Amsterdam), along which are a series of forts and batteries (Figs. 1A-E and 2). This major structure was built between 1880 and 1914. The principle feature of this defensive system is a raised earthen embankment or dyke, still imposing today although breached or flattened in many places to make way for modern developments, most commonly roads. The embankment is often flanked by two canals, one on either side. Fig. 1. (A, B) The Battery on the Sloterweg, Hoofddorp, Noord Holland, the Netherlands.(A) General view of the Battery, looking approximately northwest.(B) Nameplate.(C-E) Three views of the restored embankment between the Battery on the Sloterweg and Hoofddorp station.(C) The view southeast on the northeast side of the embankment from the R-Net bus stop (routes 300 and 310) at Hoofddorp station, looking towards the Battery. The cycle path crosses the bridge and continues away from the photographer. Note the blue tractor scraping the embankment.(D) The view southeast on the southwest side of the embankment from the R-Net bus stop at Hoofddorp station, looking towards the Battery (at the end of the path in the distance). Again, note the tractor scraping the surface.(E) The view northwest from the Battery, looking towards Hoofddorp station, showing the ‘exposure’ in the foreground, which was particularly productive of builders’ rubble, including lithic fragments.(F) Details of the granite … Read More
Jon Trevelyan Britain has a long and proud history of geological museums (and museums that have significant geological collections) dating back at least to early Victorian times. One need only think of William Smith’s revolutionary and magnificent, 1829 Rotunda in Scarborough to understand this (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. The Rotunda, Scarborough. Here, Smith’s fossils were (and are once again, after significant renovation to the building) arranged up a spiral staircase in the order they occur in the rock column – an extremely modern way of doing things. And, of course there is Richard Owen’s Victorian masterpiece, the Natural History Museum in London with, among many other things, its dinosaurs and exhibits of other fossils (Fig. 2). Fig. 2. The Natural History Museum, London. However, the venerable NHM raises an important question. To create a display for the public, to what extent should museums use push-button technology and pretty pictures, rather than displays of the actual subject matter? In recent years, it seems that museums increasingly want to cater merely for children (and certainly not adults), who (apparently) can only be engaged by technology rather than, for example, a well-labelled and beautifully prepared fossil ammonite. The belief seems to be that they simply cannot look at exhibits in the way that Victorians did – with specimens set out in cabinets – but rather, need to be engaged by electronics and graphics that are one remove from the subject matter itself. I suspect that it was this belief that lead the NHM … Read More
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.
Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) The Low Netherlands, much of which is below sea level, is a broad area of the country that (very approximately) parallels the coast and is kept ‘dry’ by major works of civil engineering (IDG, 1985, pp. 6-7). Geologically, it is a flat expanse of Holocene deposits; most of the author’s experience is in the coastal plain (de Gans, 2007), where I both live and work. There is no significantly older geological deposit or feature anywhere in this region – no coastal cliffs, mountains or quarries to tempt the attention of the wandering Earth scientist. So, it is commonly the ex situ that demands the geologist’s attention rather than the in situ. For example, I have commented previously on such diverse topics as the use of imported limestone to make a false natural bridge (Donovan, 2014), various aspects of building stones (for example, Donovan, 2015, 2019) and gabions mimicking sedimentary bedding, at least from a distance (Donovan, 2018). Of these examples, the natural bridge is the most exotic; although such a bridge might be expected in karstified limestone landscapes almost anywhere, my own experiences of them are limited to the Antilles (Miller and Donovan, 1999; Donovan et al., 2014). In this article, I describe a further man-made structure mimicking an even more exotic geomorphological phenomenon, most closely associated in the minds of Earth scientists with Africa. It is a structure that I have, until now, only known from textbooks – I refer to a mock inselberg … Read More
This is certainly a somewhat different sort of book from those I usually review. As it makes clear, women have always played key roles in the field of vertebrate palaeontology, going back centuries. However, other than perhaps the most best known historical female vertebrate palaeontologists comparatively little is known about these women scientists and their true contributions have probably been obscured. In this context, the book aims to reveal this hidden history, thereby celebrating the diversity and importance of women VPs.
Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) It was a dry Saturday in February (2014), but it was blowing a gale such that some gusts stopped me dead in my tracks. My son, Pelham, and I were out for a walk in the Haarlemmermeersebos, which roughly translates as ‘the wood of the lake of Haarlem’. The area where we live, which includes the nearby Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport, is the bed of a lake that was drained over 160 years ago. So it is a flat, featureless, polder landscape (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1985, pp. 10-11), apart from what man has put into it; and is criss-crossed by canals and, less commonly, dotted by lakes. The canals in the Haarlemmermeersebos landscape that are intended for water transport are few; rather, most are part of the water management system in a landscape that is below sea level. In such a landscape, the weekend geologist must look hard for ‘exposures’. Building and decorative stones are always of interest (Donovan, 2014). Beachcombing on the nearby North Sea coast can be rewarding, particularly after storms when Quaternary peat clasts are washed up on the shore (Donovan, 2013). But, in truth, there is more potential for the geomorphologist than the geologist or palaeontologist. The point of our excursion in a gale was to model palaeontological collecting and to hone our observational skills in the open air. I had discovered a path paved with many hundreds of recent sea shells and rare flint pebbles in the Haarlemmermeersebos (Fig. … Read More
Ray Goodwin (UK) It was a hot and sultry summer afternoon in August 1800. A happy crowd was gathered in the small town of Lyme to watch an exhibition of horse jumping in the nearby Rack Field. No one could have guessed that, before the day was out, tragedy would strike from the skies and three women would lie dead beneath a clump of elm trees. With a little 15-month-old baby in her arms, Elizabeth Haskings and two young friends hurried for shelter as, late in the afternoon, the sky darkened and torrential rain began to pour down from the heavens. Minutes later, a brilliant ﬂash of lightning hit the trees and a terrible thunderclap reverberated around the nearby cliffs. As the rain stopped, a horriﬁed crowd walked towards the trees and, amid the charred remains, they saw the outlines of three huddled bodies lying on the ground. The three women were terribly burnt and had been killed instantly. Sheltered by the body of Elizabeth, the baby lay unconscious but, after bathing in water, soon recovered consciousness. Legend has it that she was transformed from being a quiet, ordinary baby into a child of exceptional liveliness and intelligence. Whether this was strictly true or not, we may never know. However, it is a fact that the child, whose name was Mary Anning, was destined to become one of the greatest palaeontologists of the early nineteenth century. Mary Anning was born on 21 May 1799 in the small Dorset town of Lyme. … Read More
Philip Dunkerly (UK) In A geological model for the alluvial gold environment (Part 1), the first part of this article, I discussed how alluvial gold is found and suggested a geological model for alluvial gold deposits. (Readers are recommended to have another look at that part to remind them of the model.) In this second part, I now turn to the nature of the gold itself. Fig. 1. Gold bullion bars of 400 troy oz. Fig. 2. Sites from around the world. Gulch gold Gulch gold is the coarsest that exists in any part of a river system. If nuggets (pieces of gold weighing more than 0.1g) are present, they will mostly be found in gulches (narrow ravines), provided suitable traps are present, such as irregular bedrock. In gulch alluvium, the vast majority of the gold will be found on, or in crevices within, the bedrock. Gulch gold is often coarse and angular and may contain silicate debris, especially quartz. As examples, gold from Victoria Gulch on the Klondike was described as “sharply angular”. In the Ballarat gullies, some enormous nuggets were found and Canadian Gully yielded nuggets of 50.4, 34.7 and 31.4kg. At Bendigo, White Horse Gully, a 17.8kg nugget (including some quartz) was found. (Interestingly, of a list of 92 Victorian nuggets, 34 came from localities specifically named “gullies”.) Finally, in the Sierra Nevada of California, most of the gold is from gulches or minor streams close to croppings. Fig. 3. Old hydraulicking operation of terrace gravels, note … Read More
Fred Clouter (UK) The Isle of Sheppey is situated at the mouth of the Thames estuary and is a part of the North Kent marshes. The north coast of the island has about 5km of London Clay exposures that are highly fossiliferous. The London Clay here was laid down between 54 and 48mya, during the Eocene epoch, on the shallow shelf of a semi-tropical sea near the estuary of a major river system. I cannot remember just when it was that I decided to embark on the project of building a website about fossils and fossil collecting in the Isle of Sheppey. However, I do know that a combination of factors led to it. The first was my rapidly growing collection of fossils from this area. The second was the book London Clay Fossils of the Isle of Sheppey that the then Medway Lapidary and Mineral Society had decided would make a good Millennium project. Information covering the fantastic fossils found there was not readily available. The only information often could only be found in old and difficultto- obtain monographs written in the Nineteenth Century or books written in French relating to fish fossils found in Britain or in Belgium and Holland where there are deposits of a similar age. As this book was a collective undertaking, my role was to take the pictures. This meant that I would have access to fossils from many private collections as well as some held in various museums. Lastly and most importantly, was … Read More
Philip Dunkerly (UK) Mankind almost certainly first found gold when a yellow, glint from the bottom of a stream bed attracted the attention of one of our ancestors in pre- historic Africa. Ever since, the allure of gold – its colour, improbable density, malleability and scarceness – meant it has been prized, and great efforts have been made to accumulate it. Most ancient peoples venerated and coveted gold and used it for decoration, and empires used gold as a store of value and a medium of exchange. The Egyptians are known to have used gold as early as about 5000 BC, followed by many others, including the Romans, the Incas, the Spaniards and, of course, the Anglo-Saxon invaders of North America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Fig. 1. Spectacular Roman paleogravel workings at Las Medulas, NW Spain, now a World Heritage site. The mouth of one of the tunnels through which water was released from a header tank is visible in the shadow. Fig. 2. Panoramic view of Las Medulas, worked by sluicing using water brought through canals up to 60km long. Though gold was won from hard-rock deposits in ancient times, most gold until perhaps 1900 was won from riverbeds, and was traditionally called alluvial or placer gold. Prospecting for alluvial gold required relatively little equipment and always attracted hardy pioneers willing to forego the comforts of society in the hope of ‘getting rich quick’. The gold they found – if they were lucky – could almost instantly be … Read More
Michael E Howgate (UK) Back in the days when I gave my ‘Doctor Dinosaur’ talks to museums, school groups and ‘gifted children’, I would take with me: a plaster cast of the Baryonyx claw; a beach rolled Iguanodon vertebra; and, star of the show, ‘a fossilised dinosaur poo’ (which, in reality, was an Ichthyosaurus coprolite from Lyme Regis). These were some of my collection of props, which helped engage the children through what might otherwise have been a run-of-the-mill slide presentation. Some of the bits-and-pieces I picked up to pass around among the children were a selection of broken and hence dirt cheap Carcharodon megalodon teeth (Fig. 1). (I use Carcharodon instead of the more correct Carcharocles as it is still in common use. The term ‘Megalodon tooth’ is often used by fossil dealers as a short-hand term.) These stood in for the teeth of every child’s favourite dinosaur, the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex. I would pass the teeth round and get the children to feel the serrated edge as a prelude to explaining how a serrated blade was better at cutting steak – or even a loaf of bread – than a sharper carving knife. “Only try this at home if you are supervised by both parents” was my health and safety rider at the end of this explanation. Fig. 1. Half of a C. megalodon tooth. A cheap and cheerful stand-in for a T. rex tooth. Carcharodon (now Carcharocles) megalodon, which used to be considered the ancestor of the … Read More
Maybe it’s a result of my social anthropology and geological background, but I found this difficult but fascinating book a great read. It’s about nineteenth century India. It is not about the modern geological science or social anthropology of the subcontinent, but rather, the geological imagination of India, as well as its landscapes and people, and its history.
Khursheed Dinshaw (India) Raiyoli is a village near Balasinor in the state of Gujarat, India, which has been attracting palaeontologists because of its dinosaur fossil park (Fig. 1). Curious to know more about the park, I visited Balasinor to meet Princess Aaliya Sultana Babi (Fig. 2), who is also known as the ‘Dinosaur Princess’. I had booked my stay at The Garden Palace, which is the private residence of the royal family of Balasinor. The property also offers guests’ accommodation and signature experiences. While relishing a sumptuous dinner and chatting with the warm and hospitable princess, I learnt about how she got involved with the site: “In the year 1997, Raiyoli was visited by leading palaeontologists from the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan for excavation purposes. They came to our residence for tea and, during the conversation about the site, I realised that it was time to act on my calling. I say “act” because my mother, Begum Farhad Sultana, used to tell me that, as a child when I was learning the alphabet, when it came to the letter ‘D’, it was not D for ‘dog’. Instead I learnt D for ‘dinosaur’. Spellings like Brontosaurus fascinated me even then,” she mentioned nostalgically. Fig 1. The Dinosaur Fossil Park at Raiyoli. The timing to get involved with dino-tourism was right, as foreigners began to express an interest in visiting the site. So, who better than Aaliya to guide and show them around the site? Her passion and dedication … Read More
Biddy Jarzembowski, Chris Proctor and Ed Jarzembowski (UK) In this concluding part of the mini-series, we show the archaic wet forest at Writhlington (Fig. 9) which is the most familiar palaeohabitat associated with the Carboniferous age of coal. In the absence of flowering plants, the forest was less biodiverse than today’s tropical forest and more varied along the river banks (Fig. 5 in Part 2) than in the swamp. We also look in on the denizens of a forest pool (Fig. 10) and restore an extinct giant millipede (Fig. 11), one of the largest arthropods that ever lived, represented by tracks and body fossils there. An archaeorthopteran insect was seen at a distance in Part 1 (Fig. 3) and a brand-new image of another, but close up, is presented here (Fig. 12). The fossiliferous rock tipped at Writhlington represents only a fraction of Carboniferous time, much more being locked up in the mass of peat that turned into coal. The latter went mainly to fire Portishead Power Station in North Somerset and would have included peatland palaeohabitats not reconstructed here. It is the ancient fresh-water floodplain (making up the miner’s ‘roof shale’) that has been explored in detail so far. More information can be found in:Jarzembowski, E. A. 2004. Atlas of animals from the Late Westphalian of Writhlington, United Kingdom. Geologica Balcanica, 34: 47-50, pls 1-2. Jarzembowski, E. A. 2018. Writhlington Geological Nature Reserve. In Geological sites of the Bristol Region. BRERC, Bristol.Proctor, C. J. and Jarzembowski, E. A. 1999. Habitat … Read More
I like palaeoart. I recently went to the ‘Dinosaurs of China’ exhibition in Nottingham (reviewed in Issue 51 of this magazine) and bought myself a copy of the Chinese palaeoartist, Zhao Chuang’s ‘The Age of Dinosaurs’ – a veritable picture-fest of up-to-date reconstructions of ancient beasts and plants, complete with fuzzy raptors and other bird-like therapods.
Biddy Jarzembowski, Chris Proctor and Ed Jarzembowski (UK) In Part 1 of this article (Writhlington revisited (Part 1): A polychrome perspective), we focused on forest arthropods associated with scale trees (Figs. 1 to 4) that were found in the Coal Measures of Writhlington batch, near Radstock, in southwest England. We now move on to other palaeohabitats represented there some 308 million years ago. All too often, reconstructions and restorations of the Carboniferous combine diverse organisms in a single view of the terrestrial realm. (They are frequently likened to the modern Amazon, but apart from being tropical with luxuriant vegetation, the ancient communities differed in composition, species richness and sedimentary environment.) We have departed from this with several different scenes here based on the fossil assemblages and rock lithologies: mixed forest (Fig. 5), river floodplain (Fig. 6) and river channel, the latter with some large (Fig. 7) and small (Fig. 8) animals. Fig. 5. The mixed forest is depicted on drier swamp margins as near the raised river banks (levees). This diverse community is still dominated by scale trees (Lepidodendron and Sigillaria species) but with an understorey of seed ferns (Alethopteris and Neuropteris spp.) and tree ferns (Pecopteris sp.). The more herbaceous cover is provided by horsetails (Sphenophyllum, Calamites and Annularia spp.). The plant names are given generically because the species are based on details of bark and foliage which are too small to see in the painting. Fig. 6. A muddy, upper delta floodplain with temporary shallow lakes and ponds … Read More
Biddy Jarzembowski, Chris Proctor and Ed Jarzembowski (UK) Thanks to ‘King Coal’, it is perhaps all too easy to visualise the Carboniferous Period – and especially the Pennsylvanian Subperiod – in black and white or shades of grey. The Earth’s first tropical forests – which gave us peat which turned to coal – were, however, perhaps no less colourful than some modern forests. The long-term project at Writhlington, near Radstock, currently in Bath and North East Somerset (UK), has produced a rich fossil record from the Farrington Formation dating back some 308myrs BP (to the late Asturian (Westphalian D) subage or late Moscovian). Not only has it produced many specimens, but has also allowed meaningful correlation between fossil assemblages and rock types (lithologies) left discarded on the waste tip (batch) of the former Lower Writhlington Colliery. (The finds at Writhlington can be explored by a list of further reading, which will be given in Part 3.) In the closing years of the last century, one of us (Chris) produced several reconstructions in traditional black and white, which illustrated several learned papers and regional museum displays. These included the palaeohabitat as well as selected species. Here, Biddy has applied paint brush and water colours for the first time to these scientific restorations for a new audience – tantalisingly, due to the remoteness of the age of coal. Ed has composed some explanatory notes to accompany the pictures in this three-part mini-series. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the RJG Savage … Read More
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.
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
Byron Blessed (UK) As many of us know, a good day’s fossil hunting rarely stops when we leave the beach. However, many people do not know what to do with a fossil once they’ve found it. So, here are a few pointers in the art of fossil preparation. This article will not only outline what equipment you will need but will also give you general guidelines on how to use it. Fig. 1. The various stages of prep-work. Nautilusastercoides, found in the Upper Lias, Sandsend,near Whitby in North Yorkshire, UK. The first thing that any fossil preparator needs (and it isn’t something you can buy) is a lot of patience. The second thing you need is … a lot of patience! This cannot be stressed enough. Fossil preparation is a long, sometimes boring and laborious process and it is all too easy to damage specimens by being too hasty! It must also be noted that fossil preparation is not something that can easily and successfully be taken up overnight. Most of the best preparators have been in the business for decades. To think that you can immediately match their skills over night is naïve to say the least. Like any good hobby or job, practice makes perfect. In addition, it can be very costly to get all the right kit so this can become an expensive hobby. Washing specimens under the tap is a good, first step and will reveal hidden detail by removing unwanted mud and sand. Many clays … Read More
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.
Jon Trevelyan (UK) In Issue 60 of Deposits, I restarted my occasional series on UK geological museum with a visit to the Booth Museum in Brighton (see Geology museums of Britain: The Booth Museum of Natural History, Brighton). Having more time on my hands than I would like during the Covid-19 lockdown, I got to thinking about a recent visit I made to the Museum of London in the Barbican in the City of London. I expect that most people would not link this excellent museum to anything geological, but they would be wrong. In fact, there are many exhibits from the prehistory of the capital and these include fossils of animals that lived in the region and stone tools from our ancient ancestors, who shared the area (Figs. 1 and 2). Fig. 1. A somewhat demonic looking auroch (Bos primigenius), which is an extinct species of large, wild cattle. These were domestic during the Neolithic Revolution, such that modern breeds share characteristics of the aurochs. Fig. 2. Flint tools found at Swanscombe. In fact, the museum’s oldest items date back to when London was tundra and the local population would fit into one of its iconic double-decker buses. During these times, there were several different species of humans occupying the Thames Valley, firstly as hunter gatherers and only later creating fixed settlements. Human and animal species roamed the open steppe-tundra, until their final disappearance about 30,000 years ago; and Neanderthal groups probably shared the valley with modern humans. And … Read More
Carl Mehling (USA) Things aren’t always what they seem. The fluidity of information and the frailties of human memory allow for a lot of corruption. Innocent assumptions are made. Sloppy mistakes take place. Unforeseeable accidents occur. And deliberate subterfuge is always there as an option when these others fail. Throw a little time at them and mis- and disinformation get lithified, entrenching them in the human psyche and culture. Fighting for accuracy is a continuous battle. A wing and a prayer Once almost considered throw-away parts of the bird, chicken wings have soared to unimaginable heights since their transformation into ubiquitous bar food in the 60s. Buffalo wings are so absurdly popular in the US that possibly-calculated rumours often circulate that a wing drought is coming, causing the requisite panic. Sports bars riot over this dearth, prompting half-serious suggestions of breeding chickens with more than the pathetic pair that their lineage has provided. Anything this popular inevitably spawns feuds over priority: Who gets to claim bragging rights for such a powerful, lasting and lucrative phenomenon? Fig. 1. Were the origins of Buffalo Wings in a science pub or a brew pub? This certainly happened with Buffalo wings. I’ll spare you the gory details, but although hard to prove definitively, most have settled on the idea that the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY began this tangy trend in 1964. However, as it turns out, it can be demonstrated that the origin of buffalo wings actually happened elsewhere, and in 1962. Or, … Read More
Mary Anning was clearly one of the most significant characters of eighteenth century science and possibly of all time, particularly in the realm of palaeontology. I am not sure that she is quite as unknown (certainly in the UK) as the American author this excellent little biography claims, but she certainly should be better known.
Deborah Painter (USA) “Look over there!” I exclaimed as I stood on the grounds of a manufacturing plant and stared across the tracks of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad to the east of the plant. I was pointing at several mountains a few kilometres in the distance. “That mountain is glowing!” Standing alongside me was James, the plant’s maintenance supervisor. “I guess because I’ve seen this for the past 14 years, I don’t even pay attention anymore” was his reply. The mountain was not glowing due to any internal source but because exceptionally light toned granites captured and reflected rays of sun streaming from behind a December cloud cover (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. The mountain glowed in the shaft of light, as the sun peeked from behind a cloud. (Credits: Deborah Painter.) The mountains looked like this for most of that chilly day and the glow shifted from mountain to mountain (Fig. 2). Fig. 2. A remarkable combination of December light and greyish-white toned granites produced this day-long glow in the Bernasconi Hills. (Credits: Deborah Painter.) The granitic mountain cluster was in Perris, a city in Riverside County, California in the USA. I have had the good fortune to visit this county twice recently on two separate and unrelated trips a few years apart. And my friend, Mike Ramsey, had been with me on both trips to this same county. He was with me and a friend late in November when we visited another friend in nearby Moreno … Read More
David M Martill (UK) After several gruelling years of working in the sticky wet Jurassic clay pits of the Peterborough district for their gigantic marine reptiles and even more massive fishes, it was a refreshing change to fly south and investigate the sun-baked Caatinga of South America. The Chapada do Araripe, on the borders of the Brazilian states of Ceará, Pernambuco and Piaui, had always fascinated me (Fig. 1). Fig. 1a (left). A map showing the location of the Chapada do Araripe in the northeast of Brazil. Fig. 1b (above). Detail of the Chapada do Araripe. This is one of the most important sites in the world for Cretaceous Gondwanan fossil fauna and flora. I had seen specimens of the fabulous fossil fishes (I hope you like the alliteration) in limestone concretions (Fig. 2) that kept turning up in European fossil shops, but what had really caught my eye was a short letter to the scientific journal Nature that described fossil ostracods from those very same concretion horizons. Fig. 2. A typical concretion from the Santana Formation, with a not so typical fish. This is one of the rare fossil rays. I am not an aficionado of ostracods: who is? They mostly look like small baked beans, and it is so tedious trying to mount them on stubs so that you can see them under the electron microscope. No, it was the remarkable quality of their preservation that caught my eye. The specimens in question were described by Ray Bate, … Read More