Brihadeeswarar Temple, India

Khursheed Dinshaw (India) Construction of the Brihadeeswarar Temple (also spelt Brihadisvara or Brihadeshwara), which is in Thanjavur in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, began in 1003 AD by Rajaraja I and was completed in 1010 AD. It is made of blocks of granite that were sourced from around 50km away. Almost 130,000 tonnes of granite were used to build this temple. The popular theory of how the blocks were transported is that they were gradually rolled here with the help of elephants. The design of the temple is meant to represent a cosmic structure called Mahameru, which symbolises energy from the universe, including from living as well as inanimate beings. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva in the form of a lingam (that is, a symbol of divine generative energy often in the form of a phallus), which is 3.66m high. The courtyard inside which the temple is built measures 240m by 120m. The Brihadeeswarar Temple, also known as the Big Temple, is an architectural marvel in stone of the Chola dynasty. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tower, which is built over the sanctum, has a height of about 66m and has 13 storeys (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. The tower built over the sanctum has a height of 217 feet and has 13 stories. There are eight sikharas (spires), which are also made of stone and weigh about 81 tonnes. There are two circumambulatory passages. The walls of the lower passage are decorated with … Read More

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Disappearing Dunwich

Roy Bullard (UK) There are many places around the coastline of the British Isles that are quite simply majestic and, in their own unique ways, full of magic. Dunwich lies between the lovely town of Southwold and the village of Sizewell on the East Coast of England in the county of Suffolk. It is a coastal area that is easy to include in this category and is a place that I love to visit. However, as you sit there on the shore watching the cliffs and the North Sea, it is hard to imagine that so much has been lost since the time when Dunwich was once a large, thriving community. Fig. 1. Sandy cliffs of Dunwich. My aim in this short article is to take a look at the present state of this coastline and compare it with the coast as it once was before huge amounts of coastal erosion had taken place. In addition, I will take a look at the area’s history and mention, in passing, one of its well-worked, mythical tales. A steeply sloping shingle beach now lies in front of the cliffs at Dunwich. These cliffs have changed a lot over time but, over the past few years, erosion has decreased substantially. The cliffs today are overgrown and this indicates a significant slowdown in the rate of erosion. However, with the ongoing threat of climate change and rising sea levels, the local residents and council have joined together to act now to protect the northern … Read More

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Northern Rocks: Shetland

Neville Martin (UK) Shetland is famous for many things including ponies, knitwear, sheep and sheepdogs, birdlife and fishing. It is less well known for being an excellent attraction for the geologist or that it is currently going through the process of qualifying for European and World Geopark recognition. The rocks of Shetland are too old for fossils with the exception of some fish and aquatic plant fossils at the southern and western extremities. However, what it lacks in fossils it more than makes up for in an abundant variety of minerals and geological structures and, while looking for minerals, the geologist can enjoy some of the most spectacular seascape in the UK. In addition, the islands have a long history of mineral extraction and there has been talk of possible, future platinum and gold mining. Fig. 1. Old Red Sandstone Cliffs, Bard Bressay and Noss. One of the reasons for the geological diversity is that the Great Glen Fault, which formed Loch Ness, also manifests itself in Shetland. This gives rise to a displacement of some 60 to 80km, such that there is a distinct difference between East and West Shetland. The landscape is also the result of sculpturing by glaciers and the sea. The many submerged, glacial valleys are called “voes”, the largest of which is Sullom Voe, the site of the oil terminal where oil from north, east and west of Shetland is landed. The shelter provided by such a large voe (which is sea loch) made it … Read More

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Important Green River Formation fossils come to New York

Stuart Wilensky and Douglas Miller (USA) In the early Eocene Epoch, drainage from the newly uplifted Rocky Mountains filled an inter-mountain basin to form what geologists call Fossil Lake. The climate of Fossil Lake was subtropical, similar to the climate of Florida today. The lake persisted for about two million years, and was home to palm trees, turtles, birds and an abundance of fish. On numerous occasions, unique conditions came together to result in some of the best-preserved fossils ever discovered. The sediments of Fossil Lake were first discovered in the 1860s, near the town of Green River Wyoming, and the area was named the “Green River Formation,” which is well-known in the scientific community and by amateur collectors. Palaeontologists have long theorised that the lake was deep enough to be anoxic (devoid of oxygen) at the bottom. This prevented scavengers from disturbing the plants and animals, and inhibited decomposition. Algae, and other plant and animal life, would die and fall to the bottom as in lakes and ponds today. Storms brought runoff from the mountains, covering the flora and fauna with mineral-rich material that would ensure their preservation. Recently, scientists have asserted that a kind of “red tide” may have been responsible for the many perfectly preserved fossils found. (“Red tide” is a common name for algal blooms, which are large concentrations of aquatic microorganisms, such as protozoans and unicellular algae. These can cause a severe decrease oxygen levels in the water column, leading to mass mortality events.) We … Read More

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Extinction of the mammoth and the Clathrate Gun

Joanne Ballard and André Bijkerk (USA) In this article, we will argue that the extinction of megafauna on the mammoth steppes of the Northern Hemisphere may ultimately have been caused by the release of massive quantities of methane in the North Atlantic Ocean at the Amazon Fan near the Brazilian coast and also from the Ormen Lange gas field off the coast of Norway. We will suggest that these events caused significant changes in the flow of water at the surface of the ocean that, in turn, led to very rapid changes in the levels of rainfall. Scientists have already recognized that increased precipitation gave rise to changes to ecosystems (or, more precisely, to biotopes) that destroyed the mammoth steppe. However, much of the evidence we will use in this article to support our argument has been used to support other sorts of explanation for the extinction. Therefore, this primary evidence now appears to be in need of revision. Introduction About 11,000 years ago, all of the remaining herds of mammoths suddenly disappeared. During the Pleistocene, these mammoths once thrived on a vast, megafauna steppe stretching across the Northern Hemisphere. It may have resembled the African steppes of today with lions, hyenas and several species of large grazers being present. However, the debate about the cause(s) of the extinction continues. In North America, things appear to be simple – the appearance of early humans on that continent seems to coincide with the downfall of the megafauna. However, there are also … Read More

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Three-dimensional photographs of fossils (Part 1): Gastropods from the Paratethys Ocean

Dr Robert Strum (Austria) About 23Ma, the Paratethys Ocean covered a large area, including what is now the Vienna basin and Alpine Foreland. This mostly shallow ocean was a habitat for a large number of plant and animal species, which included numerous marine gastropods, some of which are discussed in this article. This is the first of three articles on three dimensional photograph of fossils. In this article, to give the reader a better impression of their volume and shape, the fossil shells have been photographed by using the stereoscopic technique I describe in Three dimensional photography of fossils (Part 3): Ammonites from the Northern Limestone Alps of Austria. Today, beautiful shells with various shapes and patterns, of recent marine gastropods, can be collected in large numbers along Mediterranean and tropical coasts. While this seems normal to us, finding marine molluscs in Austrian sandpits, far away from any ocean, is a little more surprising. Of course, the simple answer is that these shells are fossils from the ocean referred to above, which once covered what is now Central Europe. The fossils commonly originate from the Tertiary period, which lasted from 65Ma to about 1.8mya. More precisely, the fossils are from the Eggenburgian of the Miocene (23Ma to 5.3Ma), named after Eggenburg, a lovely village north-west of Vienna. (The Eggenburgian is a Lower Miocene stage of the Central Paratethys regional chronostratigraphic classification.) Fig. 1. Map exhibiting the position of Eggenburg in Austria and the arrangement of single sampling localities and related sights:1. … Read More

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Jade: Imperial green gem of the East (Part 2) – decorative and ornamental jade

Sonja McLachlan (UK) In the second part of this five-part series of articles, I will be exploring the beautiful examples of ornamental and decorative jade carvings that can be found in many places around the world. Ancient peoples collected and sculpted jade into unique symbolic items representing their own cultures and beliefs. Today, modern jade sculpting honours this ancient symbolism whilst introducing contemporary themes, thereby widening the appeal of this ancient art form. Maori Jade Carving The Maoris valued jade for its toughness and it was often made into weapons and tools such as adzes and chisels used for working with wood. Modern jade carving reflects the Maori traditions with new interpretations on fishhooks, circular koru pendants and beautiful double and triple jade twists that represent bonding and friendship. Models of Kiwis, Turtles and Dolphins can also be found carved in jade. Fig. 1. Maori-style Pendant, carved out of solid Jade. Inspired by Maori designs. Spiral – Koru – The fern fronds represent life, new beginnings, life unfolding, growth & harmony. The stylisation of Koru represents the spirit of rejuvenation. Fig. 2. Another Maori-style pendant, fish hooks – Hei Matau. Represents strength & determination. Brings peace, prosperity, abundance and good luck. It also provides safe transport over water. Chinese Jade Carving The highest quality Burmese Jade is sent to China where it is used for the finest objects and religious figures. It is often found in the grave furnishings of high-ranking members of the imperial family. The raw stone is … Read More

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Jade: Imperial green gem of the East (Part 1) – mining the gem

Sonja McLachlan (UK) In this, the first of a five-part series exploring the mineral Jade, I will explore  the various locations around the world in which Jade is found and mined. The world geography of jade mining Imperial jade, in all the colours and forms in which it is found, has appealed to many Eastern cultures since early times. It has been extensively mined and collected across the ages by many different people. However, in 1863, it was finally realised that the name “Jade” was being applied to two different minerals: jadeite and nephrite. Both jadeite and nephrite deposits are found in various places around the world. However, the jadeite mineral is much more rare than nephrite and, therefore, has a greater value to both the miner and collector. Nephrite deposits Nephrite jade deposits have been found in Khotan and Yarkand in Turkestan in China. Khotan is a city oasis and located on the famous “Jade” or “Silk Road”. New Zealand jade or “Pounamu” is found only in river boulders on the South Island. Deposits are also found in the Swiss Alps at Salux, Val de Faller, Poschiaro and the Gottard Range. Nephrite jade has been found in British Columbia, Canada where it is surface-mined. Large-scale mining began in Canada in 1995 and    currently  approximately 100  tonnes  a  year  are  mined and  sent  to  China. The finest jade found here is called “Polar Jade” and is especially translucent and green, which is rare in nephrite specimens. Jadeite deposits The most … Read More

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Clarkia Flora: 16-million-year-old plants offer a window into the past

Margret Steinthorsdottir and Helen K Coxall (Sweden) Near the small town of Clarkia in Shoshone County, Idaho in the USA, exists a rich and unique fossil deposit. The Clarkia fossils, or Clarkia Flora, as the deposit is mostly called due to the abundance of fossil plants, is so well preserved that the assemblage is referred to as a “lagerstätte”, a scientific term reserved for the world’s very finest fossil deposits. The Clarkia fossils are found in sediments that are now known to be about 16 million years old and belong to a period in Earth history called the Miocene. By this time, the (non-avian) dinosaurs were long extinct (the last of these dinosaurs disappeared about 66 million years ago), the Earth’s continents were more or less in the same position as today, and many of the animals and plants would have started looking familiar to modern humans (who emerged much later, about 200,000 years ago). Fig. 1. The entrance to the “Fossil Bowl” motocross racetrack and fossil locality near Clarkia, Idaho. Among the Clarkia fossils can be found various insects, fish and occasionally the remains of small mammals. However, most striking is the wealth of plant fossils in the form of exceptionally well-preserved leaves, nuts, seeds and wood. Impressively, one can find leaves of oak, laurel, pine and birch that look virtually identical to those we find today. If you look quickly when a new fossil is newly exposed from within the host sediments, you may occasionally even see the … Read More

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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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Rocks in Roslin Glen: A record of a swampy past

Mark Wilkinson and Claire Jellema (UK) Midlothian is an area of central Scotland that lies to the west of Edinburgh and is an area with strong geological connections due to a history of mining for both coal and oil shale. As a part of the annual Midlothian Science Festival (http://midlothiansciencefestival.com/), the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh offered a walk to look at some local geology and a talk about climate change research on the Greenland icecap. In addition, a ‘Dino and Rocks Day’ was attended by 380 people, proof (as if it were needed) that dinosaurs continue to fascinate the general public. The Edinburgh Geological Society also contributed with a session about Midlothian Fossils and a local historian talked about the history of coal mining in the area. The geology walk visited local exposures, in this case Carboniferous sediments including what may be the best exposed fluvial sediments in the area. The walk was advertised as “Rocks in Roslin Glen: a Record of a Swampy Past” and all 25 spaces were quickly booked. The location was Roslin Glen, which may sound familiar if you’ve seen the film, The Da Vinci Code, based on the novel by Dan Brown. We have not misspelled the name of the glen incidentally. For some reason, Rosslyn Chapel lies on the edge of Roslin Glen and the country park of the same spelling. The glen itself is a steep-sided valley of around 20m in depth, which carries the River North Esk roughly … Read More

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Colourful bluffs in Long Island recall the most recent ice age

Deborah Painter (USA) Imagine a tremendous piece of land moving equipment that scraped up the soil and some of the surface bedrock from four states within the United States’ Eastern Seaboard, carrying and dragging it all the way, before dumping it on a ridge off the shoreline. That is what essentially occurred with the final advance of the Wisconsinian ice sheet, the only one which left glacial deposits visible in New York State today. Long Island is a ridge of Cretaceous bedrock with glacial deposition. The moraines there have not been ground into sandbars and spits along the western end of the north shore as much as elsewhere, because of the sheltered nature of the Long Island Sound. Therefore, shoreline bluffs expose rocks as well as glacial loess. Fig. 1. Fishermen’s Drive takes you to the loess deposits. To park at the beach requires a permit. (Photo by JB Steadman.) If you find that your journeys take you to New York City, one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas, try to make time to visit Caumsett State Park at Long Island Sound. My own visit began when planning a visit to New York State’s Long Island to see my friend, Joyce Raber. She suggested various things that we might do: go to a Broadway play, go shopping and so forth. However, my list of things to do was typically “eco-tourist”. I wanted to visit the famed American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, then see nearby Central Park, where the … Read More

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Bryozoans in the English Chalk

Dr Paul D Taylor (UK) We are very fortunate in Britain to host one of the most remarkable deposits in the entire geological record, the Chalk. The Late Cretaceous Chalk (with a capital ‘C’) is an extremely pure limestone, famous for the White Cliffs of Dover and responsible for the landscape of rolling hills and dry valleys, forming the ‘downs’ and ‘wolds’ that stretch through England from Devon in the southwest, to Yorkshire in the northeast. The economic importance of the Chalk to the early human inhabitants of Britain was enormous because the flints contained within it could be fashioned into axe heads and hard cutting tools. Why is the Chalk so special geologically? It is a rare example of a pelagic sediment – an open ocean sediment – that was deposited over the continental shelf. This occurred at a time when global sea-level was high and the supply of terrigenous clastic sediment into the sea was minimal. The Chalk is an oceanic ooze composed mainly of the disaggregated plates – coccoliths – of coccolithophores, planktonic microalgae with exquisitely engineered skeletons of calcite. Unfathomable numbers of coccolithophores sank to the seabed over a period of some 35 million years to produce the thick accumulation of Chalk that today extends over northern Europe and into western Asia. The Chalk is a favourite hunting ground for fossil collectors, yielding beautifully preserved specimens, especially of echinoids. But closer inspection of the Chalk shows that the dominant macrofossils are often bryozoans. These colony-forming invertebrates … Read More

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Urban geology: The strange tale of a windowsill

Stephen K Donovan and John WM Jagt (The Netherlands) Leiden, in the Dutch province of Zuid-Holland, is a city with a fine selection of fossiliferous building stones, mainly Mississippian (Visean, Lower Carboniferous) limestones. which preserve an array of fossils, such as rugose and tabulate corals, brachiopods, bryozoans, molluscs, and crinoids. However, this fine diversity of body fossils is not supplemented by a similar composition of trace fossils. Despite having examined these rocks over many years, when leading student fieldtrips and in collusion with co-workers, SKD has found no evidence of burrows, nor any borings in bioclasts, which can be locally common at some localities where Mississippian strata are exposed (for example, Donovan and Tenny, 2015). It is therefore of note to recognise an uncommon rock type among the building stones of Leiden that is dominated by burrows and lacks body fossils. This article highlights this distinctive building stone that has engrossed SKD for some years. The street Rapenburg (Fig. 1) in Leiden is a favourite route for building stone tours of the city. Although the dominant building materials are bricks, there are ample rocks to make a visit worthwhile. When SKD has led groups of students from the University of Leiden on geological excursions down the Rapenburg, the start is commonly at the North End Pub (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Map of the centre of Leiden (modified after Van Ruiten & Donovan, 2018, fig. 1); Leiden Centraal railway station is north of the north-west corner of this map and less … Read More

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Triassic beasts and where to find them

Sue Beardmore (UK) Located amid the scenic Southern Alps, on the Swiss-Italian border, is Monte San Giorgio, a mountain that rose up like many across Central Europe as a result of continental collision between Africa and Europe during the Alpine Orogeny. It is not particularly big or distinct by alpine standards but it is special, a status emphasised by the designation of its slopes as a UNESCO World Heritage site initially in 2003 for the Swiss part with the neighbouring Italian area added in 2010. To begin, the rocks outcropping on the mountain form an almost complete stratigraphic sequence from the Permian through to the Jurassic (Fig. 1), not only an extended interval of time but an important one around the massive Permo-Triassic extinction. The same rocks provide a context for the equally important Middle Triassic vertebrate, invertebrate and plant fossils, now numbering more than 20,000, that have been found at the locality over the last 170 years. Fig. 1. A stratigraphic section of the rocks at Monte San Giorgio. © Commissione Scientifica Transnazionale Monte San Giorgio, 2014. In particular, it is the diversity, relative abundance and excellent preservation of the vertebrate fossils that has thrown the locality into the spotlight. These occur in six main fossiliferous horizons deposited in a shallow marine basin, the Monte San Giorgio Basin, one of many depressions on a carbonate platform between the Eurasian continent to the north and west, and the open waters of the vast Tethys Ocean to the south and east. … Read More

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Whitby Jet and the Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event

Arthur Speed (UK) One hundred and eighty million years ago in the Toarcian Stage of the Lower Jurassic Period, the Earth was very different from the world we know today. The continents were all clumped together in a supercontinent called Pangaea, which was just beginning to split apart. Sea level was approximately 100m higher than at present, such that much of Britain (including Yorkshire) lay beneath shallow seas. At this time, the Earth’s oceans were depleted in dissolved oxygen. The chain of events that caused this are complex, but can be traced back to a major volcanic event (Fig. 1). The eruption of the Karoo-Ferrar Large Igneous Province (LIP) spewed lava over what is now southern Africa and released vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Just as happens now, the carbon dioxide resulted in global warming, which, in turn, had several effects on the oceans: Fig. 1. Volcanism during the eruption of the Karoo-Ferrar LIP may have triggered the Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event (Ulrich, 1983). Seawater became deficient in dissolved oxygen, because oxygen solubility decreases with increased temperature.Plankton thrived as a result of the warmer temperatures and increased nutrient supply, using up even more dissolved oxygen.Oceanic circulation was decreased, reducing the supply of cold oxygenated water to the oceanic basins.Warmer water released the green-house gas methane from the ocean floor, further accelerating global warming.The result was the formation of a layer of water that was deficient in oxygen throughout the Earth’s oceans. Its existence was first postulated 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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Daily lives of fossil reptiles

Robert Coram (UK) The Mesozoic and Cenozoic deposits of Southern England have long been a rich source of fossil reptiles. Past finds of great historical importance include some of the earliest known examples of dinosaurs, ichthyosaurs and pterosaurs. Fossil material, including new species, continues to be revealed, mainly at rapidly eroding coastal sites. All these reptiles would have been active participants in their local ecosystems, whether on land or in the sea. Much information about the roles they played and their interactions with other organisms can be gleaned from their skeletal anatomy and from comparison with living relatives such as crocodiles. What this article is concerned with, however, is evidence of specific incidents in the lives, and deaths, of individual reptiles; tiny snapshots of opportunities, mishaps and the daily drudge of staying alive. These add more detail and colour to our knowledge of the lifestyles of these long-vanished animals. This evidence will be provided by four selected terrestrial and marine deposits from southern England, spanning the last quarter of a billion years of Earth history (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Geological map showing locations of deposits discussed in the text. (1) Triassic Otter Sandstone of South Devon; (2) Jurassic Lower Lias of the Somerset (a) and Dorset (b) coasts; (3) Cretaceous Wealden beds of the Isle of Wight (IOW on map); and (4) Paleogene Hamstead beds of the Isle of Wight. Trace fossils in a desert world – the Triassic Otter Sandstone Rocks dating from the Triassic period, laid down between … Read More

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Three-dimensional photographs of fossils (Part 2): Stereophotography of ancient micro-organisms

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) In the past 60 years, microfossils have increasingly attracted the attention of earth scientists for several reasons. Firstly, they are highly useful in biostratigraphic respects; secondly, they can be easily determined by light- or electron-microscopic studies in most cases; and thirdly, sampling, preparation and storage of microfossils is carried out according to well-defined and mostly simple procedures. By definition, microfossils are the petrified relics of micro-organisms, which have mainly colonised aquatic habitats of the Tertiary or older epochs of earth history. Most of these ancient micro-organisms measured less than 1mm in size, so any scientific documentation of their remains requires a magnifying glass or, better still, a microscope. In certain cases, the size of microfossils is between 10µm and 100µm, which necessitates the use of an electron-microscope to elucidate their structure and to determine the species. Fossils measuring less than 10µm in size chiefly belong to another category of fossils, that is, nannofossils (for example, coccoliths). Typical representatives of microfossils include radiolaria, foraminifera, ostracods and diatoms, which may be used as index fossils within certain local or regional strata. A special role is taken by conodonts, which are small dental structures belonging to the so-called ‘conodont animal’. This is supposed to be distantly related to the lancet fish (Brachiostoma). While foraminifera, radiolaria and ostracods have colonised the earth with varying abundances since the Early Cambrian (570Ma), the occurrence of conodont animals seems to be restricted to the time period ranging from the Middle Cambrian (about 550Ma) … Read More

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Headbanging, rocking and moonwalking fossils

Mats E Eriksson (Sweden) One can never be too careful when given the opportunity to name a fossil organism that has proved to be new to science. In addition to a meticulous description and accompanying images showing the characteristic traits of the fossil, a unique and formal, Latinized scientific name must be attached to the creature. Many people, who get the chance honour an older colleague or famous palaeontologist, use the name of the discovery site or region to indicate the provenance of the fossil or, of course, christen the fossil after its characteristic looks (for example, Eriksson, 2017a). But you can also glance towards completely different areas, such as the art and music scenes. As a lifelong music fan and hobby musician (who, just like many of my peers, had aspiring yet quite ludicrous ‘rock star dreams’ in my teens) and a palaeontologist by profession, I cannot help myself but feeling blissful and delighted about the possibility of joining my two passions – ‘heavy’ music and palaeontology – in ‘unholy matrimony’. This has, among other things, led me to name some extinct polychaete annelid worms (bristle worms – the marine ‘cousins’ of earth worms and leeches) from the Silurian and Devonian periods after some of my favourite ‘metal’ musicians. These largely soft-bodied animals generally have poor preservation potential, although full body fossils are known from the fossil record. However, some representatives are equipped with resistant jaws (when preserved as microfossils they are known as scolecodonts) that, by contrast to … Read More

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Fulletby brickyard: A classic locality in the Upper Jurassic Kimmeridge Clay of Lincolnshire

John P Green (UK) The Upper Jurassic Kimmeridge Clay Formation in Lincolnshire crops out along the western edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds scarp (Swinnerton and Kent, 1981) and many years ago was formerly exposed in many small workings that exploited the Lower and Upper Kimmeridge Clay Formation for brickmaking. The once famous brick pits at Market Rasen (TF120888) and at Stickney near Boston (TF342570), both richly fossiliferous and the source of many historic museum specimens (in particular, ammonites and marine reptiles) have long since closed and the sections are no longer accessible. Fig. 1. Saurian vertebra (crocodilian or possible plesiosaur), discovered on the reverse of a Pectinatites ammonite. Nevertheless, I have located another former, now largely overgrown brickyard, near the village of Fulletby (TF298734), situated just under five kilometres north of Horncastle. Whilst largely overgrown, small exposures remain of the Upper Jurassic Kimmeridge Clay Formation. The Palaeontographical Society lists the locality of Fulletby brickyard in its 1954 publication, Directory of British Fossiliferous Localities. It identifies the exposures present as belonging to the ammonite zone of Pectinatites wheatleyensis, and it was indeed thanks to this publication that I was able to discover this locality. The locality is also briefly discussed in Swinnerton and Kent (1981). The exposures that remain are intermittent and scattered, but shallow excavations made by me have revealed a sequence of richly fossiliferous mudrocks, which has allowed a rare opportunity to inspect and collect specimens from this rarely exposed horizon at this little known geological locality in Lincolnshire. … Read More

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Boxstones: In search of Miocene Suffolk

Tim Holt-Wilson (UK) The date is 24 May 2014 and I am browsing across East Lane Beach at Bawdsey in southeast Suffolk. A brown lump of sandstone with a white fossil shell impression catches my eye. A boxstone. This is the first one I have ever found with a fossil in it. Looking closely, I see that the sea has abraded the shell’s outlines, although the margins have survived better than the rest, so it should be possible to identify the specimen (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Boxstone, found 24 May 2014. Boxstones are fragments of a vanished world. They are all that remains of a lost geological stratum in Suffolk called the ‘Trimley Sands’ (Balson, 1990), although deposits of similar age are still present across the sea in Belgium and other parts of Europe. Boxstones are lumps or concretions of brown sandstone, which may contain shell fossils and – if you are extremely lucky – bones and teeth. They are beach-rolled and rounded, and typically measure between 5 and 15cm in diameter. The sand is mostly quartzose, with a rich assemblage of secondary minerals, and is cemented with carbonate-fluorapatite (a phosphate mineral) and calcite (Mathers and Smith, 2002). Boxstones can be found scattered sparsely across the shingle beaches at Bawdsey and Felixstowe Ferry (Fig. 2), and in situ as a common component of the basement beds (nodule beds) at the base of the Coralline Crag and Red Crag formations of southeast Suffolk (Fig. 3). They are eroding out of the … Read More

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Heavy Metal painter meets Heavy Metal palaeontologist: The conception of an unusual portrayal of the past

Mats E Eriksson (Sweden) Sometimes, the stars just seem to align perfectly and make you appreciate life more than at other times. You know those ephemeral moments when, all of a sudden, you find yourself in the midst of something that you would not have dared dream about. All your favourite aspects of life are suddenly combined into a giant melting pot and once the metaphoric molten steel hardens, you are left with the most stunning and unexpected new kind of precious metal. For me, this happens when music, arts and palaeontology unorthodoxly merge (Eriksson, 2016); and more specifically in this case, when exceptionally preserved, miniscule Cambrian arthropods had their first encounter with, and ‘sat for a portrait’ for, an iconic ‘metal’ painter. Besides my profession as a palaeontology professor at Lund University in Sweden, I have a major soft spot for the arts and music. As a matter of fact, in some aspects of my professional life, I have had (or created) the opportunity of actually combining these long love affairs. When it comes to scientific outreach, I am involved in a traveling exhibition on fossils named after rock stars (‘Rock Fossils’; Eriksson, 2014a) and I have named fossils in honour of some of my favourite musicians (Eriksson 2014a, 2017; Eriksson et al., 2017). I also record music based on palaeontological research results together, with established metal musicians (for example, Eriksson, 2014b; https://kalloprionkilmisteri.bandcamp.com/releases). Granted, this might be viewed as exceedingly eccentric and something that you perhaps think does not … Read More

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Tully Monster: Is this the world’s most mysterious fossil?

James O’Donoghue (UK) The Tully Monster is a mysterious 307Ma-old marine animal known only from the famous Mazon Creek fossil locality in Illinois. Its body plan is unlike any other animal that has ever lived, and it has been subject to wildly different interpretations as to its identity since its discovery in 1955. Last year, Victoria McCoy of Yale University and colleagues identified it as a lamprey, a primitive type of fish, but this has since been challenged by a team of vertebrate palaeontologists. Fig. 1. Reconstruction of a Tully monster based on the research of McCoy and colleagues. The claw and proboscis are on the right and its eyebar and eyes, gills and tail fin are further back. (Sean McMahon/Yale University.) Fossil collector Francis Tully knew he had made an extraordinary discovery. Inside a rounded nodule was a bizarre, foot-long animal with a long trunk and claw. But he could never have known quite how extraordinary his 307Ma-old fossil would turn out to be. Sixty two years later, scientists are still arguing over the basics as to what sort of creature it really was. What makes it even stranger is that this is no rarity known only from fragmentary remains. After Tully made his find, word got around among collectors and, before long, hundreds more had been found. Tullimonstrum gregarium, or ‘Tully’s common monster’, is now known from well over a thousand fossils, including many complete specimens. “We’ve got four cabinets of Tully monsters here, each of which has … Read More

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One way to ‘collect’ a massive specimen: Simple photogrammetry in the field using a mobile phone

Nigel Larkin and Steven Dey (UK) Inspired by the excellent series of articles by Trevor Watts discussing the types of Mid-Jurassic dinosaur footprints to be found along the Whitby coast (see The dinosaur footprints of Whitby: Part 1, for Part 1 – links to the other parts can be found at the end of that part), when recently working in the area I (NL) made sure that I would have the time to walk the beaches from Saltwick Bay to Whitby. I also timed my work to make sure I could make use of the low tides early in the morning at first light. As well as the usual ammonites, belemnites and plant fossils, I found a handful of single footprint casts (most too heavy to attempt to move) and some very nice fallen slabs of claw marks and partial trackways – also mostly too big to move. One slab in particular stood out among the others at the bottom of the Ironstone Ramp in Long Bight (Figs. 1 and 2) – a ‘double trackway’ from what look like two quite different beasts walking in parallel – although they were possibly formed at different times. In the form of raised footprint casts rather than actual indented footprints, the specimen included five good prints in the left track and four, possibly five prints, on the right track – so each track contained a ‘full set’. Although the tracks look superficially quite different from one another, both appear to be attributable to … Read More

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Erzberg Mine in Austria: An iron ore reserve with a long tradition

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) The Erzberg Mine is situated in the Austrian county of Styria. From a geological point of view, it belongs to the so-called greywacke zone, which represents a band of Palaeozoic metamorphosed sedimentary rocks intercalated between the Northern Limestone Alps and the Central Alps. The Erzberg Mine is the world’s largest deposit of the iron mineral siderite (FeCO3), which is mixed with ankerite (CaFe[CO3]2) and dolomite (CaMg[CO3]2). Due to this mixture of different mineral phases, the concentration of iron ranges from 22% to 40% and adopts an average value of 33%. The annual output amounts to about two million tons of iron ore, which is transported to blast furnaces in Linz and Leoben-Donawitz. According to current estimations, the ore reserves will allow mining activity for another 30 to 40 years. History of the Erzberg Mine There are lots of myths regarding the founding date of the iron mine on the Erzberg. According to the opinion of several scholars and a few written documents of dubious veracity, the mine was already established in the year 712, which would imply a use of the deposit by Slavic peoples. However, there exists better evidence that foundation of the mine took place in 1512, which was also the inauguration year of the Oswald church in the village Eisenerz. Fig. 1. The Erzberg Mine with its characteristic appearance, photographed from the north (Pfaffenstein). First documentary mention of the Erzberg Mine is from 1171. In the fourteenth century, the Reigning Prince of Styria … 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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