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Stop the press: The Jurassic Coast starts in the Permian

Mervyn Jones (UK) This Geologists’ Association field meeting followed the publication of Professor John Cope’s Geologists’ Association (GA) Guide No 73, Geology of the South Devon Coast. It is also the companion to GA Guide No 22, Geology of the Dorset Coast. John retired in 2003 after lecturing at Swansea and Cardiff universities. Since then, he has been an Honorary Research Fellow at the National Museum Wales in Cardiff, and has a wide field experience in the UK and Europe, with publications covering many fossil groups over a wide stratigraphical range. Most recently he has been working on redrawing the geological map of South Wales, the subject of an upcoming GA lecture. And, each year, for the past six years, he has provided weekend geological trips to the West Country. Fig. 1. Prof Cope demonstrates bedding and cleavage. We met up at Meadfoot Strand to the east of Torquay Harbour. Our mission for the weekend was to examine the complex Devonian succession in the Torbay area and its unconformable relationship to the Permo-Triassic cover. Of great interest was the marine Devonian, first described by Adam Sedgwick, assisted by Roderick Impey Murchison, who finally realised that these facies were contemporaneous with the familiar Old Red Sandstone found north of the Bristol Channel. Since then, the Devonian Stages have been named after rocks in the Czech Republic, Germany and Belgium. The base of the Devonian was the first ‘Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point’ (GSSP), defined by graptolite zones at Klonk, in … Read More

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Geological transformation of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

Khursheed Dinshaw (India) In this article, I will briefly deal with the fascinating and relatively recent geological transformation of the Sharjah region of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Sharjah needs no introduction in terms of it being a popular tourist destination, especially for families. However, very few know how it was formed and subsequently transformed. In this article, I hope to explain this fascinating aspect of Sharjah. From the beginning At the beginning of the Miocene Period, 23 Ma, Arabia finally split from Africa along the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden became a separate plate. This new plate moved in a northerly direction and collided with, and was subducted under, the Eurasian continent (Fig. 1). The Strait of Hormuz also closed as the remains of the Tethys Ocean formed a rapidly subsiding basin in which thick layers of salt were deposited. Large scale folding and faulting took place in the UAE producing hills of folded rock, such as Jebel Fai’yah and Jebel Hafit. Fig. 1. Granite from continental drift. In the eastern part of the UAE, uplift of the Al-Hazar Mountains began. This continued into the Pliocene Period, from 5 to 2 Ma. In the late Miocene and Pliocene, the Sharjah region finally rose above sea level and the landscape we see today was formed. Fig. 2. Various rock exhibits at the Sharjah Natural History and Botanical Museum. When the region known as Sharjah rose above sea level, it allowed the area to be covered by the moving … Read More

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Dendermonde Mammoth: Fighting pyrite decay and the preservation of unique palaeontological heritage

Anthonie Hellemond (Belgium) Collecting fossil vertebrates is rather popular among amateur palaeontologists. However, little interest is shown in the different stages one should undertake to treat and safely guard these specimens for the future. Loads of fossils from historical collections are currently suffering because of years of storing and neglect. This might seem strange, since the fossils themselves have spent most of their time underground in very humid conditions, but in reality, problems only start right after digging them up. Following-up on the restoration project of the “Dendermonde Mammoth”, we want to give an insight into the problems one can encounter when dealing with the restoration and preservation of Pleistocene vertebrate remains that have remained untreated for the past 20 years. The discovery In the historical Belgian city centre of Dendermonde (French: Termonde), we find the city’s history (including natural history) museum called the “Vleeshuis” museum (the house of meat merchants). It is located in one of the most authentic sandstone buildings in the main market square of “Dendermonde” (a province of East-Flanders). Inside the majestic wooden attic of the museum, the city’s oldest resident watches over the collection, which is packed with fossils and artefacts from the last ice age and prehistory. When walking up the impressive stone stairs that lead to the attic, visitors will encounter the paleontological pride of the “Dender” valley (the river flowing through Dendermonde). When we take a closer look at the information signs, we learn that this mammoth was found between 1968 and … Read More

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Roman quarries in Austria and Germany: A short sight-seeing tour

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) This is the third of four articles on the quarries of the ancient world and later, and, in particular, the marble that was quarried there and the works of art made from it. The first is Mining in Ancient Greece and Rome and the second is Marble from the Isle of Paros – a tour of the ancient quarries. The ancient methods used An antique quarry is interesting because it is a place where raw material for buildings and sculptural works was extracted to specific sizes and shapes with the technical methods of that time. The mining techniques did not change very much from the earliest phases of human civilization until the end of antiquity, even though the methods used continuously improved over time. In ancient Greece, single blocks of the stone were separated by smashing several key holes into the rock wall, into which wooden wedges were driven. After that, the wedges were moistened, causing their expansion and the cracking of the block along the line of holes. For a better control of the rock fracture, long groves were carved into the blocks with iron tools, into which key holes were subsequently inserted. Alternatively, the blocks were completely split off from the rock walls by deep cuts in the rock and then separated from the ground using crowbars (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Separation of single blocks of rock using a crowbar and leverage. Since archaic times, rock saws have also been used. In the Roman … Read More

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Marble from the Isle of Paros in Ancient Greece: A tour of the ancient quarries

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) This is the second of four articles on the quarries of the ancient world and later, and, in particular, the marble that was quarried there and the artwork that was made from it. The first was Mining in Ancient Greece and Rome. Some introductory words In general, marble represents a coarse-grained metamorphic rock primarily consisting of the minerals calcite (CaCO3) and dolomite ((Ca,Mg) (CO3)2). The word ‘marble’ may be derived from the Greek term ‘marmaros’ (μάρμαρος), which means ‘shiny stone’. The earliest use of the rock dates back to the fourth millenium BC, when it was considered, for the first time, as appropriate material for the construction of buildings and the production of rather primitive sculptures. In the Classical era starting at the beginning of the fifth century BC, its use was subject to a remarkable increase, which, among other things, entailed the prevailance of this shiny material in ancient Greek architecture and sculptural art. At that time, marble was simply termed ‘white stone’ or ‘Pentelic, Hymettus or Parian stone’, thereby indicating its preferential origin from the quarries of Naxos, Paros and Mount Pentelicus. Although these mines attained extraordinary eminence in antiquity, marble was also exploited from the quarries of Eleusis, Tripoli, Argos, Selinus, Syracuse, Skyros and other places. Marble from Paros – a very particular stone Each marble originating from a local quarry is characterised by very specific features. Stone material from Mount Pentelicus is distinguished by its white colour and fine-grained texture, rather high … Read More

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Wieliczka Salt Mine of Poland (Part 2)

Khursheed Dinshaw (India) This the second of two articles on the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland. The first (Wieliczka Salt Mine of Poland (Part 1)) covered some of the highlights that can be seen there. This one covers some more of these features, but also deals with the geology of the site. The journey began in the Miocene period, which was about 13.5Ma, when the crystallisation of salt dissolved in sea water occurred. These salt deposits combined with rocks that normally accompany salt that occupied what was known as the Pre-Carpathian Sink. Subjected intensively to the tectonic process, these salt deposits shifted and folded. About 6,000 years ago, the local people of Wieliczka in Poland started to produce salt by evaporating salty water. In the thirteenth century, when the sources of the salty water were almost exhausted, they began to sink wells hoping to find salty water under the ground. In 1289, at the bottom of one of the wells, the first lump of the grey rock salt was found and that was the beginning of the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Today, the mine is divided into two portions. While its upper stratum is the block type, its lower stratum is of the stratified type; and visitors learn about salt, its excavation and types as they walk with their designated guides across chambers, pathways, tunnels, chapels and lakes. In the olden days, the equipment to transport salt from one level to another included wooden carts and trolleys. At Wieliczka, these are … Read More

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Wieliczka Salt Mine of Poland (Part 1)

Khursheed Dinshaw (India) The Wieliczka Salt Mine of Poland was included in the first UNESCO World Heritage list in 1978. It is also on the Polish List of Historic Heritage and, when visiting, provides an interesting way to get to know how salt has been mined underground for almost nine centuries. In the summer, almost 8,000 tourists a day visit Wieliczka, which has 500 tour guides and 400 miners maintaining the mine. After buying your ticket, you are allotted a guide who will take you around the mine. Patrycya, our guide, has been on the job for 20 years and we enthusiastically followed her to explore the beauty, material culture and historic heritage of the mine and its excavated complex. Fig. 1. Kinga – the patroness of the miners, along with other salt sculptures. We opted for the tourist route, which lets you explore chambers, galleries, chapels and lakes. The mine has been opened to the public with this route since the end of the eighteenth century and has more than 300km of galleries and almost 3,000 chambers. It is divided into nine floors at depths varying from 64m to 327m. We went down to the third floor, which is at a depth of 135m. To get to the first level, one has to walk down 380 wooden steps, but the walk is comparatively easy. There are a total of 800 steps that tourists walk in the mine and, after the tour ends, a lift takes you to the exit … Read More

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Jurassic Coast (or is it?) with the Geologists’ Association

Mervyn Jones (UK) Since 2012, the Geologists’ Association (GA) has put on annual field trips to the Dorset coast led by Prof John CW Cope (of the National Museum Wales), who is author of the definitive Field Guide No 22. The second edition was published in April 2016 (Geology of the Dorset Coast (2nd ed)). In fact, the trips were started to celebrate the publication of the first edition of the guide. The Dorset Coast is often equated with the ‘Jurassic Coast’ when, in fact, the geology stretches from the topmost Triassic, near the Devon border, through Jurassic and Cretaceous successions, to Eocene deposits at Studland. For this and other reasons, it attracts amateur geologists in large numbers. John’s guide provides essential information including descriptions of the succession and practical guidance about access. What’s missing are the entertaining stories that John Cope can provide and the context provided by exploring inland a bit. Day 1 – Saturday (1 October) For our fifth field meeting, we met up in Lyme Regis (in the car park next to the newly-restored house originally owned by John Fowles – see below) – a town to stir the heart of any geologist. Our mission for the weekend was to look at the unconformity below the Cretaceous, as it oversteps the older Jurassic and Triassic strata progressively in a westerly direction. En route, we observed the instability of the cliffs and suffered the same ourselves, as we scrambled over the boulders and shingle. On this occasion, … Read More

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Musée-Parc des Dinosaures (Dinosaur Museum-Park) in Mèze, France

Fred Clouter (UK) Just a few kilometres inland from the Mediterranean Sea in the south of France, and not too far from Montpellier, is an extraordinary theme park. Driving along the D613 from Mèze towards Pezenas, a life size model of a Spinosaurus comes into view perched high on an embankment. Apart from some other very small signs, this is the main indication that the park is nearby. Fig. 1. Spinosaurus seen from the road from Meze. The Musée-Parc des Dinosaures (Dinosaur Museum and Park near the town of Mèze in the department of Hérault and is the largest site museum in Europe to feature dinosaur eggs and bones. Children can embark upon an amazing scientific adventure with the help of simple words displayed on large explanatory notice boards that are both fun and educational. All along the pathway that winds through the shady pine trees, children and adults can go back in time as they follow the trail punctuated with skeletons and life-size reconstructions. Fig. 2. Entrance to the park with children’s area. Fig. 3. Carnivore skull display. Fig. 4. Triceratops skeletal reconstruction. Fig. 5. Triceratops diorama. The other museum park within the Mèze site features the origins and evolution of man – from man’s earliest fossil skulls from Africa and his evolutionary journey out of Africa towards Homo sapiens. As you walk around the park, there are various exhibits reconstructing scenes of life from the famous fossil skeleton named Lucy and the australopithecines from Africa, to the Neanderthals. … Read More

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Hans Sloane’s fossil collection at the Natural History Museum, London

Dr Consuelo Sendino (UK) Sir Hans Sloane, the Founder of the British Museum, accumulated a large number of fossilised remains of animals and plants throughout his life. His collection, including curiosities from all around the known world, was acquired by the British Government in 1753 as part of Sloane’s bequest to the nation. It formed the core of the fossil collection of the Department of Natural History in the British Museum, and is now conserved in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum in London. Fig. 1. The statue of Sir Hans Sloane at Chelsea Physic Garden, London. This was unveiled on 30 April 2014 by a descendant of Sloane, Earl Cadogan. Hans Sloane (16 April 1660 – 11 January 1753) Hans Sloane was born on 16 April 1660 at 49 Frederick Street in Killyleagh, County Down in Ireland, although he was of Scottish ancestry. From a young age, Sloane showed an inclination for the study of natural history and medicine, collecting specimens from nearby Strangford Lough and as far afield as the Copeland Islands. He began studying medicine in 1679 in London, and finished his training in Paris and Montpellier in France, receiving his doctor of medicine degree at the University of Orange in France, on 28 July 1683. During this time, he was a frequent visitor to the Chelsea Physic Garden, established in 1673 by the Company of Apothecaries, as botany was considered to be fundamental to the medical curriculum. On his return to London, … Read More

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Highlights from the Museum am Löwentor in Germany

Jack Wilkin (UK) The Museum am Löwentor in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, is one of the world’s greatest depositories of fossils. The museum was founded in 1985 and, since then, it has built up a vast collection of over 4.1 million fossils and has a 3,500m2 exhibition space, spilt over two levels. It is organised in chronological order. As you progress through the building, you can trace the evolution of life on Earth from the first cells all the way to the present, telling a more-or-less complete story of Germany’s geological history. This brief article will focus on just a few of the highlights at the museum. The amber collection The museum houses roughly 30,000 amber specimens from around the world, including samples from the Dominican Republic, the Baltics and the Lebanon, to name just a few places. The highlights of the collection include the largest piece of amber in the world from the Miocene of Borneo, as well as the world’s biggest damselfly and dragonfly inclusions. Triassic vertebrates There is an extensive collection of Triassic vertebrates from Baden-Württemberg, including, not just complete skeletal reconstructions, but also realistic life models. Fig. 1. Exhibits at the museum.One group that is featured in the exhibit were the placodonts – an enigmatic group of marine reptiles that superficially resemble turtles, although the two groups are unrelated. Many species, such as Placodus gigas, had large, flat teeth designed for crushing shells. The apex land predator of Central Europe at the time was the 5.6m, Batrachotomus. It … Read More

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Geoscience highlights from the Harvard Museum of Natural History

Ruel A Macaraeg (USA) Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is among the world’s leading academic institutions and natural science is one of its most celebrated programs. Since its founding in the seventeenth century, the university has been a repository for specimens of scientific curiosity. Over time, these grew into three comprehensive reference collections – the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Harvard University Herbaria and the Harvard Mineralogical Museum. Selections from these were eventually gathered into the Harvard Museum of Natural History, which, in 1998, opened to the public alongside the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology with which it shares a building. Though retaining separate names and administration, the HMNH and PMAE are physically connected, and visitors to either gain entry to both with a single ticket. As one of these more recent visitors, I will share some brief impressions of the major palaeo and geoscience exhibits below. Mineralogical and geological gallery Geology displays worldwide tend to look the same – rows of labelled rocks grouped into categories in ascending shelves. Harvard’s geological gallery follows this pattern, but is distinguished by the inclusion of several large and notable mounts. Chief among these are two very large rocks, a gypsum crystal (Fig. 1) and an amethyst (Fig. 2). Fig. 1. Gypsum. Fig. 2. Amethyst. There are also several, well-preserved meteorites from locations across North America, some of which are shown in Fig. 3. Fig. 3. Meteorites. Fossil mammals A narrow, winding hallway somehow manages to display quite a few large Cainozoic … Read More

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Giant trilobites and biotite nodules in Portugal

Peter Perkins (UK) The generally accepted reason for the fame of Arouca is Princess Mafalda, born 1195, who was responsible for the convent becoming Cistercian. Here is an interesting story – she was beatified in 1793. However, I won’t go into that now, but it is well worth investigating. For this article, there are other reasons for its fame, at least among geologists. Arouca is 38km to the south east of Oporto, in northern Portugal, and gives its name to one of two geoparks in Portugal. In Arouca Geopark (Fig. 1), which has an area of 330km2 (just a little smaller than the Isle of Wight), there are two quite remarkable geological features, one palaeontological and the other concerning igneous petrology. Fig. 1. Map of Arouca Geopark. A geopark is an area of significant size that has a particular geological heritage, with a certain number of sites of special importance – scientific quality, rarity, aesthetic appeal and educational value. It must also have a sustainable strategy for development to be accepted as a member of the worldwide network of geoparks. There are 42 in Europe, in 16 countries. The other Portuguese Geopark is Naturtejo, through which the River Tagus flows. There are nine geoparks in the British Isles, for example, NW Highlands (Scotland), Copper Coast (Ireland), Fforest Fawr (Wales) and the English Riviera. The website, http://www.europeangeoparks.org, gives website addresses for all. The geology of Portugal is very complex. There are no strata younger than Triassic, except for Holocene deposits in … Read More

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New museum in northern Greece: The Siatista Historical Paleontological Collection, the first record of a stegodon in Europe and the making of the straight-tusked elephant

Dick Mol (The Netherlands), Evangelia Tsoukala (Greece), Evangelos Vlachos (Greece), Anna Batsi (Greece), Hans Wildschut (The Netherlands), Dimitra Labretsa (Greece) and Wilrie van Logchem (The Netherlands) The Historical Palaeontological Collection of Siatista (HPCS), housed in a school building in Siatista, Kozani, Macedonia in Greece, was studied by the authors during the summer of 2009. The collection was assembled by local people from 1902 onwards, under the initiative of Nikolaos Diamantopoulos. Anastasios Danas, a high school teacher at the Trampantzeion Gymnasium in Siatista, was the main collector and he founded the Siatista’s palaeontological collection in 1906. The recovered records of the collection are minimal and it is not always clear from which locality the fossils were collected. However, the archived documents indicate that all the fossils were collected in the larger region of Siatista. Fig. 1. Replica of the Pleistocene straight-tusked elephant, Elephas antiquus, the eyecatcher of the Siatista Museum In 1972, Prof Ioannis Melentis, famous for his studies and publications on the fossil proboscideans of Greece, realised the importance of the collection and, in 1980, he became involved in the study and management of the collection, which was officially donated to the community of Siatista in 1994. The first exhibition was held in the Trampantzeion in 1982. In 2011, the collection was put on display in this beautiful building in Siatista, which was built in 1888. In a short time, it became one of the attractions of Siatista, telling the story of the large pachyderms that once roamed the northern … Read More

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New look for Utahraptor

Kenneth Carpenter (USA) One hundred and twenty eight million years ago, a killer stalked eastern Utah. Known as Utahraptor, this distant relative of Velociraptor of Jurassic Park fame was also equipped with a sickle-claw on its hind feet. The name means “Utah’s raptor” with “raptor” being the informal name commonly (but incorrectly) used for the sickle-clawed dromaeosaurid theropods. Utahraptor was named in 1993 by Dr James Kirkland for bones from the Gaston Quarry (also known as Yellow Cat Quarry), north of Arches National Park. The Gaston Quarry occurs in the lower part of the Yellow Cat Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation. The presence of an ankylosaur related to Polacanthus at the Gaston Quarry suggests that the Yellow Cat Member is the same age as the Wealden Formation on the Isle of Wight, in other words, it lived 125 to 130mya. A radiometric date of 126 +2.5mya was obtained from the Yellow Cat Member which supports the dinosaur evidence for the age. Utahraptor has been found at several other sites in the Yellow Cat Member, so must have been relatively widespread in the region. Nevertheless, most of this material remains undescribed. Fig. 1. Some of the bones used in the original description of Utahraptor (scale is 10cm). Casts of these and other bones were used to make a new reconstruction. Until recently, what Utahraptor looked like relied a great deal on imagination. Several recent scientific studies have shown that Utahraptor is related to Achillobator, a dromaeosaurid from the middle of … Read More

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West Coast Fossil Park, Western Cape, South Africa

Margaret A Dale (UK) While planning a touring holiday, which encompassed part of the west coast of South Africa, I spotted the words “fossil park” on the map, about 150km north of Cape Town, some distance from a village called Langebaanweg. Intrigued to find out more, I searched the Internet to determine if it was accessible to the public and, if so, its opening times. I found nothing. Not to be deterred, my husband and I decided that, once we were in the country, the usual tourist literature would give us the required information. Unfortunately, once again, there was nothing. So, determined not to be defeated, we drove to the area in the hope we could find it and visit it. Fortunately, we managed both. The fossils in the park date back to the late Miocene and early Pliocene eras (Fig. 1). These are important periods in human evolution, since it is believed that the last common ancestor of humans and our closest living relatives – chimpanzees – lived during this period. Mio-Pliocene hominid fossils are extremely rare and have only ever been found in East Africa and not among the deposits found at the West Coast Fossil Park to date. Fig. 1. One of the many partly excavated fossil beds. With more than 200 different kinds of animals being identified, the park possibly represents: The greatest diversity of 5 to 5.2myr-old animal fossils found anywhere in the world; andThe richest fossil bird site older than 2myrs in the world.The … Read More

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On fossil beaked whales, phosphorites and ocean floors

Klaas Post (The Netherlands) In 2007, the vessel, Anita, was fishing with bottom gillnets in about 400m-deep waters northwest of the island of Mykines in the Faroe Islands (about 62˚05’N-09˚28’W). One day, fisherman Bjarni Jacobsen from the village of Sumba in the Faroe Islands, observed a strange object in the nets. At first sight he thought it was a peculiar stone (stones often get entangled in the nets). However, he soon realised that it had to be something different and put the object aside. He later believed it to be a bone or a head of a large animal or reptile and – acknowledging that fossils of large mammals or reptiles are unknown in the Faroe Islands – handed it over to a local museum. After time and much travel, the enigmatic object was identified as a rostrum – the anterior part of the skull – of the 10 to 8myr-old extinct beaked whale, Choneziphius planirostris (Post & Jensen, 2013). Fig. 1. The Anita rostrum; dorsal and lateral view.Beaked whales The shy, deep diving and squid-eating beaked whales (Ziphiidae) are, after the dolphins (Delphinidae), the most species-rich family of extant cetaceans (with 22 living species). Their obscure behaviour is the reason that some of the species were – until a few years ago – never seen and just known from skulls found on distant beaches. They range from medium sized (3m – the pygmy beaked whale, Mesoplodon peruvianus) to up to very large animals (12m – Baird’s beaked whale, Berardius … Read More

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Nebraska, USA: Wonderful fossils, natural history museums and public art depicting fossils

Robert F Diffendal, Jr (USA) Nebraska is known by vertebrate palaeontologists as the place in North America where there is a very complete Cenozoic geologic record of mammalian evolution over the last thirty-five million years or so. All you have to do is visit any of the many major natural history museums in the USA and in many countries around the world, including the UK, to see fossil skulls, articulated skeletons and large slabs of rock containing bones of fossil mammals from Nebraska to verify this assertion. Nebraska is also the site of Cretaceous rocks containing the oldest known Cretaceous fossil flower and many other parts from fossil plants. It also contains dinosaur footprints and trackways, and skeletons of marine plesiosaurs, mosasaurs and large marine fish, as well as terrestrial and marine invertebrate fossils and marine microfossils. Upper Carboniferous rocks exposed at the surface in parts of south-eastern Nebraska have yielded fossil terrestrial plant fossils, marine stromatolites and other marine plant fossils, marine invertebrates, fish and even some fossil bones of amphibians and early reptiles. All in all, Nebraska is a vast storehouse of wonderful fossils that continues today to yield them up to collectors, both professional and amateur. These fossils can be found on both private and public lands, and in state and federal parks and museums. To match this geological heritage, Nebraska (a large state in area with a small population) has a wonderful natural history museum – the University of Nebraska State Museum (UNSM) – on the … Read More

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Khajuraho stone temples of India

Khursheed Dinshaw (India) Khajuraho, in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India, was the cultural capital of the Chandela rulers of the tenth century and, even today, is a place that pays homage to artistic talent. There was no mechanisation involved in the labour intensive process, where artists hand sculpted slabs of stone into medieval sculptures depicting gods, demigods, nymphs, other celestial beings, humans and animals. Several thousand statues and iconographic carvings can be seen in the temples of Khajuraho. The stone temples are known for their mature temple architecture steeped in eroticism. Of the 85 richly carved temples built more than a thousand years ago, 22 have survived the test of time. Dr Devangana Desai, a well known art historian, has commented: The Khajuraho temples represent a creative moment in Indian art when artistic talent combined with religious aspirations to produce a meaningful form. Aesthetically they express a superb harmony of architecture and sculpture.” The name ‘Khajuraho’ is derived from the Sanskrit word Kharjuravahaka, where Kharjura refers to the date palm and Vahaka means the carrier. It is believed that two imposing date palm trees formed the gate to the temple complex. Kharjur also refers to scorpion in the local language of Bundelkhandi. Another derivation comes from the scorpions in the garland of Lord Shiva, while yet another philosophy states that it represented women who bore the scorpion shape on their thigh. However, there is no debate on the aesthetics, beauty and finesse of the sculptures of Khajuraho. The … Read More

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Florissant fossil spider discovery

Zachary J Sepulveda (USA) and Steven Wade Veatch (USA) The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is known worldwide for its late Eocene (34Ma) fossil plants and insects. Recently, a fossil spider was discovered at the commercial quarry, which is near the fossil beds (Fig. 1). Due to the condition of the fossil, it can only be assigned to the family Lycosidae (see table) (Rasnitsyn, 2012). If correct, this classification would make it a wolf spider. This fossil wolf spider lived 34Ma under Florissant rocks, within the forest litter or on short herbaceous plants (Meyer, 2003). Based on its modern relatives, it would have had colours that helped camouflage it, allowing it to hide from its prey (Meyer, 2003). According to the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument fossil database, only one other member of the family Lycosidae (from the Greek word for ‘wolf’) has been discovered there. Petrunkevitch (1922) described this fossil and assigned it to the species Lycosa florissanti, from a well-preserved fossil specimen. Spiders belong to the class Arachnida. Unlike insects, arachnids have eight legs instead of six, have two body sections instead of three, and do not have antennae or wings. Taxonomy of wolf spider from the Florissant Fossil QuarryKingdom:AnimaliaPhylum:ArthropodaSubphylum:ChelicerataClass:ArachnidaOrder:AraneaeSuborder:LabidognathidaeFamily:LycosidaeThese spiders are incredibly successful – with a lineage stretching back millions of years. With over 100 genera and 2,300 species, they are capable predators spread throughout the entire globe and can inhabit almost every type of environment. From shrub lands to coastal forests, from gardens to alpine meadows, … Read More

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Book reviews: Fossils on the floor in the Nebraska State Capitol

Nebraska has an excellent geology record, which is celebrated by some fine mosaics at the Nebraska State Capitol. When the building was being constructed, and at the request of Prof Hartley Burr Alexander of the University of Nebraska Philosophy Department and from drawings by his colleague Dr Erwin H Barbour (former director of the University of Nebraska State Museum), the artist, Hildreth Meière, was asked to create a series of mosaics.

Flexomornis howei: A tale of amateur and professional cooperation

Kris Howe (USA) When you think of Texas, what comes to mind? It may be wide open spaces, longhorn cattle, cowboys and ten gallon hats. Now, there’s something else to add to the list – the oldest, definitive bird fossil in North America. That bird is Flexomornis howei, from the Woodbine Formation (lower Middle Cenomanian) near Grapevine, Texas. I first encountered the bones while prospecting potential fossil sites around Grapevine Lake. This is located just north of Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport, in north-eastern Tarrant County. One exposure near the lake soon produced a large number of fossils eroding out on the surface. They included petrified and carbonised wood, amber, at least two types of turtle, two types of crocodile, numerous remains of bony fish, shark teeth and vertebrae, parts of an ornithopod, a nodosaur, ostedeoderms, and a few scraps of small theropods. Fig. 1. Howe, Florillo and Tykoski presenting the Flexomornis howei remains at a press conference. In addition, there was also a cluster of delicate and unusual bones that looked like nothing I had ever seen before. I contacted Dr Ron Tykoski, at the Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, for help with the identification. Dr Tykoski had been very helpful in the past with tough identifications, so I knew he could help. He inspected the bones and said that they looked like they were from a bird, but he was hesitant to get too excited – there were no known birds from the Woodbine Formation. Dr Tykoski … 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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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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Isle of Wight: Dinosaurs down at the farm

Martin Simpson (UK) The Isle of Wight has long been regarded as a world famous fossil locality. It is now called Dinosaur Island, with no less than 29 different species having been found along the southern coast. Indeed, it has recently been ranked in the top seven dinosaur localities worldwide. On the Island, the Lower Cretaceous Wealden rocks crop out at Brighstone, Brook and Sandown Bays. Many of the first dinosaur discoveries were made here by the pioneer collectors, including William Buckland and Gideon Mantell. It is only right, therefore, that the Island now boasts a £3 million lottery funded museum and visitor centre situated at Sandown. This attraction is called Dinosaur Isle and it represents the official scientific repository for local finds. Fig. 1. Dinosaur Farm and Museum. However, there is another, quite different museum dedicated to the Island’s geological heritage and this one is situated right in the heart of dinosaur country on the south-west coast near Brighstone, an area known locally as the ‘Back of the Wight’. In 1993, Dinosaur Farm opened to the public with an exhibition built around a recently discovered brachiosaurid skeleton. The original idea was to use the farm buildings as workshops to clean and prepare the bones in front of the visitors, a project which took many months of painstaking work. The find represented approximately 40% of an animal that was something in the region of sixty feet in length. It is now known as the “Barnes High Sauropod”. In 2001, the … Read More

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Preserving geological museum collections

Dr Caroline Buttler (UK) It has long been recognised that art and archaeological collections in museums may need specialised conditions and conservation to survive. However, until relatively recently, geological collections have not had the same level of care. Perhaps, it was thought that rocks, minerals and fossils that had already survived millions of years do not need any particular attention. Although geological material may appear strong and durable, there are factors that can lead to the deterioration and even the complete destruction of specimens. The last 20 years have therefore seen a growing interest in storage conditions for geological collections with some museums appointing specialist conservators to care for them. The museum environment The museum environment is traditionally a compromise between the need to preserve objects and to provide comfortable conditions for staff and visitors. Unfortunately for specimens, when there is a conflict, human interest often wins. Environmental factors, including temperature, humidity, light and pollution, can be major threats to geological material. Temperature alone does not usually cause damage to specimens, but it can speed up the rate of deterioration and changes in temperature can affect relative humidity (RH). There are no ideal levels of temperature and relative humidity suitable for all geological material, but the commonly accepted parameters are 20oC plus or minus 2oC, and 50% plus or minus 5% RH, and air-conditioned stores are set at these. However, many specimens do not have the benefit of these conditions and, even those that do, can still degrade and fall … Read More

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Geology of Grandfather Mountain

Landis Wofford (USA) Like all mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee are the result of the action of plate tectonics. The crust of our planet is composed of five primary plates, or huge pieces of rock that move very slowly over deeper layers of hot, pliable rock. Some of the plates are composed of heavy oceanic crust, while others are made of lighter continental crust. At the middle of each oceanic plate, a large crack pours lava out onto the ocean floor. This causes oceanic plates to expand by an inch or two every year. When oceanic crust is forced against continental crust, the oceanic crust is pushed underneath the continental crust. When continental crust is forced against continental crust, huge mountains usually are formed. Fig. 1. View from the top of Grandfather Mountain. The Appalachian Mountains were formed in the remote past, some 200Ma, by collision of two continental crusts. During such mountain building, huge sheets of rock are pushed over each other. A rock layer called the Blue Ridge Thrust Sheet was moved over 60 miles to cover what is now Grandfather Mountain. These mountains were once ten times higher than they are today. Over hundreds of millions of years, erosion has carried away most of the rocks to form thick layers of sediment across the Piedmont, Coastal Plain, and in the Atlantic Ocean. Grandfather Mountain is the tallest mountain in the Blue Ridge and is now a popular tourist destination resort. … Read More

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Fossil fishes of the Old Red Sandstone of Scotland

Dr Neale Monks (UK) While they can be found in many other parts of the British Isles, Scotland is uniquely associated with Palaeozoic fossil fishes. That Scotland’s fossil fishes are so well known is largely thanks to a remarkable man from Caithness, called Hugh Miller. Where scholars had dismissed the Old Red Sandstone as lacking in fossils, Miller found many finely preserved fossil fishes. He published several books on field geology including, in 1841, his most famous work, The Old Red Sandstone. This eminently readable book described the formation in great detail and included dozens of beautiful engravings that illustrated the fossil fishes he had discovered. Fig. 1. Dipterus – Achanarras Quarry (© Dr Jens Rydell). What is the Old Red Sandstone? The Old Red Sandstone is a distinctive set of sandstone rocks dominated by sediments laid down under non-marine, relatively dry climate conditions. It is predominantly Devonian in age, though, in Scotland at least, certain parts may be as old as Middle Silurian. This makes it much older than the formation known as the New Red Sandstone, which was laid down during the Permian. Fig. 2. Milleosteus remains from Thurso. (© Dr Jens Rydell.) Geologists can find Old Red Sandstone sediments across much of the British Isles, from Cornwall in the southwest of England to the Orkney Islands off the northeast tip of Scotland. For the most part, the Old Red Sandstone is indeed red thanks to the large quantities of iron oxide it contains, but, at some localities, … Read More

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Geology museums of Britain: Whitby Museum, Yorkshire

Dean Lomax and Jon Trevelyan (UK) By the early nineteenth century, geology in England had started to appeal to the public at large. For instance, in 1824 the Reverend William Buckland of Oxford University named the first dinosaur (Megalosaurus bucklandii) and, after this, it seems that this awe inspiring group of prehistoric animals had taken hold of the public’s imagination in ways that continue today. At the same time, several organisations had sprung up to cater for this increased interest in geology, many of which would go on to form the geological societies and museums that still exist today. The small coastal town of Whitby in North Yorkshire has been associated with fossils for hundreds of years. The geology of the area consists of highly fossiliferous, Lower Jurassic rocks from the Pliensbachian to Bajocian, with three main fossil bearing layers – the Whitby Mudstone, Saltwick and Dogger formations. (Rocks from the Pleistocene and Holocene can also often be found on the beaches washed in from the North Sea.) It was the highly fossiliferous nature these local rocks and, in particular, the discovery of prehistoric animals around Whitby (especially, marine reptiles), together with the increasing scientific interest in them, that prompted the formation of the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society. It was this society that later founded Whitby Museum in 1824. Fig. 1. The Whitby Museum house many fossils from the the local area, including plesiosaur and icthyosaur remains. (© Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society.) Whitby Museum, often ignored or unheard … Read More

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Visiting the Zigong Dinosaur Museum

Michał Zatoń (Poland) During the 8th International Congress on the Jurassic System 2010, which was held in Shehong, Sichuan Province in China, I had an opportunity to visit several palaeontological museums, exhibitions and geoparks. However, one of them exerted on me incredible impression – the Zigong Dinosaur Museum. Fig. 1. Dinosaur Hall with sauropods. Shunosaurus lii on the right, Mamenchisaurus youngi on the left, and a theropod, Szechuanosaurus campi, in the background.The Zigong Dinosaur Museum, known as the ‘Oriental Dragon Palace’, is located at Dashanpu, a town situated 11km northeast of the Zigong City in the Sichuan Province. The museum opened to the public in 1987 and was built on the site where a vast amount of more or less complete skeletons of a diverse range of dinosaurs (as well as other vertebrates) were discovered in the 1970s. It is China’s first museum to be built on the actual burial site of dinosaurs. The museum covers 66,000m2 and the fossil bones are embedded within Middle Jurassic sandstone. To date, about 100 dinosaur skeletons have been excavated, of which 30 are more or less complete. As well as bones, dinosaur skin impressions have been discovered. Equally impressive are the complete skulls of dinosaurs found belonging to both herbivores and carnivores. In all, some 22 dinosaur species are known from the Zigong area, including three species of stegosaurids, two species of hypsilophodontids, three species of fabrosaurids, four species of megalosaurids, one species of plateosaurid and nine species of sauropods. Fig. 2. A … Read More

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