Encrinus liliiformis – a crinoid from the Triassic that made a career for itself: Germany’s fossil of the year, 2019

Jens Lehmann (Germany) Despite their common name ‘sea lilies’, crinoids are animals but not plants, although they look like a flower (Fig. 1). They are related to the sea urchins, sea cucumbers and starfish, groups that are unified as echinoderms (see, for example, Broadhead and Waters, 1980). Crinoids consist of a “root”, a stem built of many disc-shaped elements (columnals) and a crown. Fig. 1. A crown of the famous crinoid, Encrinus liliiformis, from a Muschelkalk quarry in Northern Germany. The fossil shows a slightly opened crown, with a number of arms besides each other. The name “sea lily rock” is often associated with the basal plates of fossilised crowns that resemble a lily flower and were collected as “Lilienstein” (“lily rock”) by gentlemen collectors in Central Europe, particularly in the nineteenth century (Fig. 2). In fact, crinoids were encountered for many hundred years and thus were already known by the famous Swiss and German scientists (respectively), Conrad Gessner and Georgius Agricola, in the sixteenth century. However, these early geoscientists only found the fossils, since living crinoids can only be found in the deep sea and were not known by the scientific community before the eighteenth century. This is the reason why the isolated stem elements called columnals occur in millions of specimens in the German Muschelkalk (Middle Triassic) were mystically called “Boniface pennies” or “Witch money”, before they were recognised as parts of crinoids. Fig. 2: Even details of Germany’s “Fossil of the Year 2019” are beautiful, like these … Read More

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Crinoids at Hartington

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands) Much of the secondary railway route in Derbyshire, from Buxton south to Ashbourne, was closed in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, only the northern section is still in use as a railway, providing a route for major limestone quarry traffic (Roberts and Emerson, 2018). But the remainder of the line, from about 2.25km north of the closed Hurdlow station (Rimmer, 1998, p. 102), all the way to Ashbourne – a distance of about 27.5km – is now open as a cycle path called the Tissington Trail. This is part of the High Peak Trail north of High Peak Junction, which is south of Parsley Hay, and provides excellent access. For a map, see http://www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/90486/hptisstrails.pdf. The interest of this route for the geologist is that most of it is through the Carboniferous limestones (Mississippian) of the Derbyshire plateau. The beauty of the scenery combines with the accessibility of exposures in railway cuttings to provide much of interest to the geologist on foot or bicycle. The northern part of the route, from south of the site of Hurdlow station, through Parsley Hay (with cycle hire and a cafe) to Hartington, is described in a brief field guide by Simpson (1982, pp. 102-107). My interest in these limestones is for their fossil crinoids. These are commonly difficult to see in the massive beds of limestone, which, over many years, have developed a surface patina that conceals internal features such as fossils. As this is a national park, there … Read More

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Fossil folklore: Echinoderms

Dr Paul D Taylor (UK) The distinct five-fold – or pentameral – symmetry of echinoderms makes them particularly striking fossils. Some even have a vaguely mystical appearance. Modern echinoderms – starfish (asteroids), sea urchins (echinoids), feather stars and sea lilies (crinoids), sea cucumbers (holothurians) and brittle stars (ophiuroids) – are all animals of the oceans. As no echinoderms inhabit freshwater environments, it is difficult to envisage what ancient people living far distant from the coast and who had never visited the sea might have thought when finding a fossil echinoderm with peculiar star-like marks on its surface. How could such a stone have been formed? What was its significance? Did the star markings point to a heavenly origin? Could the stone possess magical or mystical properties? Even today, many folklore beliefs about echinoderms persist. For example, the echinoid, Eurhodia matleyi, is found in west-central Jamaica around Stettin, where it can be abundant on bedding planes of the Eocene Yellow Limestone Group. These fossils are locally referred to as ‘lucky stones’, because of the distinctive star-shaped pattern of the ambulacra (SK Donovan, pers. comm, July 2003). Fossil echinoderms must have seemed worthy of collecting and treasuring regardless of how they were viewed. Indeed, some were even worn as amulets to protect against evil. Not surprisingly, echinoderms have a folklore that is matched only by that of ammonites (see Fossil folklore: Ammonites). Pre- and unscientific beliefs about various kinds of fossil echinoderms abound and a plethora of folklore names have been given … Read More

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