Wealden insects: An artist’s update (Part 4)

Biddy and Ed Jarzembowski (UK) An ‘artist’s impression’ of Wealden insects, inspired by the original work of Neil Watson, appeared in a three-part mini-series in Deposits issues 47 to 49. Since then, the discovery of a number of species new to science (belonging to diverse groups) has meant that an update was needed. Here are some completely new watercolours by Biddy, including the first true bug (heteropteran) from the Wealden, and the first Wealden earwig (dermapteran). Insects are arthropods and an accompanying Wealden crustacean is added this time. Photographs of actual fossils found in the Weald Clay Formation of Lower Cretaceous (Hauterivian and Barremian) age are provided too. We are indebted to Fred Clouter, Terry Keenan, Tony Mitchell and Pete Austen (UK) for help with these images. As before, Ed has supplied some explanatory notes to accompany the pictures, with more on the way. We have incorporated some new ideas on established species, such as different interpretations of the fossil lifestyle in the case of the ‘moss’ bug. Wealden insects are often disarticulated (due to transport in water). Where intact relatives are known from other contemporary deposits (especially Asia and Spain), these have been referred to, as well as recent representatives. While we can now recognise the commoner insect groups from the late age of the dinosaurs, continuing fieldwork shows that others remain to be unearthed. The artist’s job is ongoing, like that of the specialist and collector. We shall continue to periodically share the finds with you as a … Read More

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Collecting sharks’ teeth at Herne Bay, Kent

Les Lanham (UK) Just to the east of Herne Bay in Kent, on the way to Reculver at Beltinge, there is a small area on the foreshore where fossils of shark and other fish remains can be found on a good low tide. As this is a beach location, success will depend on good, local conditions but, if favourable, a good number of fossil teeth can be found. In fact, Beltinge is one of the best areas in Britain to collect such teeth and it is not unusual to find 20 to 30 persons on the beach on very low tides. Even so, everybody there could end up with a good haul of material by the end of the day. Fig. 1. Four keen geological groups meet for the annual extreme low tide event. I have set out directions at the end of this article detailing where to start your day. From this starting point, go as far out as the tide will let you and shark teeth can be found. Indeed, the chances of finding teeth improve the further out the tide goes. Broadly speaking, the collecting area is in the section of beach between the groynes either side of the concrete steps. Here, when the tide has gone out quite a distance, there appears to be a “stream” running out to sea. This is the junction between the clay beds to the west and the shingle to the east. Fig. 2. Thanet Beds exposed east of Herne Bay. … 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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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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Fossil fish from northern Scotland

 Bob Davidson (UK) The north of Scotland is famous to scientists and amateur collectors for its wealth of localities where fossil fish of Devonian age can be collected. From plate tectonics, we know that in Devonian times Scotland was situated just below the equator, as part of a continent that was largely arid desert and where land plants were only just emerging. Most life on earth was still aquatic and fishes were the most successful backboned animals. The fossil fish of the area are unique in many ways. They present a window on the development of vertebrates, in which many of the innovations necessary to pave the way for the next great evolutionary step (the invasion by tetrapods of the land) were already in place. The fauna contains the acanthodians, one of the first group of vertebrates to evolve jaws, and the lobe finned fishes, so called because of their fleshy lobes supporting their pectoral and pelvic fins. The lobe fins also include the lungfish. Their fleshy fin lobes played an important role in the development of the limbs of early four-legged animals (tetrapods) and ultimately to all terrestrial vertebrates today – including ourselves. The classic Middle Devonian (380 to 375Ma old) locality is Achanarras Quarry in Caithness, where exquisitely preserved fish can be collected in an old roof tile quarry. Many such quarries existed in the past and fish have been widely collected from several localities over the years. The fish are preserved in thinly laminated siltstones and limestones, … Read More

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Fake fossils by the hundred: Johann Beringer’s ‘lying-stones’

Paul D Taylor (UK) The sorry tale of Johann Beringer has been part of the folklore of palaeontology for almost 200 years. In 1726, Beringer published a book illustrating some extraordinary ‘fossils’ reputedly found in the rocks close to Würzburg in southern Germany. However, very soon after its publication, Beringer realised that he had been tricked and that the specimens were fakes. The truth about the deception – and its perpetrators – is still shrouded in mystery, and the story of Beringer’s Lügensteine (’lying-stones’) ranks with Piltdown Man as the greatest of all fossil frauds. Who was Beringer? No portrait exists of Johann Bartholomew Adam Beringer (1667–1740) despite the fact that he was an important figure in Würzburg during the early eighteenth century. The son of an academic, Beringer became Chief Physician to the Prince Bishop of Würzburg and Duke of Franconia (Christoph Franz von Hutten) and to the Julian Hospital, and was also the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Würzburg University. Like other learned men of the time, Beringer kept a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ said to contain ammonites, belemnites and sharks’ teeth. He seems to have led a conventional life for someone of his high standing until May 1725, when an unfortunate train of events was set in motion. Three young men employed by Beringer to supply him with fossils delivered the first of a truly remarkable series of specimens purported to have been found at Mount Eibelstadt, a few kilometres south of Würzburg. These are the … Read More

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Fossil folklore: Fish

Paul D Taylor and Mike Smith (UK) Fish are the most diverse animals with backbones – that is, vertebrates – living today. Bone and teeth of fishes abound in the fossil record, from the armour-plated, primitive fishes of the Devonian, through the cartilaginous sharks with their shiny dagger-like teeth, to the bones of advanced ray-finned teleosts related to modern carp and cod. Along with other marine fossils, fossil fishes were once used as ‘proof’ of the biblical deluge, for example, the fabulous Cretaceous fossil fish deposits of Lebanon. Gayet et al. (2012) recorded that, in the third century, the Bishop of Palestine wrote: That Noah’s Flood covered the highest mountains is for me the truth, and I say that the witness of my eyes confirms it: for I have seen certain fishes, which were found in my lifetime on the highest peaks in Lebanon. They took stones from there for construction, and discovered many kinds of sea fishes which were held together in the quarry with mud, and as if pickled in brine were preserved until our times, so that the mere sight of them should testify to the truth of Noah’s Flood”. Petrified nails Hugh Miller, in his book Foot-prints of the Creator (Miller, 1849), mentioned that amateur geologists of Caithness and Orkney would refer to one particular fossil in the Old Red Sandstone, presumably relatively common, as ‘petrified nails’ (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. A so-called ‘petrified nail’, about 150mm long, as depicted by Hugh Miller. These fossils represent … Read More

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Worm monstrosity: A giant extinct worm

Mats E Eriksson (Sweden) In a new study published in Scientific Reports (Earth’s oldest ‘Bobbit worm’ – gigantism in a Devonian eunicidan polychaete) by Luke A Parry of Bristol University in the UK, David M Rudkin of the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada and me (Mats E Eriksson of Lund University in Sweden), an extraordinary new species of polychaetes (that is, bristle worms – the marine relatives of earthworms and leeches) is described. The new species, Websteroprion armstrongi, is unique among fossil worms and possessed the largest jaws recorded from all of earth history, reaching over one centimetre in length and thus easily visible to the naked eye. Typically, such fossil jaws are only a few millimetres in size and must be studied using microscopes. Despite being only knows from the jaws, comparison of Websteroprion armstrongi with living species suggests that this animal achieved a body length in excess of a metre. This is comparable to that of ‘giant eunicid’ species, colloquially referred to as ‘Bobbit worms’, a name that is bizarrely enough derived from the infamous story of eye-watering amateur surgery involving Lorena and John Wayne Bobbitt. Living ‘Bobbit worms’ are fearsome and opportunistic ambush predators, using their powerful jaws to capture prey, such as fish and cephalopods (squids and octopuses), and drag them into their burrows. Fig. 1. A photograph showing the holotype of Websteroprion armstrongi. (Photo by Luke Parry.) Gigantism in animals is an alluring and ecologically important trait, usually associated with advantages and competitive dominance. It … Read More

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Hunting the Dutch beach of Hoek van Holland for fossils

Bram Langeveld (The Netherlands) Holland is a small country that lies for the most part below sea level, which can be quite problematical. However, if you are a fossil collector hunting for the fossils of animals from the Weichselian (Last Ice Age) and early Holocene, it is not such a bad thing. That is because the Dutch government regularly has sand deposited on Dutch beaches, which is dredged up from the bottom of the North Sea to fight erosion of the beaches by the sea. Taking this one step further, Holland also has large scale land reclamation projects, where whole new parts of Holland are made by spraying sand from the bottom of the North Sea onto a location close to shore until it rises above sea level. Fig. 1. Map of The Netherlands showing Hoek van Holland. Much of this sand is dredged up by big, specially equipped vessels, called trailing suction hopper dredgers, from a location known as ‘Eurogeul’, which is the route for big vessels to reach the port of Rotterdam. Here, the sea is approximately 13m deep, but is deepened to 30m, by removing sand from the bottom. Much of this sand is used to reinforce beaches and for land reclamation projects. However, it is not just sand that is dredged up … Fig. 2. Simple timescale of the late Pleistocene and Holocene.The North Sea Plain If we could travel back in time – approximately 30,000 to 100,000 years ago – we would find ourselves in … Read More

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Baffling bones from Lyme Regis

Nigel R Larkin (UK) A recent find from Lower Jurassic marine deposits on the Dorset Coast consists of a curious association of bones and bone fragments that have so far eluded identification, despite being inspected by some top palaeontologists. Is it a shark? Not according to some shark specialists. Is it a fish? Probably, but despite the presence of several complete bones, none have been identified and there are no scales present. Is it regurgitate? Possibly, but there is at least one very long thin bone that is unlikely to have been swallowed and upchucked again whole, and the matrix in which the bones are preserved does vary. So, is it simply a mass of completely unassociated bones? Unlikely, as there are several examples of at least two types of bone within the fossil. So, they are not a random accumulation, but they do remain a mystery. Do you recognise any of the bones? Do take a look and tell me what you think. Discovery of the material Fig. 1. Richard Edmonds trying to work out which piece goes where. I found the first piece of this specimen on the beach beneath the Spittles Slip, east of Lyme Regis in Dorset, during the Symposium on Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy (SVPCA) meeting in the town in September 2011. It was a large block (approximately 40kg) from the Shales-with-Beef Member of the Charmouth Mudstone Formation (Lower Jurassic). Bones were visible in cross section on all four sides, within a layer about … Read More

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