Claire and Sam quickly found small shark teeth in the shingle and Jenny then found a cidarid sea urchin spine derived from the chalk. Xiang then found a bird bone, a rare and excellent find! Leon found a large and very well preserved striatolamia (sand tiger) shark tooth and Aidan found a complete ray tooth plate file.
As we continued to search the beach everyone was able to find and share examples of their finds. Many attendees were able to find small crab nodules and fragments amongst the shingle and Jack found a number of larger crab nodules at the margin where the shingle gave way to the clay which he kindly shared with group members. Steve found a fish jaw with clear tooth sockets and several fish vertebrae were also found.
The find of the day was made by Eliott, whose goal of many years was finally achieved when he found a Hexanchus (6 gilled cow shark) tooth. These tiny teeth are uncommon and many years of searching without success were finally paid for.
Finally the group began the long walk home as the tide came in. Always remember to be safe and to fossil hunt on a falling tide, along time to return safely taking account of any points along the route where there is risk of being cut off. Thank you to Eliott, Sam, Jack, Salma and Aidan, our UKAFH volunteer team for leading and supporting this event.
On Sunday the 30th July, UKAFH embarked on a fossiling foray in Gloucestershire, on the River Severn near a small village called Frampton on Severn – a location known as Hock Cliff.
We met at a private car park for which we were very grateful to have received permission to use. (Please note that if visiting Hock Cliff individually parking would need to be sourced elsewhere along the road heading north west from Frampton on Severn). From here, group leader Lizzy Hingley guided us on a short walk through fields before arriving on the riverbank where a cliff, at most 20m tall, is exposed for a stretch of just over 1000m.
The cliff and foreshore exposed at Hock Cliff are made up of the lower portions of the Blue Lias formation, an early Jurassic formation about 200 million years old. As well as Gloucestershire, The Blue Lias formation is exposed along the Somerset Coast, in Dorset near Lyme Regis, South Wales and even parts of Yorkshire, so the material here was not unfamiliar to many of the seasoned hunters on this trip. The Blue Lias consist of repeating bands of a blueish limestone and darker shale (The name Blue Lias is derived from the blue colour of the limestone, the colour itself is derived from the high concentration of pyrite in the stone). These sediments were formed in a warm, placid, shallow sea which would have been much closer to the equator than present day. The surprisingly formulaic nature of the repetitive limestone and shale bands can be interpreted as resulting from a Milankovich Cycle. This is a cycle in which the earth wobbles on its longitudinal axis – a result of gravitational influence from other celestial masses – which result in earth’s polar regions becoming closer, then further from the sun and so effecting global climate and sea level; and consequently the sedimentation of this Jurassic sea as finer sediments travel further from their source, effecting the type of sediment produced. Amazingly we can calculate the length of this cycle and so can interpret each section of limestone and shale to represent about 90,000 years of time, which unlike more homogeneous strata allows us to visualise the passage of time throughout the formation.
This location is incredibly fossiliferous with well-preserved examples from much of the familiar early Jurassic marine forna abundant here. Most notably the bivalve Gryphaea (Often called Devil’s Toenails) can be found in quantity but are remarkably well preserved, often with both valves intact and with pronounced growth rings, allowing you to calculate its age when it died. Ammonites are also common, often small and preserved in pyrite, hints of gigantic ammonites can be spotted in the limestone ledges. There is also a crinoidal bed where, if exposed, mudstone packed full of crinoid beautifully preserved in calcite can be found. Hock cliff also has its share of vertebrates including fish, Hybodus sharks and marine reptiles such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. Further down the River Severn the pterosaur Dimorphodon was found in the Blue Lias above Aust cliff so the chance of terrestrial fauna is not unimaginable.
After a short introduction to the geology and paleaontology of the area, fossils were being found by the group almost immediately. Matilda Brewer was first in with a fantastic Promicroceras ammonite preserved in pyrite and Barry Taylor found an exceptional example of crinoid bed which was not very abundant on this trip. I think everyone found a great example of Gryphaea, some with the tube casts of creatures who made their home on the shell preserved. Rob Howe struck lucky when he found a small, fairly worn but significantly uncommon ichthyosaur vertebra. However, the star of the show was by far the exceptionally rare and beautifully preserved Hybodus shark tooth found by Tegan Watts.
We were not just lucky with our fossil finds but also lucky with the fine weather, which had cooled slightly from the 30C+ the previous day. Importantly the ground was solid – if visiting this site in winter months or after heavy rain it is important to take extra care as the solid ground becomes dangerous mud.
Hock Cliff is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and so the cliffs and foreshore must not be hammered or dug into. However, there are plenty of loose fossils to be collected along the foreshore.
A big thank you to everyone who attended our hunt at Hock Cliff, it was a great day with a great group of fossil hunters! See you all again soon.
On 9th June we descended on Whitehaven beach to chance our arm at finding some fossils.
The foreshore and cliffs at Whitehaven are famed for their Silesian (Upper Carboniferous) plant remains. Many of the plant fossils that can be obtained here are of exceptional preservation and whilst the section in the cliff provides good collecting opportunities, the section of foreshore beneath exposes beds of Bolsovian age (311.7–306.5 Mya) from the Westphalian Stage and generally consists of far better fossil material.
Fossil plants found here represent a time when plant life flourished and forests were populated by giant cycad trees and ferns. A substantial river once flowed to the southwest through this environment and the Countess Sandstone, provides us with evidence of this.
There are some 30 recorded species of plant remains found at Whitehaven. The foreshore is full of fossil roots in between layers of plant material. The most common plants include Annularia, Neuropteris and Asterophyllites, and many of these can be found in their original life positions, which makes this location extremely important.
A selection of finds is shown below. We had a lovely group, some fantastic fossils found and an excellent day in the sunshine! Thank you to everyone who attended!
On Sunday 5th May we met at Cayton Bay beach car park and made our way down the steep slope to the beach to see what this area could offer us!
The rocks at Cayton Bay are from the Callovian of the Jurassic and are 166 million years old. They contain bivalves such as Gryphaea, in addition to ammonites, belemnites, gastropods and occasionally, shrimps.
There was a short briefing on the beach and a look at a selection of fossils that we might find, and then we starting searching.
A selection of finds is below. Thanks to everyone who attended – we hope you enjoyed your day!
On Saturday 3rd May 2019 we met in Runswick Bay, North Yorkshire.
Runswick Bay is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the bedrock and cliffs are protected by law from the use of hammers, although we were free to hammer at loose material on the beach. We stayed away from the cliffs and looked for fossils on the foreshore.
The early Jurassic here is represented by Pleinsbachian age rocks (190-‐195 Ma) from the Early Lias and Toarcian age (180-190 Ma) from the Late Lias. This Lower Jurassic site is in the Upper Lias of the Whitby Mudstone Formation, consisting of deposits of the Grey Shale Member, the Mulgrave Shale Member and the Alum Shale Member. The Lower Lias consists of the Cleveland Ironstone Formation, whose deposits consist of the Penny Nab Member and the Kettleness Member.
After a short briefing on health and safety and the likely fossils we could find, we made our way down to the beach to begin the hunt.
The fossil Gods were with Peter today as he found a bumper crop of fabulous ammonites!
Thank you to all who came. We hope you enjoyed the day and went home with some great finds!
On a comfortably warm and dry Sunday 12th May UKAFH was privileged to gain access to internationally renowned Smokejacks quarry – a large clay pit operated by Weinerberger located close to Walliswood in Surrey. The pit is famous for the near complete dinosaur specimens that have been discovered there, including Iguanodonts and the first discovery of the spinosaurid Baryonyx in 1983 by amateur fossil hunter Bill Walker. Baryonyx and many other specimens from Smokejacks can be seen in the dinosaur hall of the Natural History Museum in London.
The pit cuts through a section of the Weald Clay member of the Wealden group, dating from the Barremian stage of the Cretaceous period about 130-125 million years ago. During this period England was located in the mid-latitudes and experienced a highly variable climate of alternating searingly hot dry seasons with forest fires and baked ground and stormy wet seasons with flash floods which created lakes in a floodplain environment. The resultant ecosystem was highly diverse, supporting a vast number of aquatic and land-dwelling organisms, from tiny creatures like concostracods and multitudinous insects to large herbivores and predators like Baryonyx and Iguanodonts.
A great attraction of Smokejacks pit is the enormous diversity of fossils to be found here. Whether specialist or generalist, there are spectacular fossils to be found if you have the patience, work ethic and eye to locate them. There are beautifully preserved insects and the early flowering plant Bevhalstia in fine siltstones, concostracods (shrimp-like shelled creatures), abundant plant material, fish scales, teeth and death assemblages, as well as crocodile, pterosaur and dinosaur remains which can be unearthed here with a good eye and a bit of luck.
Our guides for the day were Weald Clay expert and PalAss English Wealden Fossils author Peter Austen and his wife Joyce and local Smokejacks regular Mike Webster, who has discovered a number of previously unknown insects at Smokejacks. Peter provided us with a fantastic, in depth presentation on the Weald Clay and showed us some fine examples of what could be found in the pit, as well as supplying a number of handouts describing the pit and the fossil discoveries made, illustrating the pit’s stratigraphy and providing drawn examples of some of the insect types commonly found. Peter’s roadshow introduced us to the diversity of insects for which the pit is known and covered in detail the discovery of Baryonyx and also a juvenile Iguanodont which was found together with Baryonyx teeth, suggesting predation or scavenging, which was later recognised as Mantellisaurus atherfiedensis. Smokejacks is also known for a very rare, early flowering plant called Bevhalstia Pebja. We also saw articulated fish death assemblages, an arthropod trackway, gastroliths (the stomach stones swallowed by dinosaurs to aid digestion), plant remains and the well-known concostracans, small shrimp-like creatures which bear superficial similarity to bivalves.
We walked as a group to the pit head, from where UKAFH leader Sam was able to point out the stratigraphical layers and indicate where people might start hunting depending on what they might hope to find.
Some attendees began by walking the slopes in search of any fossils which had been brought to the surface by recent erosion. This is often fruitful and has yielded dinosaur bones and fish teeth and scales on previous occasions. Others chose to work the “dinosaur” plant debris bed towards the top of the quarry; a rich seam of carbon and lignite where plants have been fossilised and which has been found to often also contain dinosaur remains. Those in pursuit of insect remains headed towards the bottom of the quarry to find and split the finely grained stones in which their remains are preserved.
Soon after our arrival; finds began to appear. Mark Goble and Sam Caethoven returned to a small siltstone exposure in the lower part of the quarry which had proved fruitful on a previous visit and were soon finding blocks containing a very rich layer of jumbled fish bones which is overlain by insect remains. Some of the fish remains are articulated and very well preserved. Mike Webster also began to find some fine insect specimens. Many of the group came a long to see what was coming out of the insect bed and went on to find their own insects after seeing examples of the right stone and how and where to split it.
The area of the quarry we had access to has not been worked for several months and has been well-visited over that time, with little inclement weather to erode the surfaces. Consequently finds were less common than in the past, however no-one went home empty handed. Those digging into the plant debris bed like Andrew Marsh found some beautifully preserved seeds and leaves and surface hunters and diggers with keen eyes like Vicky Lane found Scheenstia fish scales and teeth. Adam Ward was rewarded for his digging efforts with the day’s only dinosaur bone find and Peter Waring did very well, finding part of a hybodont shark fin spine.
It is uncommon to have access to a working quarry where the extraordinary, fossil-filled stratigraphy of the Wealden clay can be observed and explored in a way that is impossible in a coastal cliff setting and everyone enjoyed the experience.
UKAFH would like to thank Peter and Joyce Austin, Mike Webster and Weinerberger for allowing us to visit and making the outing successful, enjoyable and informative!
On Sunday 28th April, UKAFH ventured along the coastline of Seaford in East Sussex – a small town about 10 miles east of Brighton with towering white cliffs.
As we arrived in the carpark at Seaford Head we were grateful that storm Hannah had passed the night before, not least for the erosional effects of the storm but for the light winds, mild temperatures and intermittent sunshine that greeted us.
We began with an in depth talk about the local and surrounding geology by UKAFH leader Daniel Slidel. Exposed in the towering white cliffs of Seaford is the Upper Chalk, a Cretaceous deposit (Santonian-Campanian) about 89-83 million years old. Chalk is essentially a soft limestone formed from the tiny platelets of coccolithophores – phytoplankton that was abundant in the deep, warm sea that existed here. This striking white sediment helped preserve the creatures dwelling on the sea floor, which included bivalves, sponges, corals, bryozoan and the echinoids (sea urchins) this stretch of coastline is famous for. Within the cliffs are horizontal bands of flints which are visible as far as the horizon allows and atop, the undular pattern formed by dissolution pipes – where mildly acidic rain water has dissolved the chalk to form channels.
After a short walk from the car park we descended the concrete steps onto the beach. The abundance of fossil echinoids was immediately noted as within the exposed bedrock on the foreshore were the tell-tale circular marks of weathered echinoids in situ. Tara Scott made the first discovery with a lovely echinoid preserved in flint just meters from the steps, then Susan Harley found an exquisite Micraster echinoid in situ – we could not extract these as the bedrock here is protected as a site of special scientific interested, however we continued heading west where loose boulders gave us the opportunity to carefully extract some specimens. Leo Leclerc manged to extract a great Echinocorys and Xiang Yan extracted a fantastic Micraster, both of which with their delicately preserved calcite teste intact. It is important not to overlook the loose flint shingle either as these can contain robust but often sea word specimens such as a big Echinocorys found by Aidan Philpot and a lovely little on found by Susan Harley. Other finds on the day included small bivalves, shapely sponges, coral and bryozoan.
Thank you to everyone who attended this fossil hunt. It really was a great and friendly group of people, it was a pleasure to guide you through the Cretaceous geological history of Seaford.
Hampton, M.J., H.W. Bailey, L.T. Gallagher, R.N. Mortimore and C.J. Wood 2007. The biostratigraphy of Seaford Head, Sussex, southern England; an international reference section for the basal boundaries for the Santonian and Campanian Stages in chalk facies. Cretaceous Research, v. 28, no. 1, p. 46-60.
We had a full house for our fossil hunt at Herne Bay, with 30 attendees joining our foray into the Cenozoic period. Kitted out in hi-vis but otherwise lightly equipped, this family-friendly fossil hunt was ideal for beginners and old hands alike. Fossils are easy to find at Beltinge and require only a sharp pair of eyes and a little patience to find.
Beltinge beach yields fossils from the Palaeocene and Eocene epochs of 56 – 54 million years ago which were laid down in a warm marine climate when the UK was closer to the equator than now and the locality was submerged. Nicky Parslow, our leader on the day, explained the geology of the area and the types of fossils that could be found and how to find them. Nicky brought many examples with her for the group to look at, giving them a good idea of what to look out for and demonstrating the vast variety of shark teeth and diversity of other fossils to be found in this rich location.
The Paleocene rocks of the Thanet Formation are exposed on the foreshore and in the cliffs towards Reculver. The younger Palaeocene and Eocene rocks overlay this and are exposed in the gently dipping strata. At Beltinge, the Beltinge Fish Bed of the Upnor Formation (Palaeocene) is brought down to beach level. West of the car park, the Oldhaven Beds slope towards beach level, exposing the Oldhaven Fish Bed. The fossils at this location erode slowly from the cliffs and the beds which form the beach. Beltinge is renowned for a diversity of fossil shark teeth (around 24 species) as well as marine vertebrate remains such as fish and shark vertebrae, eagle ray and chimaeroid fish dentition and bones and carapace of marine turtles along with rarer finds such as snake vertebrae.
On the date of our visit the tide wasn’t particularly low and the sea has been very calm, meaning that a lot of sand was deposited on the beach and the best search areas were covered by either sea or sand. However fossil hunters should not be deterred as a location like this is so rich in fossils that even a “bad” day will yield finds with a little patience and effort.
The plan for the day was to walk east toward Reculver following the tide out and arriving at the Thanet Formation shell beds as they became exposed so we could see the many bivalves in situ. We’d then return, searching the newly exposed shingle, until we reached the spit below the car park where teeth can be found amongst the mussels and pebbles or can be sieved for by scooping and wet-sieving the sand and shingle to find smaller teeth.
As we proceeded along the foreshore, we searched the gravel and shingle on the foreshore for fossils and soon the group was finding shark teeth and other small fossils.
Continuing onward and outward, as the low tide peaked we reached the Thanet Formation which we were fortunate to find exposed. Here it was possible to observe many bivalves in situ, although on the whole they are too fragile to remove, being supported by silty sand and mud. However, some of the bivalves have become pyritised inside so occasional examples of intact shell over solid centres or the beautiful metallicised casts of the bivalves can be safely collected. Fossilised wood is also common at Beltinge, particularly at the Thanet Formation horizon, although it is very friable and not worth retaining. Pyrite specimens are a little harder wearing but prone to pyrite disease (rust!). Members were able to find and enjoy numerous specimens. Star finds were Victoria Morris’s chimaeroid palate and a rare fossil pine cone found by Aidan Philpott.
Close attention to the areas between the pebbles and the clay on the foreshore began to reveal a greater number of shark teeth. These were larger and better preserved than those found in the shingle, being more newly eroded from the clay, and were predominantly Striatolamia macrota. This is the most commonly found shark tooth at this location and is black in colour and distinguished by striated enamel. However Betty Brocklesby-Sum found the grail shark tooth fossil find – a partial Otodus Obliquus!
We have received several emails with thanks and positive feedback from members who attended the event. We very much enjoyed hosting the hunt and are delighted that members had a great time too! As always, we look forward to meeting you again on future hunts.
On Sunday 3rd March 2019 we paid a return visit to Wren’s Nest, Dudley, Midlands. We had a great turnout for the day with 25 people in attendance, of all ages.
Wren’s Nest is a former Victorian Quarry, which provided building material and material for production of flux in the iron for industries in the Black Country. 20,000 tonnes of limestone was quarried annually until the quarry operations ceased in the 1920s, when it was abandoned. The “Nest” was England’s first National Nature Reserve (NNR) in 1953 and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to the geology and fossils that can be found here. Wren’s Nest is famous for the Calymene blumenbachii trilobite, known as the Dudley Bug, and featured on the Dudley County Borough Council Coat of Arms until 1974. The site, however, is known for a wide variety of fossils, including trilobites, gastropods, brachiopods, corals and crinoids. In fact, over 700 different species of fossils can be found here, over 80 of which can be found nowhere else on earth. Wren’s Nest contains the most diverse and abundant fossil fauna found in the British Isles and the fossils are among the most perfectly preserved Silurian fossils in the world.
The site is composed of limestone from the Silurian Wenlock Group, which was deposited around 425 million years ago, when the area would have been a warm, shallow, tropical sea.
The SSSI designation means that the site is protected under UK law , and the Warden at Dudley Council was made aware of our visit as they are required to monitor the numbers of visitors and to protect the site from malicious damage. No tools are allowed on site so our hammers stayed safely at home this time! Unfortunately, several people have been caught in the past removing large amounts of material from the site, which is prohibited. Warnings aside, Wren’s Nest is still a fantastic place for fossil hunting as there is plenty of loose material on the ground in which to find fossils.
We had an initial briefing on the fossil code of conduct and health and safety, before passing around examples of the various kinds of that we could expect to find. The first few hours of hunting were spent at the reef mounds, before moving onto the fossil trench, from where we had a lovely view of the ripple beds.
UKAFH members found lots of fabulous fossils, including a bumper crop of trilobite cephalons (heads) and pydigiums (tails)!
Thank you to everyone who braved the persistent drizzle to come along! We hope you all had a great day with lots of fabulous finds!
A map of Wren’s Nest National Nature Reserve and the fossil collecting code can be found here, courtesy of the Black Country Geological Society:
On Saturday the 9th of February UKAFH visited Golden Cap on Dorsets Jurassic coast. We met at the car park at Seatown and then headed to the beach where UKAFH leader Steve Snowball gave us an informative talk on the stratigraphy of the fossil rich area that we were about to hunt and a overview of the Jurassic coast.
As a group we then began the long walk over the pebble beach to the fossil rich clays which can be found at the base of the landslides at Golden cap. Before we reached our intended hunting grounds one member found this fantastic ammonite from the Junction bed (more commonly known from the other side of the bay – towards Thorncombe beacon)
Upon reaching the the base of Golden cap many members began finding Tragophyloceras and Androgynoceras ammonites, crinoids, bivalves, gastropods and belemnites from the fossil rich Green ammonite beds, we also found a few nodules containing ammonites.
Some collected clays to look through after the hunt for micro fossils – resulting in some very tiny gastropods – Coelodiscus and Tatediscus.
We had a great time at Golden Cap – we hope you all enjoyed it too, thanks to all who came.
On Sunday 25th November, UKAFH members met for a fossil hunt along the coastline of Overstrand, a village a few miles south-east of the popular holiday destination of Cromer in Norfolk. Despite the time of year, the weather was dry and pleasant and lacking the strong, cold wind of the previous day.
We began with a show and tell presented by UKAFH leaders Sam Caethoven and Nicky Parslow, discussing the local geology and providing examples of what could be found.
Overstrand and the surrounding coastline is somewhat unique in its geology, providing a glimpse into three very distinct periods of time. Firstly, and most prolifically, we find the Boulder clay, a glacial till which consists of sludge, rock and chalk rafts. Campanian and Maastrichtian in age, this chalk is some of the youngest exposed in the UK at around 70 million years old. Chalk formed as a sediment in a relatively deep, warm sea which would have been close to the Mediterranean in latitude at the time. Life was abundant in the sea, not least in the profusion of coccolithophores, a phytoplankton whose calcareous plates formed the striking white sediment – but also in echinoids, belemnites, corals, brachiopods and sponges whose fossils we came to find today.
Whilst boulder clay and chalk is abundant along the Norfolk coastline, it is not local, having been gouged out and transported in huge rafts by advancing glaciers during the ice ages. As a result, the chalk represents an unconformity, overlying younger rocks. Below the chalk, but younger in age, at Overstrand is the Wroxham Crag formation and Cromer forest bed. These deposits are a lot younger than the chalk; in fact they formed 600-500 thousand years ago during an interglacial stage when Norfolk was a vast river basin and flood plain frequented by giant mammals such as the famous Runton elephant (steppe mammoth), woolly rhinoceros, bison and deer as well as small mammals, amphibians, fish and a plethora of freshwater bivalves – remains of which can all be found, washed out from these sandy sediments. The Wroxham and Cromer Forest beds are mostly covered by the slumped boulder clay of the cliffs or are at or below beach level, so are rarely exposed except in scouring conditions, however fossils of this age can be found, many washed ashore from exposures out at sea.
Fossil hunting conditions at Overstrand have not been the best of late; several feet of sand have covered the foreshore for some time and the wave baffles and sea defences significantly reduce coastal erosion. Much of the chalk from which many of our finds are to come from is currently only exposed on the foreshore at low tide as sparsely dispersed pockets. Despite these unfavourable conditions, UKAFH fossil hunters quickly began finding great fossils derived from both the chalk and crag deposits.
Among the shingle built up along the coastal groynes and beyond, UKAFH members found echinoids preserved in flint – mostly of the genus Echinocorys but also including Micraster and Galerites – as well as belemnites and sponges. Numerous Pleistocene mammal bone fragments were also found, several of them quite sizeable, washed out from the Wroxham Crag and Cromer forest bed.
As the tide retreated and we advanced beyond the sea defences we moved from the shingle towards the pockets of chalk exposed further on the foreshore. Here we could see a vast diversity of fauna preserved in situ: echinoids, brachiopods, corals and Ventriculites and other sponges with beautifully preserved detail.
Although the beach was in unfavourable condition, the hunt was unexpectedly productive, particularly as we progressed further along the beach. With fascinating geology and many superb finds, the group proved that even six feet of sand can’t stop our eagle-eyed intrigue.
Thank you to everyone who came and made the day a great success!
Please remember, the cliffs exposed at Overstrand are protected and should not be dug into. Fossils can easily be collected along the foreshore.
On Sunday 11th November, UKAFH met on the coastline of Co. Durham, just outside Seaham, a small town about 6 miles south of Sunderland.
Unusually for a coastal hunt, we were focused on the spoil heap of the former Dawdon colliery that operated close by. Dawdon colliery began extracting coal in 1907, mining the Carboniferous coal seems far below the Permian bedrock the cliffs at this location are composed of. The spoil from the colliery consists of inferior coal, shales and mudstone which were dumped over the cliff edge, creating, in places, a second cliff of carboniferous material in front the Permian cliffs. Although once the most productive colliery in County Durham, employing over 3800 people, Dawdon colliery ceased extracting coal in 1991. Since then, most of the carboniferous sediment had been eroded away by the sea, but there is still ample opportunity to find spectacular fossils here.
The spoil consists of Carboniferous material about 320 million years old. At the time the sediment was created, County Durham was a vast and boggy forest. The upper canopy was densely foliated with the likes of Calamites trees – related to modern day horsetails, and Lepidodendron trees – related to modern day club mosses, although their modern-day ancestors are diminutive, these trees would have towered over 100ft above the forest floor. The forest floor, where abundant pteridosperms (seed ferns) such as Neuropteris thrived was hydrated and boggy, an ideal environment to preserve the foliage and timber which over millions of years built up to create the coal seems which were so highly prized here during industrial times. Also present in this forest of giant tree like plants were the giant insects the Carboniferous is also famous for – huge dragon flies would have traversed the dense canopy while monstrous millipedes up to 6ft in length would have scurried below. Although insect fossils are extremely rare, it is still something to keep an eye out for.
In complete contrast, the cliffs behind the carboniferous spoil is Permian in age, about 290 million years old and is formed of limestone from a shallow marine environment. Although Seaham is one of the best locations to find carboniferous plant fossils in the UK, the limestone originating from the cliffs should not be overlooked as these can contain bivalves, crinoids, corals and rare but possible fish remains.
After some examples of possible finds provided by Mike Greaves, we took a steep path from the national trust carpark at Nose Point down to the beach. We didn’t know it until we were on the beach that the path we followed and the apparent shelf we were now standing on was in fact the spoil from the former colliery. Here, Katherine Combe MSc provided a talk about the geology and where we were likely to find fossils. It wasn’t long before fossils were found, although the first fossils were that of crinoids originating from the Permian limestone of the cliffs. As we stepped off the spoil onto the beach the first plant fossils were found. Alice Brooks found a great Stigmaria fossil (part the of rhizomatous root of a Calamites tree) and Terry Newsome found some incredible fronds by carefully splitting shale.
Later we headed towards the foreshore where large sections of Lepidodendron trunks could be seen. Here, denser mudstones could be split with a hammer to reveal an abundance of well-preserved pteridosperm such as Neuropteris within. Jake and Matt Ellison found some delicately preserved Calamites leaves, Ben Simpson found some great Sigillaria and Ethan Wale found some beautifully preserved fronds. Mike Greaves found a stunning example of Calamites amongst the shingle.
We were grateful for the calm weather, apart from a few spots of drizzle, the temperature was mild, the wind was light, and we saw a glimpse of sunshine at times.
Being remembrance Sunday, we gathered and observed a two-minute silence at 11am. As an important supplier of coal to Britain during the Second World War, Dawdon Collier was bombed by the Luftwaffe in August 1940 which killed 12 and left 119 people homeless. This then, was a poignant place and time to remember those who have given their lives, not only in battle but also supporting the war effort back home, such as here, producing the supplies needed to win the war.
Thank you to everyone who joined us. A great group of people and some fantastic finds!
We were blessed with a warm sunny day on the 21st October to Cross Hands Quarry which is located on private land owned by Mr Newman. Mr Newman had kindly created a couple of fresh spoil heaps especially for our trip, so our party had fresh pickings as will be seen below lots of fossils were found. As the trip is now centred around these spoil heaps, this location is perfect for families to visit. Therefore we had quite a few families on our trip.
The quarry was once used to supply building stone for the local town of Chipping Norton, which is located in the Cotswolds famous for its rich honey coloured stone buildings.
Cross Hands Quarry is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its geological features. The rocks exposed in the quarry faces are mostly limestones, formed from the remains of shelly creatures living in the warm tropical seas which covered large areas of England in the Middle Jurassic Period, about 175 million years ago.
Cross Hands Quarry exposes rocks of Middle Jurassic age that were deposited in a shallow marine environment, not too dissimilar to that of the modern-day Bahamas. These rocks belong to the Inferior Oolite and comprise the Clypeus Grit, overlain by the Chipping Norton Limestone and the Hook Norton Limestone.
Towards the end of Upper Lias times sea levels fell somewhat, bringing a change of conditions which initiated the Middle Jurassic. Low sea levels persisted for 15 million years and in clear, warm, shallow waters the most important sediment was calcium carbonate. The accumulations of carbonate mud and carbonate sand have been transformed into a variety of limestones which are grouped into two series called the Inferior Oolite and the Great Oolite.
The word Oolite refers to a rock containing a proportion of polite. These are little spheres of calcium carbonate, typically half to one millimetre in diameter. The name comes from the Greek word on – meaning egg – because a densely oolitic limestone has the appearance of fish eggs.
The Inferior Oolite group of formations is so called not because of any inferior quality but because it’s rocks are older than, and therefore stratigraphically below, those of the Great Oolite. This limestone makes excellent building material as has been used in the Cotswolds to give the buildings there distinctive golden yellow colour.
During the Inferior Oolite and Great Oolite times this area was low-lying between shallow sea to the south-west and a swampy, coastal region to the north-east. In these shallow, variable environments the deposition of sediment varied greatly in amount and type from place to place and time to time. As a result the strata exhibit rapid lateral changes in thickness and character and some beds may be restricted to small areas.
In the early 1960’s remains of a partial right femur from a Cruxicheiros(meaning “cross hand”) is a genus of tetanuran theropod dinosaurwhich lived in the Middle Jurassic of England. The type species is C. newmanorum,described by Roger Benson and Jonathan Radley in 2010. The 2010 paper recognized differences between the Cross Hands Quarry discovery and those attributed to Megalosaurus. These differences include lower and broader spines along the animal’s back, and differences in leg and hip bones. The authors renamed the Cross Hands Quarry specimens Cruxicheiros newmanorum; the generic name Cruxicheiros comes from a mixture of Latin and Greek, Latin crux meaning “cross” and Greek cheir meaning “hand,” in reference to the Cross Hands Quarry locality where the fossils were discovered. The specific name newmanorum honors the Newman family, who own the quarry. Cruxicheiroswas a large theropod, but the known material is very limited. The holotype, catalogued as WARMS G15770, is a partial right femur. Additional material from the site probably comes from the same individual as the holotype, based on examination of the matrix of sandy limestone and calcite which make up all the fossils. The additional material consists of “an anterior dorsal or posterior cervical vertebra; a dorsal neural arch; a partial dorsal vertebra; the anterior half of a middle-distal caudal vertebra; a partial right scapulocoracoid; a partial left ilium; the proximal end of a left pubis; [and] numerous rib and bone fragments”. The specimens are now stored at Warwickshire Museum Service (Source Wikipedia).
Typical fossils found at this location are bivalves, brachiopods, gastropods, echinoids (such as Clypeus ploti).
Many thanks to Mr Newman for allowing our party to visit his quarry.
On a very wet, windy and cold day UKAFH members braved the elements and visited Charmouth’s East beach. This Jurassic coast location yields many pyrite ammonites, belemnites and occasionally marine reptile bones. When in the right part of the beach, in the right conditions, it’s possible to collect many ammonites.
Once everyone met in the car park and got kitted out we walked to the beach where UKAFH leader Steve Snowball gave us a informative talk on the Jurassic coast and an explanation of the stratigraphy and ages of the Jurassic Coast which stretches from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland Bay in West Dorset – 95 miles covering 185 million years, showing a near complete record from the Triassic to the Jurassic and then the Cretaceous period. The cliffs on Charmouth beach are Jurassic in age (195 million years) and show us what life was like when the area was a shallow tropical sea with the fossils people pick up every day on the beach. Then, UKAFH Leader Lizzie Hingley explained where the group would walk to along the beach, to hopefully find some of these fossils.
Once we reached a good area of the beach, under Stonebarrow (where there was a large landslide in 2015 which resulted in a lot of pyrite ammonites being distributed on the beach) the group started looking through the areas of pyrite, which were scattered along the strand line and in among the rocks on the foreshore, as the sea retreated. Soon we started to find some brilliant small pyrite ammonites and belemnites. Here are some of our finds:
A small beach pebble showing Ichthyosaur bones – possibly a partial Ichthyosaur jaw.
A small worn piece of Ichthyosaur bone and a couple of smaller pyrite ammonites
Some pyrite ammonies – the large on the left is an Oxynoticeras and on the right an Echioceras.
A large Eoderoceras ammonite segment and a smaller Eoderoceras in it’s pyrite matrix.
Over the course of the hunt our numbers dwindled slightly, which was understandable as we were very exposed to the elements! Apologies on the limited photos – this was also because of the weather (as leader’s cameras would not work in the rain)!
Thanks to all who attended and we hope to see you on another hunt soon!
UKAFH were fortunate to gain access to this remarkable mile-wide working quarry on Saturday 13th October. A small group of us gathered on this unseasonably mild but breezy day for an excursion into the Middle Jurassic. We assembled in the site canteen for a briefing from UKAFH leader Sam Caethoven and the site management, taking time to enjoy the displays of some of the more exceptional finds to have been previously found at the quarry, before heading into the quarry itself.
Ketton Quarry is an enormous site which provides an extensive exposure of the middle Jurassic from rocks of Bathonian age (dating to around 165 million years ago) to Bajocian age (around 175 million years old). The mile-wide quarry has been worked for many decades and is now 115.6 hectares in size. With full access, this huge quarry provides opportunities to collect fossils from many different beds, however we were limited to an area of spoil where operations were not currently ongoing for safety and practical reasons. Despite this, fossils were still abundant.
The geology at Ketton is complex, with a range of Jurassic-aged rocks recorded. Mostly, three formations are visible in the quarries: the lowest is the oolitic Lincolnshire Limestone which was laid down in the middle Jurassic about 160 million years ago. This large, blocky, rock was formed from small grains of calcium carbonate which were deposited under a warm, shallow sub-tropical sea which was subject to reasonably strong currents. Above this is the Rutland Formation – bands of delta and shoreline muds and sands carried by rivers. Each band, with shelly remains at its base and tree roots at the top, was formed when sea-level rise topped the layer below. Many colours can be seen in fresh exposures of this formation. The exposures at the working quarry (Ketton Main Quarry) are the type formation for the Rutland Formation. Above the Rutland Formation is the Blisworth Limestone, laid down under quiet, shallow, warm conditions during a marine transgression. The Blisworth limestone is full of fossil corals and shells.
Ammonites can be found but bivalves, corals, brachiopods, gastropods, echinoids (such as Clypeus ploti), shark teeth and fish remains are more common. In the past, dinosaur footprints have been seen, along with fragments of their bones, but we were not that fortunate on this occasion.
Blocks of limestone are often full of bivalves, brachiopods, or corals but you need a good geological hammer and a chisel to extract them as they can be very solid, although some rocks will have weathered to the point that fossils can be easily picked out. There were also many loose fossils to collect. Throughout our time on site we were able to find many bivalves and echinoids as well as a few brachiopods and gastropods. Special mention goes to James who took the time to carefully search the fine matrial for quasi-microfossils and found numerous echinoid spines, fish teeth and an Acrodus sp. shark tooth.
At the end of our hunt we gathered in the canteen for refreshments and to enjoy seeing each thers’ finds. It’s quite unusual on a UKAFH hunt for us all to finish together and have somewhere to gather for show-and-tell afterwards and it is always a highly enjoyable part of the day. As well as seeing all the finds and learning more about the site, the quarry staff can also see what we have found, both to share in our enjoyment and to ensure that anything rare is reported and recorded.
UKAFH would like to thank Hanson Cement and the staff at Ketton quarry for allowing us to visit and taking care of us throughout the day, including briefing us, showing us the site and allowing us the use of their facilities.
We were blessed with a warm, dry day for our first hunt at Withington in ploughed farm fields. The proximity of the topsoil to the Inferior Oolite below in this locality means that ploughing brings rock to the surface which contains a large variety of fossils. A field hunt really is an excellent way to find fossils with little effort other than to look patiently and “get your eye in”. The weather conditions were dry and overcast, making it an ideal day to fossil hunt as the rock was relatively clean and easy to spot so plenty of finds were made.
Once assembled at the farm, which we obtained special permission to visit, our guest leader and local expert for the day, Mark Baggott, gave us an introduction to the local geology and fossils. After enjoying Mark’s display and introduction to the site the group spread out to hunt across the two newly cleared fields and finds were quickly being made. The lower field produced a good variety of abundant brachiopods, bivalves and regular echinoids and the upper field yielded complete and partial Clypeus ploti. A number of members also found ammonites, which was unexpected as ammonite finds at this location have historically been quite uncommon. Some beautiful gastropods were found and one lucky hunter even found a flint scraper!
The Cotswold Escarpment rocks are almost exclusively marine and were deposited mainly in warm tropical seas. Plate tectonics has transported this part of the Earth’s crust northward over the last 150-200 million years to its current location. The Middle Jurassic rocks here are the characteristic ‘Cotswold Limestone’; soft, yellow, sandy limestone at the base of the Inferior Oolite (literally egg stone), a sedimentary rock formed from ooids, spherical grains composed of concentric layers. Towards the top of the Inferior Oolite the limestone becomes more fossiliferous and is referred to as ‘grits’ due to its coarser texture. Such an Inferior Oolite exposure is exposed at the farm and the fossils that this limestone contains date from between 167 to 175 million years ago at a time when this farm was at the bottom of a warm tropical sea. The rocks exposed near the farm comprise the Salperton and Aston Limestone and, from a fossil perspective, the most interesting layers are the Grits (Clypeus, Upper Trigonia Grit and Lower Trigonia Grit).
The commonest fossil found at this location is the sea urchin (echinoid) Clypeus ploti. These are more commonly known as Chedworth Buns (after the nearby village where they were often found) or Pound Stones, because their weight was usually a good approximation to 1lb. Clypeus lived in burrows on the seafloor, and burrowed their way through the sediment to get nutrients. They had fine hair-like spines and are an example of what is known as an “irregular” echinoid because they are shaped, not rounded. Because these irregular echinoids lived in the sediment, they didn’t need the spiky and sometimes poisonous spines that the spiny sea urchins (known as regular echinoids) that we can see on the seafloor today have for protection. As well as the Clypeus Ploti we find other echinoid species which are “regular” and would have had sharp spines. Unfortunately the spines rarely fossilize still attached, but they can frequently be found individually in the same sediment.
Trigonia bivalves gave their name to the second grit since they are very common at this horizon. Trigonia are a family of saltwater clams, noticeable because the exterior of the shell is highly ornamented. Other fossils to be found comprise of brachiopods, bivalves and gastropods. Brachiopods are a marine animal that had hard valves (shells) on the upper and lower surfaces. They are distinguished from bivalves which also have two valves/shells but in a left/right arrangement rather than upper and lower.
Brachiopods are bottom dwelling marine animals and, although rare today, in Jurassic times they dominated the sea floor and were frequently found in large colonies. One characteristic unique to brachiopods is the pedicle, which is a long, thin fleshy appendage which is used to burrow into the sea floor as an anchor while the brachiopod could feed clear of the silt. Although the fleshy pedicle itself does not preserve in the fossils, the opening at the top of the animal from whence the pedicle connected (known as the foramen) is clearly visible. Brachiopods are filter feeders, gathering microscopic organisms and bits of organic matter from the water that flows by them using a specialized organ called a lophophore. This is a tube like structure with cilia (hair like projections). The cilia move food particles down the lophophore to the mouth.
Brachiopods are often known as lamp shells as the curved shell of the some classes look rather like Roman pottery lamps. There are two main groups of articulate brachiopods from the Jurassic, terebratulids and rhynchonellids. A common example of a telebratulid brachiopod found here is Stiphrothyris tumida; their main characteristics are their ovoid/circular shape, presence of a clear hinge line and a circular pedicle opening located in the beak. This brachiopod is a type example for lower Trigonia grit. The second of the main orders of articulate brachiopods is the rhynchonellids. The main characteristics are their strongly ribbed wedge shape, the absence of a clear hinge line, the line between the valves/shells is often zigzagged and a circular pedicle opening located in the beak. An example of such a brachiopod found here is Burmirhynchia sp. The rhynchonellids were able to extrude their lophophore out of the shell in water, whereas the terebratulids maintained their lophophore within the shell. The ability to extrude the lophophore led to more efficient food-gathering and is probably why rhynchonellids survived the mass extinction events better than the terebratulids.
Bivalves include such animals as clams, oysters, cockles, mussels, and scallops are also found at Withington. The majority are filter feeders and often they bury themselves in sediment where they can be safe from predators. Others lie on the sea floor or attach themselves to rocks or other hard surfaces, a few such as scallops are able to propel themselves through the water. The shell consists of two usually similar valves, and is joined at the hinge line by a flexible ligament with interlocking teeth on each valve. This arrangement allows the shell to be opened and closed for feeding without the two halves becoming disarticulated. Bivalves found here include Thracia (a member of the clam family) and Pleuromya (a member of the mussel family).
If we compare brachiopods and bivalves, although they resemble bivalves, brachiopods are not even molluscs. They are so unique that they have been placed in their own phylum, Brachiopoda. Brachiopods are shelled marine organisms that superficially resembled bivalves in that they are of similar size and have a hinged shell in two parts. However, brachiopods evolved from a very different ancestral line, and the resemblance to bivalves only arose because of a similar lifestyle. The differences between the two groups are due to their separate ancestral origins. Different initial structures have been adapted to solve the same problems, a case of convergent evolution. In modern times, brachiopods are not as common as bivalves. Brachiopod shells are often made of calcium phosphate as well as calcium carbonate, whereas bivalve shells are composed entirely of calcium carbonate.
Also to be found at Withington are gastropods. They are called univalves because they build a single coiled shell to protect their soft bodies. Ancient fossilized gastropods are related to living gastropods of today and are snails. Gastropods can be carnivorous or herbivorous. Their tongue is covered with thousands of tiny teeth to tear apart food.
UKAFH would like to sincerely thank the landowner for allowing us access to the fields. Special thanks also to Mark Baggott for organising the visit and providing a fantastic display of local fossils and information for us all to refer to throughout the day. Thank you also to Mark and to Alan Banyard for bringing along some very nice examples of undamaged and prepared Clypeus ploti and ammonites from nearby locations for members to take home.
On Saturday 1st September we ran a fossil hunt at Salthill Quarry, Clitheroe, Lancashire.
Salthill is a former limestone quarry, which ceased working in 1959 and is now a Local Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its geological features and wildlife. Salthill is famous for its crinoids and is one of the best sites for Lower Carboniferous echinoderms in Northern Europe.
The reserve is also known for its wildflowers, insects and birds and a variety of curious-sounding species can be found including cowslips, birds-foot trefoil, lady’s bedstraw, bee orchid, blackcap, willow warbler, garden warbler and chiffchaff.
Although they resemble plants and are often called “Sea Lillies”, crinoids are actually marine animals of the phylum Echinodermata, a group of animals that include starfish and echinoids. The name comes from the Greek word krinon, “a lily”, and eidos, “form”. Some species of crinoids are alive now and they can live in both shallow and deep waters.
Crinoids attached themselves to the seafloor by way of a holdfast, and at the top of the vertical stem would sit the calyx, which housed the gut, mouth and anus. From the calyx led the arms and cilia, which would gather food and pass it down the arms to the mouth.
Some crinoids would be free-floating in the water column and some were capable of “walking” across the sea floor.
We had a lovely mixed group of adults and children, who crowded around the “crinoid seat” – a bench made of crinoidal limestone with a sculptured crinoid back – where Andrew gave us a rousing talk on the site, crinoid structure and morphology, and how to identify them. It went something like this:
- Make a starfish out of your hand
- Put your elbow on top of your hand and put your arm upright
- Splay your fingers
- Wave your arm around in the air
- Now you have a crinoid!
Andrew also reminded us that shark’s teeth could be found in the area, but any teeth found were effectively his property as he mistakenly discarded one many years before.
Then we were off!
The whole exposure was jam-packed with partial crinoid columnals but with some careful looking through the soil we started to find more interesting fossils. Soon enough we found some large diameter columnals and we were very lucky to find quite so many crinoid calyces.
The award for bulk find of the day goes to Darren Simons, who found no less than 19 calyces!
Mike Greaves found this embedded rarer blastoid. This unfortunately had to stay behind as we are not allowed to collect from the bedrock (SSSI rules):
A massive thank you to everyone who attended this hunt. We hope that you enjoyed it and we will see you again!
Salthill LNR is managed by Lancashire Wildlife Trust and is open entry | Hammering of the rock face is not permitted | Please collect responsibly and abide by the fossil code
On 19th August UKAFH visited King’s Dyke Nature Reserve at Whittlesey near Peterborough. This highly productive, family-friendly location is always a popular hunt and places quickly filled up so we had a full house of 35 with leaders Aidan Philpott and Sam Caethoven.
The geology of the location consists the Peterborough Member of the Oxford Clay Formation, representing the middle Jurassic period of circa 180 million years ago. The clay is quarried for brick making but a spoil heap is provided in a designated area for fossil hunting and it was to this area we were destined today.
We were fortunate to enjoy warm but overcast weather, making hunting comfortable and dry. We kitted up we headed down to the dedicated fossil-hunting area where Aidan gave the group an introduction to the fossils that can be found. The commonest finds are ammonites (especially Kosmoceras), belemnites (especially Hibolithes) and gryphaea, an oyster often called “Devil’s toenail” because of their curled, scaly appearance. However marine reptiles have also been commonly found in the quarry as well as teeth and bones from fish including the ray-finned Leedsichthys, probably the largest fish ever to have lived. An abundance of bivalves and brachiopods can also be found.
The location has an enormous quantity of fossils available and they are very easy to find, making it equally perfect for beginners who want to take home a treasure or two and for old hands who want to find something special, be it a bone, fish remains or a particularly large, complete or well-preserved specimen. The clay is easy to dig into and split so it is never a question of finding fossils; rather of narrowing down the large volume of finds into “keepers”. Soon we had good finds turning up, including calcite Kosmoceras ammonites, plenty of belemnite sections and an abundance of gryphaea.
Although on this occasion no-one was fortunate enough to find any reptile bone, a Hybodus sp. shark tooth was found by Silas Shaul – the first I’ve personally encountered from this site. Well done Silas! Some sharp-eyed hunters like Billy Currie found small fish scales, bones and vertebrae and Tracey Herod found a beautifully preserved calcite-filled gastropod with its aragonite shell still in place.
As events drew to a close we received many kind remarks from attendees who commented on how they had enjoyed their day and were pleased with their finds. We always love to hear your comments and see pictures of your finds, whether from one of our hunts or your own forays so please do share your news on our website and facebook pages! Also please do sign up to our mailing list or keep an eye out on our website for forthcoming 2019 hunts which will be published soon.
On a scorching, sunny Sunday 5th August UKAFH members and guests headed to the south east corner of Kent to Betteshanger Country Park (near Deal) to hunt for Carboniferous plant fossils.
Betteshanger is a RIGS spoil heap at the old Betteshanger Colliery, which was the largest in Kent but was closed in 1989. Betteshanger Country Park was created by regeneration of the former Betteshanger colliery site and provides a large green parkland and recreation area ideal for walking, cycling and other outdoor activities. However as part of Geoconservation Kent (http://www.geoconservationkent.org.uk/), there is agreement to retain a fossil hunting area within the country park. The fossil collecting spoil heap, which is northeast of the original site, is set aside for the study of the fossils to be found in the coal measures formerly mined there and this was our destination for the day.
Our group of 25 assembled outside the visitor centre, which offers toilets, showers, information on the park and a small cafe alongside a childrens’ play area. From there it was quite a short walk to the fossil hunting area where Andy Temple of GeoConservation Kent awaited us as our special guest leader for the day. Andy regularly supports school and group trips and visits to Betteshanger and other Kent locations and is expert on the many, varied plant fossils to be found in the coal deposits. Sam Caethoven welcomed the group and introduced Andy who gave an overview on the site and what can be found.
Betteshanger is Upper Carboniferous (Silesian) in age, from the mid-Westphalian Stage (Asturian Substage of 323.2–315.2 Mya) to the Stephanian Stage (Stephanian B Substage of 315.2–307 Mya). The rocks are from between 316–311 Mya and mostly consist of the Kent 5 coal seam, with some Kent 7. Kent 5 is assigned to the Upper Coal Measures (Warwickshire Group) and Kent 7 to the (South Wales) Middle Coal Measures. Fossils show that there were areas of forest and river levees, with overbank deposition taking place.
Fossils at Betteshanger are found either lying on top of the spoil heap or by digging into the spoil. Remains of Arthropleura, a large arthropod, have been found at the site. However, unlike other coal measures sites in Europe, no insects have been found at Betteshanger.
When we arrived at the fossil area we were delighted to be informed by Andy that a digger had just been in to turn over the coal spoil and dig out fresh areas, removing the old spoil that had already been examined many times previously. As a result we were extremely fortunate to be able to find abundant, varied plant specimens!
Fossils were quickly being found, both in quantity and variety. Kath Kemsley found a smashing Neuropteris seed fern and Aiden Philpott found an exquisitely preserved Alethopteris seed fern. Jake Ashley found a very nice example of Lepidodendron (also known as a scale tree) which is an extinct lycopsid club moss. Kaitlin Asher found a fantastic selection of plant fossils and Nicky Parslow uncovered a beautifully detailed example of asterophyllites horsetail.
The swampy Carboniferous landscape was dominated by three types of plant: ferns (true ferns and seed ferns), lycopods and sphenopsids. Ferns were at their most abundant and diverse in the Carboniferous period but persist today. Giant lycopsids – clubmosses – such as Lepidodendron and Sigillaria grew to the height of trees and their fossilised bark is characterised by leaf scars. The fossils of the root systems of both these plants are called Stigmaria because they look so similar. These are examples of form taxa, where a collection of organisms is given a taxonomic name but is known to be a grouping based on similar morphological characteristics, rather than more extensive biological similarity. Finally the sphenopsids consist horsetails which were gigantic in the Palaeozoic but persist today in much smaller and less diverse forms. The leaves of horsetails, which form in whorls around the stem, are termed annularia but the root fossils are known as calamites.
Huge thanks to Andy Temple for bringing a fabulous display, expert advice, identification and preservation tips and plenty of very useful spare newspaper for wrapping finds!
On Saturday 28th July, we landed at Gilwern Quarry, Powys, for the annual UKAFH trilobite fest!
Gilwern quarry is privately-owned and is situated on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, in beautiful and isolated terrain. Gilwern is known for its trilobites, which are generally very well preserved, and can be found in abundance. Gilwern Hill is made of Lower to Middle Ordovician volcaniclastic rock, which form part of the Builth Inlier. The site has rocks from the Llanvirn series (approximately 460 million years old) and exhibits the following beds:
- Upper Didymographus murchisoni Shales.
- Pale flinty, tuffaceous beds.
- Main Rhyolitic tuffs, with Lower Didymographus murchisoni Shales.
- Rhyolitic tuffs and agglomerates.
- Upper Didymographus bifidus Beds.
- Lower Didymographus bifidus Beds
The site has been interpreted as a near-shore, shallow water environment used as a breeding ground for the Ogyginus trilobite (pictured above), due to the number and range of ages of Ogyginus found here. However, other trilobite species such as Meadowtownella and Bettonolithus can be found, as well as graptolites.
Emma, the lovely landowner, greeted us at the shepherd’s hut as we arrived with hot teas and coffees, which was a lovely surprise, and was very welcome after the long journey that many of us had made. First stop of the day was the “trilobite wall” – a stack of fossiliferous rocks lining the shepherd’s hut car park – you know it’ll be a good day when you find your first fossils in the car park!
Once we were suitably refreshed and kitted up, Sam and Aidan gave an introductory session on the quarry and showed the group some example fossils from previous hunts, including various species of trilobites, graptolites, orthocones and conulariids. We then moved up to the main quarry, where the good finds started rolling in!
The quarry is packed full of loose rock so there was plenty of material for us to chisel and hammer our way through.
Although the weather looked promising on arrival, after several hours it had clouded over and distant rumbles of thunder could be heard. Unfortunately, this then developed into torrential rain and hailstones (in July!), which felt like being stoned to death with frozen peas! A mad dash to the safety of our cars was in order and with it, an unfortunately abrupt end to the hunt!
We would like to thank all for attending – we hope you had a fantastic day! A special thank you goes to Emma for her fabulous hospitality and we look forward to the next hunt!
Access to the quarry and rental of the self-catering shepherd’s hut can be requested via https://www.uppergilwernquarryhut.co.uk.
For further information on Gilwern fossils, please refer to https://www.asoldasthehills.org/oath_homepage.html
On Saturday 23rd of June 2018, UKAFH visited Breakheart Quarry, which is situated to the north east of Bristol just above the village of Dursley. The quarry and surrounding woodland is owned and run by the Breakheart Community Project and is always accessible when parking outside the gates. The car park is open when volunteers are on site during weekdays and most weekends, when the visitor’s center is also open. For our hunt Ray, the owner, had set up signs for us at the entrance and allowed us to park outside the visitor’s center, which gave us quick access to both the quarry and facilities.
Breakheart Quarry lies on a 54-acre site amidst a semi-ancient woodland on a hill where many species of flora and fauna can be found. There are two quarries – upper and lower – however, the lower quarry is unfossiliferous. In complete contrast the upper quarry is full of fossil bivalves, brachiopods, echinoids and on rare occasions, ammonites and gastropods. The quarry site provides excellent facilities including conference room, toilets, tea and coffee station and shelter from wind, rain and scorching sun and is suitable for children of all ages.
The weather was glorious and sunny, we all met just outside the refreshments hut where Lizzie Hingley, Lee-anne Collins and Nicky Parslow welcomed everyone. It was particularly gratifying to meet so many families who lived locally. Once we had all checked in Ray Pekala led us to the conference room and gave us a very warm welcome and explained the history behind the quarry. Over the years Breakheart Quarry has had many uses including testing non-hazardous explosives, WWII activities and more recently by British Nuclear Fuels who used the stone as a base for the M5 motorway and to build parts of the nearby Berkeley nuclear facility. The quarry was left disused from 2008 when it was taken over by locals who formed the Breakheart Community Project charity with the aim of restoring the area to its former natural state for visitors to enjoy. The charity relies exclusively on donations.
We then moved to the undercover picnic tables so we could see some of the fossils that we might be able to find in the upper quarry. Nicky provided a “show and tell” of some of the fossils that could be found which included echinoids, bivalves, ammonites and brachiopods. Nicky explained that although bivalves and brachiopods look extremely similar (both have shells and look like molluscs), in fact brachiopods are not related to molluscs at all but belong in their own family. Nicky explained the easiest way to clean the fossils is by soaking in warm water for half an hour and then scrubbing with a toothbrush. Once dry, if there was any remaining matrix, this might be possible to remove using a dental pick.
In the quarry the land has been taken back to a layer of Trigonia grit, which is a lower layer of the upper Inferior Oolite. The Trigonia grit was named after the triangular shaped bivalve that is commonly found in the layer. This was laid down approximately 176 million years ago in the Jurassic period when the location would have been much nearer the equator and more tropical than today. The warm sea would have been relatively shallow which is shown both by the fossils we found and the rocks they came from. Ooliths (the round particles in the rock) were formed when grains of sand or shell fragments were rolled around on the sea floor gathering calcium carbonate. Over time they grew in size and once fossilized, becoming the rock we now know as oolite.
We walked as a group along the path to the far end of the upper quarry just before the it disappears into an escarpment and dispersed into small groups among the young trees. The upper quarry has many young birch trees and a network of paths and BMX tracks which help with break the rubbly ground and allows the fossils to emerge. As the temperatures started to soar we found ourselves looking amongst the broken stones under the trees and bushes.
Very quickly we started to get our fossil eyes and were able to pick out the fossils from amongst the creamy white floor. Jenna very quickly found a handful of bivalves and brachiopods. To make sure everyone in the group could find a fossil, Nicky ran a couple of games of “find the fossil” helping those who hadn’t found anything. Luckily most of the fossils we found were loose amongst the rubble on the floor and most of them had very little matrix left on them; this is one location where having a hammer is not an advantage!
Jenna was the first person to find a handful of fossils. Zac Kitson found a lovely Terebratula brachiopod (lamp shell), Sophie Bryant found a beautifully detailed Rhynchonelloidea brachiopod and miniature wild strawberries growing under the trees. Probably the best find of the day was an exquisite echinoid found by Lizzie Coyne, which was very detailed and perfectly preserved. Terry Newsome and Zac Broderick found huge lamp shells. Several of the group found small echinoids and Nicky Parslow found part of a Trigonia bivalve.
At just after midday we moved back to the refreshment hut for lunch and some time to cool down under the cover of the larger trees on picnic blankets whilst the children played on the swings and slides.
After lunch, we walked back to the upper quarry and went to the middle area of the quarry for fresh finds.
Here are some photos of the days finds.
Sadly, our day came to end and it was time to leave and say our goodbyes. As we made our way back home many of us would have driven along the M5 and maybe a few of us would be thinking about all the fossils that would be buried under the concrete.
Thank you to everyone who attended this fossil hunt! It really was a great and friendly group of people and we hope that everyone enjoyed the day as much as we did and we hope that you will be able to return to Breakheart Quarry and find more lovely fossils.
On Sunday June 10th UKAFH visited Ramsholt, located on the river Deben in Suffolk. We met near the Ramsholt Arms, a popular pub with tourists and boaters, then walked about 2 miles north through woodland and along the river bank before reaching a shingle beach where fossils are abundant.
UKAFH leader Sam Caethoven explained the geology and pre-history of the site and provided an example of likely finds.
There are three distinct deposits exposed at Ramsholt. The base of the small exposed cliffs and the foreshore consist of London Clay, a roughly 50 million year old marine deposit commonly exposed on the south east coast from which many bivalves, gastropods, crabs, lobsters, shark and ray teeth, fish, reptile and mammal remains can be found. Above the London Clay sits the Coralline Crag formation, a much younger (~ 5 million year old) sandy sediment containing numerous bivalve and gastropod remains. As the name suggests, the formation does contain corals however more common here are bryozoans, which can often be found with corals seeded within their chambers. The 5 million year old Coralline Crag comes to lay directly on top of the 50 million year old London clay as the underlying sediment was eroded before the Crag formed, this has resulted in a diversity of derived fossils in what is called the Basement Bed, directly above the Coralline Crag and forming the base of the roughly 2.5 million year old Red Crag above it. Derived fossils are those which, having become fossilised in one deposit have since been eroded out, often transported by rivers or tides, and become part of a much younger sediment. This means that, within the basement bed, fossils from the Eocene and Miocene can be found and even Cretaceous belemnites and crinoids have been found within the basement bed. The effects of “refossilisation” of shark teeth here are striking; the teeth are often polished and the colours derived from exposure to different elements are diverse and vivid. Marine mammal bone fragments, often attributed to whales, are also common from this bed and have become silicaceous in their preservation. The iron rich Red Crag above is also noted for well preserved and often complete bivalves and gastropods.
Finding fossils here is relatively easy as they can be found in abundance among the shingle of the foreshore – the site is SSSI protected and so digging in the cliffs or the exposed clay on the foreshore is prohibited. With fine, dry and warm weather it was not long before the group began making discoveries. Gastropods and bivalves from the Red Crag and Bryozoans from the Coralline Crag were the first fossils we noticed as we progressed north along the foreshore.
But it was not long before shark and ray teeth were being found, some fantastically preserved and some with vivid red, orange and even blue colours. Daniel Austin found a particularly rare and large Isurus tooth while Eliott Mills found an uncommon large Otodus tooth.
Other notable finds included some large pieces of marine mammal bone and a delightful although heavily worn crab carapace found by Aidan Philpott.
The day was fruitful with many excellent finds including some of the rarer shark teeth from this location. Big thanks to everyone who attended and made the day so enjoyable and special thanks to Sam Caethoven, Eliott Mills and Salma Khaliq for doing a sterling job leading the hunt. Hope to see you all again soon.
Please remember when visiting Ramsholt that the site is SSSI protected and so digging in the cliffs or the exposed clay on the foreshore is prohibited.
We had the pleasure of returning to a very pleasant and dry Wrens’ Nest in Dudley on the 12th May 2018 to hunt for the elusive “Dudley bug”.
Wren’s Nest is composed of limestone from the Silurian Wenlock Group and is famous for the Phacopid trilobite Calymene blumenbachii, which featured on the Dudley County Borough Council Coat of Arms until 1974.
A former Victorian Quarry, which ceased operation in the 1920s, Wren’s Nest is now a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the fossils that can be found here. And what a site it is!
It is a fantastic site for fossil hunting as so many fossils can be found loose on the ground. Over 700 different species of fossils can be found here, over 80 of which can be found nowhere else on earth.
Wren’s Nest contains the most diverse and abundant fossil fauna found in the British Isles and the fossils are among the most perfectly preserved Silurian fossils in the world.
Many attendees were young, first time fossil hunters and looked fabulous in their new hi-vis! We had lots of families and newcomers, which was great.
We started the day with a potted history of the site and a “show and tell” of the types of fossil that could be found at the site. The first few hours of hunting were spent at the reef mounds, before moving onto the fossil trench, from where we had a lovely view of the ripple beds.
The group found some marvellous partial trilobites (heads and tails – shown above and below), gastropods, brachiopods, bryozoans, corals and sponges – a fabulous slice of a Silurian reef ecosystem.
To all that attended, we hope that you enjoyed your day, and to the first-time hunters, we hope that we have inspired you to begin a wonderful new hobby!
On a scorchingly hot Sunday 6th May UKAFH was privileged to gain access to internationally renowned Smokejacks Pit – a large clay pit operated by Weinerberger located close to Ockley in Surrey. The pit is famous for the near complete dinosaur specimens that have been discovered there including Iguanodonts and the first discovery of the spinosaurid Baryonyx in 1983 by amateur fossil hunter Bill Walker. Baryonyx and many other specimens from Smokejacks can be seen in the dinosaur hall of the Natural History Museum in London.
The pit cuts through a section of the Weald Clay member of the Wealden group, dating from the Barremian stage of the Cretaceous period about 130-125 million years ago. During this period England was located in the mid-latitudes and experienced a highly variable climate of alternating searingly hot dry seasons with forest fires and baked ground and stormy wet seasons with flash floods which created lakes in a floodplain environment. The resultant ecosystem was highly diverse, supporting a vast number of aquatic and land-dwelling organisms from tiny creatures like concostracods and multitudinous insects to large herbivores and predators like Baryonyx and Iguanodonts.
A great attraction of Smokejacks pit is the enormous diversity of fossils to be found here. Whether specialist or generalist, there are spectacular fossils to be found if you have the patience, work ethic and eye to locate them. There are beautifully preserved insects and the plant Bevhalstia in fine siltstones, concostracods – shrimp-like shelled creatures, abundant plant material, fish scales, teeth and death assemblages, as well as crocodile, pterosaur and of course dinosaur remains can be unearthed here with a good eye and a bit of luck.
Our guides for the day were Weald Clay expert Peter Austen and his wife Joyce and local Smokejacks regular Mike Webster, who has discovered a number of previously unknown insects at Smokejacks. Peter provided us with a fantastic, in depth presentation on the Weald Clay and showed us some fine examples of what could be found in the pit, as well as supplying a number of handouts describing the pit and the fossil discoveries made, illustrating the pit’s stratigraphy and providing drawn examples of some of the insect types commonly found. Peter’s roadshow introduced us to the diversity of insects for which the pit is known (7 new orders of insects and numerous species). He covered in detail the discovery of Baryonyx and also a juvenile Iguanodont which was found together with Baryonyx teeth, suggesting predation or scavenging, which was later recognised as Mantellisaurus atherfiedensis. Smokejacks is also known for a very rare, early flowering plant called Bevhalstia Pebja. We also saw articulated fish death assemblages, an arthropod trackway, gastroliths (the stomach stones swallowed by dinosaurs to aid digestion), plant remains and the well-known concostracans, small shrimp-like creatures which bear superficial similarity to bivalves.
We set off into the pit under a blazing sun, aptly reminding us of the type of conditions which might have been experienced during the early Cretaceous when the animals and plants whose fossils we sought would have populated the area. The pit is like a large, pale grey cauldron with a lake at the bottom so the reflected sun was intense and without respite due to the absence of shade. Our group had been briefed to bring sun cream and plenty of water so although conditions were somewhat arduous everyone was well prepared.
Many attendees began by walking the slopes in search of any fossils which had been brought to the surface by recent erosion. This is often fruitful and has yielded dinosaur bones and fish teeth on previous occasions. Others chose to work the “dinosaur” layer towards the top of the quarry; a rich seam of carbon and lignite where plants have been fossilised and which has been found to often also contain dinosaur remains. Those in pursuit of insect remains headed towards the bottom of the quarry to find and split the finely grained stones in which their remains are preserved.
Soon after our arrival; finds began to appear. Steve Lloyd was amongst those who found round, button-like crushing fish teeth from Lepidotes. Lower down, Mike Webster had begun to find some insect specimens.
After around an hour the first major discovery was made by Adam Ward, who found a beautiful small Baryonyx tooth in the upper carbon layer.
Shorty afterwards, Dave Clark found a bivalve in the upper layer and Aidan Philpott discovered some examples of the amber that can be found at Smokejacks in the fossilised wood beds.
Further down the quarry, Harry Rousham was receiving an education from Mike Webster on which blocks contain insects and shortly discovered a beautiful, large example of an insect wing which was provisionally identified as scorpionfly. This was a fantastic find as it was proving hard to find much insect-bearing material on this occasion. Sam Caethoven found an example of Bevhalstia, although rather indistinct, and some fish death beds which were found very close to the insect layer.
By this time some members were finding the heat a little too much and began to trickle away. However those who were determined to come away with a prize plugged on, digging into the carbon rich layer in pursuit of bone material. Mark Goble, who despite several visits to Smokejacks had so far failed to find any dinosaur bone, finally hit paydirt close to the end of the day when he found a large bone section, although fragmented, which was identified as an Mantellisaurus ischium. Congratulations Mark!
My own personal favourite find of the day, however, was the discovery at the very end of the session of a gastrolith by Mike Webster. I badly want to find one myself and Smokejacks is the perfect place to do so, because the stone can be determined as a gastrolith with near certainty when found in situ in an inland site. A gastrolith is a smoothly polished stone which resided in a dinosaur’s intestine and is often not local to where it is found. The stomach acid and the action of grinding against other stones polishes the pebble. Science is inconclusive whether gastroliths formed a gastric mill to help break up tough foodstuffs and aid digestion or were merely swallowed unintentionally. The stone found by Mike Webster is a stunner- the stone is unusually large and also rather beautiful! It was a great end to a successful day.
UKAFH would like to thank Peter and Joyce Austin, Mike Webster and Weinerberger for allowing us to visit and making the outing successful, enjoyable and informative!
On Sunday 13th May UKAFH met at Barton on Sea in Hampshire, a coastal village a few miles east of Bournemouth.
Before heading onto the beach, Chris Tait provided examples of likely finds and explained the area’s geology and paleoenvironment. The cliffs and slippages here comprise the Barton Beds, a series of clay and sandy clay that was deposited about 36 million years ago during the Eocene epoch in what was a warm shallow sea. The sea would have been further south during the Eocene epoch, similar in latitude to modern day Spain and so the climate considerably warmer. We were very fortunate to be provided an example of warm weather as the day was bathed in sunshine and temperatures pleasantly mild. The warm, shallow Eocene sea was a rich ecosystem and the clay provided a great medium to preserve the remains of creatures that lived there which means the area is incredibly fossiliferous. The area is noted for having over 600 named species of bivalve and gastropod and is also particularly abundant in shark teeth and fish remains.
We ventured down from the carpark to the beach which, in such fine weather, is very popular with tourists. We began by investigating the base of the clay slippages. Although ill advised to dig into the slippages, on the surface of the clay are many fossils already washed out. These include a whole variety of shells, especially bivalves which can be particularly ornate. Everyone found a variety of different species of gastropod. The shells here can be quite fragile, so it is important to bring a box, preferably with some padding to protect the specimens.
Later in the afternoon, many of us stopped for lunch which was an ideal opportunity to sit on the shingle and rootle through the flint pebbles in search of shark teeth. Once we got our eye in, many great examples of shark teeth were found, predominantly of the Striatolamia genus and Sam Caethoven found the dental palate of a fish, one which would have had shell crushing teeth, ideal for feeding on the abundant gastropods an bivalves here.
Later in the day, Chris Tait led a small group up onto the slippages to get a better look at the geology. It is extremely important that care is taken when on the slippages and it is not advised this is attempted without a guide as it can be easy to become stuck in mud. Evidence of this danger was provided by a number of abandoned wellington boots!
Thank you to everyone who attended and a big thank you to Chris Tait and Sam Caethoven for leading the hunt. I hope you all had a great time!