Reports

King’s Dyke Nature Reserve, 13th August

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King’s Dyke quarry

On 13th August UKAFH revisited King’s Dyke Nature Reserve, near Peterborough.  We were originally due to visit Hampton Vale lakes but a recent site visit by leaders revealed the site to be overgrown and unsuitable.  We put our members’ safety and enjoyment first so relocated to the popular and highly productive King’s Dyke location.  The quarry owners kindly replenished the spoil heaps for us so we were certain to have the best opportunity to have some great finds.  The places on this popular hunt quickly filled up so we had a full house with leaders Aidan, Chris and Sam.

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Compulsory leader selfie – Chris Tait, Aidan Philpott and Sam Caethoven

We seem to have been extraordinarily fortunate with the weather on pretty much every hunt this year and this was no exception – glorious sunshine all day! After everyone was kitted up and sun-creamed we headed down to the dedicated fossil-hunting area and Aidan gave the group an introduction to the fossils that can be found in the middle Jurassic Oxford clay extracted for brick-making from the adjacent quarry.  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.

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.  No-one was disappointed! The sunshine made it easy to scrutinise finds and the clay was crumbly and quite easy to work through.Soon we had some good finds turning up including a reptile tooth found by Aidan Philpott and a coprolite found by Nicky Parslow.

Chris Bite found some really nice ammonite blocks and belemnites and Aidan struck gold with a fish head and fins which had previously been dismissed as an odd-looking belemnite by a group member.

Most people hoped to find bone and we were hopeful, however only one member, Xiang Yan, got lucky – but what great luck! A really superbly preserved plesiosaur vertebra was a prize find of the day.

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Incredibly preserved plesiosaur vertebra

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!

Many thanks to Aidan and Chris for leading a great hunt.  Next outing is Ramsholt on 2nd September, which is fully booked, but we still have places available on our hunts at Seatown, Dorset on 10th September, Folkestone and  Samphire Hoe on our 14th and 15th October weekender, Staithes, North Yorkshire on 22nd October and Warden Point, Sheppey on 12th November.

 

Sam Caethoven

 

 

Wren’s Nest, Dudley, 6th August 2017

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On Sunday 6th August, we returned to Wren’s Nest to collect ourselves a small slice of the Silurian. The site is a former Victorian limestone quarry that closed in the 1920s and is now a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to the fossils that can be found here.

Wren’s Nest is home of the “Dudley bug”, the trilobite Calymene blumenbachii, but is also home to over 700 different fossils, 80 of which have only been found at this site. Because of its designation as a SSSI, we weren’t allowed to take any tools on site, and had to get permission to visit from the warden at Dudley Council. When we arrived, there was a police helicopter circling overhead that we thought might be the warden keeping tabs on us!

The day started sunny and bright with a great talk by leader Aidan on the history of the site and the fossils that could be found here. We began our hunt on and around the reef mounds and after a few hours, moved to the fossil trench, from where we had a great view of the ripple beds.

We found a great selection of fossils; many brachiopods, sponges, corals and some gastropods. Although not particularly easy to find, partial trilobites were popping out all over the place, with some great finds by Vita Murray, George Vidler and leader Sam Caethoven. In fact, Sam was the only member of the group to find a trilobite hypostome – the hard mouth part found on the underside of the head. This was an excellent find!

We hope everyone enjoyed the day and we hope to see you soon at another hunt!

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Further information on the geology and fossils that can be found at this site can be found on the Dudley Council website:

http://www.dudley.gov.uk/resident/environment/countryside/nature-reserves/wrens-nest-nnrwrens-nest-nnr/

UKAFH visit Dinosaurs of China; Ground Shakers to Feathered Fliers

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Dinosaurs of China – Ground Shakers to Feathered Fliers is an internationally significant exhibition featuring 26 spectacular specimens from China, including some of the best-preserved dinosaur and bird fossils from anywhere in the world. The exhibition takes place from 1st July – 29th October at Wollaton Hall, Nottingham, and Nottingham Lakeside Arts.

UKAFH and Deposits magazine were fortunate to attend the press preview and get a really good look at these incredible fossils.  We also heard from the Chinese specialists who have researched and presented these extraordinary specimens, were given a tour of the exhibition by curator Dr. Adam S. Smith and heard the views of broadcaster and naturalist Chris Packham who is spokesperson for the exhibition. UKAFH patron Dean Lomax was also at the preview and gives us his opinion of the exhibition.

We arrived to find raptor footsteps climbing the stairs up to the entrance lobby.  Hunter, the exhibition’s animatronic Sinraptor who has promoted the show along with Diana Saurus over recent months, had clearly arrived before us! We had time to see the large “ground-shakers”, headlined by the towering Mamenchisaurus, before the welcome introductions began.

Introducing the exhibition, Dr. Adam S Smith described his favourite exhibit, Microraptor gui as the “smoking gun” of the fossil record, showing the unquestionable links between dinosaurs and birds.  The fossil on display is the holotype specimen, fully articulated and with signs of feathers on all four limbs. Speaking next, Chris Packham went on to acknowledge how our understanding of dinosaurs has transformed as scientific examination has improved and developed and more specimens have been discovered, including the extraordinary fossils from China which have remarkable soft tissue and feather preservation. The emergence of more specimens and our ever-changing understanding reminds us that we never have all the answers and that our curiosity of dinosaurs can therefore endure and inspire future generations to constantly pursue better understanding.

He went on to remind us that the exhibition principally serves to remind us that dinosaurs are not extinct and that they surround us every day in the form of modern day birds. Indeed, the curation of the displays carefully blends the fossil specimens with birds from Wollaton Hall’s natural history collection, which is one of the most extensive natural history collections in the UK.

Dr. Smith gave us a private tour of the exhibition explaining the importance of the specimens but also the curatorial intention. Beginning with the dinosaur ground shakers and culminating with true birds, he advised that the galleries are a journey through time, evolution and discovery.  These three threads, explained further are:

Time – the oldest fossils, the ground-shakers in the first room, date from around 160 million years ago during the Jurassic period.  Progressing through the following rooms the visitor journeys forwards in time to the Cretaceous period where the fossils represented are 135-120 million years old.

Evolution – the early fossils have few bird-like characteristics, although we are encouraged to look for them (Guanlong, a theropod ancestor of Tyrannosaurus rex is displayed alongside the skeleton of an ostrich and visitors are encouraged to seek out how the skeletons have shared characteristics; features which resemble each other).

Discovery – the advent of dinosaur excavation in China was initially led by teams of Western palaeontologists, meaning the earliest discoveries were given traditional latin-based names.  Later discoveries came from Chinese and Western paleontologists working together but as the number of important fossil locations and discoveries increased and the science grew in importance to China, so did the number of scientists specialising in this field in China.  The vast majority of recent finds are specimens which have been given Chinese-based names which speak of the discoverer, location or morphology of the specimen.

Beginning in the great hall, the ground shakers are overwhemingly dominated by the gigantic Mamenchisaurus.  Mounted in an improbable, but not impossible, rearing posture, the relative of the Western Diplodocus stretches to the height of the gallery – the only way the skeleton could be fitted inside the building! Although the skeleton is a cast, alongside it stands a genuine femur together with a height scale to allow visitors to both touch the bone and compare its enormity to their own height.

In the shadow of Mamenchisaurus are the diminutive Protoceratops and Pinacosaurus – relatives of Triceratops and Ankylosaurus respectively.  Protoceratops is a delicate beast similar in size to a sheep. Pinacosaurus remains in his protective plaster jacket, almost as if in a nest.  The jacket shows us the field techniques used by scientists to protect and support the fossil during extraction and transportation and the Chinese labelling reminds us of the origin of the fossil as well as the importance of recording all details of the specimen from discovery onwards. Something the exhibition conveys well is the sense that these fossils have travelled – from the field to the laboratory to the museum and ultimately to this one-of-a-kind exhibition.  Many of the specimens are displayed on their packing cases as plinths and meticulous Chinese specimen labelling is evident in abundance.

Continuing around the ground-shakers we see the terrifying carnivore, Sinraptor.  The specimen is a juvenile and would have been much meaner as a full adult, even able to predate on Mamenchisaurus.  Finally we encounter Lufengosaurus, the first dinosaur discovered, studied and displayed by Chinese scientists.  As such this specimen encapsulates the essence of this exhibition.  Alongside the ground-shakers, displays remind us that each of these Chinese fossils are closely related to the more familiar North American cousins like AllosaurusTriceratops and Ankylosaurus and also draw our attention to the bird-like characteristics already present in the skeletons of early dinosaurs.

Moving on, we begin our voyage through time towards the emergence of true birds by passing through a kink in time – dinosaur fossils displayed in the midst of Wollaton Hall’s fine collection of bird exhibits.  In amongst the feathers, beaks and claws of modern birds of extraordinary diversity we meet Oviraptor, named “egg thief” because it was found with eggs and mistaken to be feeding on them.  we now know it incubated its eggs in a nest, just as do modern birds. The backdrop to the skeleton is a beautiful work of palaeoart depicting Oviraptor with its eggs.  Alongside is a fossil dinosaur egg which has become preserved with an exquisite mineralised centre. Next to the egg is a dinosaur footprint discovered in nearby Mapperley, reminding us that dinosaurs really did once dominate Nottinghamshire and that Wollaton Hall has a very fine collection of fossils of its own. Finally we encounter Mei Long, a tiny troodontid dinosaur small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, which was fossilised curled up, tail wrapped around its body and head tucked under its arm, a posture familiar in modern birds when they rest or sleep.  The accompanying palaeoart reminds us of a small duck resting on a riverbank. Although only its bones are known, it would most likely have possessed feathers like other troodontids.

Climbing the stairs, we feel as if we are elevating ourselves like the dinosaurs growing feathers and ultimately adapting them to flight. Immediately we encounter Sinosauropteryx, the first feathered dinosaur ever described.  The stunning, fully articulated fossil preserves the finest detail of feathers and soft tissue.  The downy feathers are filamentous and unsuited to flight.  We cannot know with certainty what they looked like or their purpose but speculation is that they may have served as camouflage, display or possibly thermo-regulation. Alongside is Dilong, a fuzzy-feathered tyrannosaurid, and a cast of Linheraptor, a beautiful specimen but also a reminder that casts are extremely important: casts preserve how the fossil was found and how the bones and other remains were articulated; important information which is lost once bones are extracted, cleaned and mounted.

As we move through the room each specimen outdoes the previous one.  It is truly impossible to describe how remarkable these fossils are for the exceptional preservation of soft tissue and feathers.  Next we see the actual holotype fossil of Caudipteryx, whose stomach contains a multitude of tiny gastroliths, swallowed to aid the grinding and digestion of food, a practice still employed by modern birds today. It has long feathers preserved on its arms but its long legs and short arms suggest it was flightless so the feathers (which are also present on the tail of other Caudipteryx fossils) were likely for display. Alongside is Epidexypteryx, a dinosaur with long, ribbon-like tail feathers. Nearby we find Sinornithosaurus, a close relative of Velociraptor, clearly displaying a covering of fuzzy feathers.  Towering in the centre of the room is Gigantoraptor, the largest bird-like dinosaur yet discovered anywhere. From the same family as Caudipteryx, this titan surely had feathers too!

The fossils seen so far are truly astounding.  Incredibly, the best is yet to come! At the end of the room we see three extraordinary fossils side by side.  Microraptor gui, the actual holotype specimen, is a flying dinosaur.  The fossil displays the indisputable dinosaur characteristics of teeth, hands with claws, a long bony tail and yet it visibly has bird-like feathers which clearly prove it had the ability to fly.  Alongside is Yanornis – a true bird but with residual dinosaur characteristics of clawed fingers. This is the point where the viewer has to stop and pause and allow the moment to sink in of just how profoundly important these fossils are to our understanding of the evolution of dinosaurs. To emphasise their importance, and telling a cautionary tale, the central fossil of the display is a replica of Archaeoraptor.  This “new fossil discovery” was heralded with great fanfare in 1999 in National Geographic as the missing link between birds and dinosaurs.  In fact, it is a fake.  Part Microraptor, part Yanornis, with legs from an as-yet unidentified third fossil, this fake reminds us of the importance of careful scientific study, re-examination of fossils as new techniques are developed and that rarity and value can come hand-in-hand with greed and deception.

Entering the final room, we meet some of the earliest known true birds and feathered flyers; Protopteryx, Confuciusornis, Yi qi and Wukongopterus.  Protopteryx and Confuciusornis retain some dinosaur-like characteristics like clawed hands and, in the former’s case, teeth but are clearly accomplished flyers.  The long tail feathers on Confuciusornis are thought to be for display and demonstrate sexual dimorphism between males and females of the species. Meanwhile Yi qi , the most recently discovered fossil of the exhibition, breaks the mould.  It is a dinosaur and has a feathered body but instead has evolved bat-like webbed wings to achieve flight, demonstrating convergent evolution towards an optimal solution to a problem (much as bats have done). Wukongopterus found the same solution to flight, evolving a long flight finger and membrane wing.  Wukongopterus is, of course, a pterosaur.  So why did so many creatures find a way to evolve flight, time and again, across deep time? Flight provides niche access to food, a means of escape from predators and an ability to spread and colonise new environments as old ones become overcrowded or unsuitable. Given its advantages, any creature who could evolve and adapt to the air had a good chance of a long lineage.

Although this culminated the Dinosaurs of China exhibition at Wollaton Hall, there is still a great deal to see at this exceptional natural history museum and as we enjoyed the permanent exhibits we were able to see preparations underway to create a permanent exhibit of the best of the museum’s own considerable fossil collection.  As we looked on, acclaimed palaeoartist Bob Nicholls applied the finishing touches to a representation of the marine reptile Liopleurodon, a model built around the exceptional tooth held by the museum to demonstrate the size and power of the creature which possessed the tooth.

Whilst the fossils are truly exeptional and incredibly important and worthy of careful study by academics and amateurs alike, the exhibition does not overlook our palaeontologists of the future.  Whilst Hunter and Diana Saurus have tirelessly promoted the event publicly, the exhibition itself is very accessible to children including beautiful palaeoart which depicts all the fossils on display in life, imagined by artists who are equally palaeontologists and whose careful study of the most recent scientific knowledge informs their depictions.  We don’t see the scaly lizards of Jurassic Park but renderings which attempt to bring the mind to see these creatures as we know them to have been based on the most modern science available.  The debate moves on as scientific techniques improve and new and better discoveries are made and our minds must move with them. And if that’s not enough, there are quizzes, trails and even photo opportunities!

The exhibition has a sister show which is free to visit at the nearby Nottingham Lakeside Arts, which focusses on palaeoart as a means of bringing dinosaurs to life.  Some dinosaur specimens are also on display including Dilophosaurus sinensis, Alxasaurus and specimens from Wollaton Hall’s collection including the Nottingham Ichthyosaur (a very important specimen which UKAFH patron Dean Lomax has studied). The exhibition at Lakeside Arts also provides lots of hands-on activities for children including drawing and colouring, models and pictures and microscopy. The cafeteria offers dinosaur lunch boxes and there is an excellent and well-priced giftshop

Finally, a word from UKAFH patron, Dean Lomax, MPhil Palaeontologist (Visiting Scientist) School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Manchester:

“It was truly a delight to see the Dinosaurs of China exhibition. I had been in the shadows of the exhibit for several years, having been in discussion with Dr Adam Smith (of Wollaton Hall) about it. Personally, I think what Adam and co. have achieved is beyond words. The exhibition, at both Wollaton Hall and Lakeside Arts (University of Nottingham), is exceptional.”

“Over the past 20-30 years, there have been some major new dinosaur discoveries in China. In fact, almost every other month a new dinosaur from China is announced. Some of the latest discoveries have provided incredible new insights into the world of dinosaurs, from the largest feathered dinosaur on record, Gigantoraptor, to the four winged-wonder, Microraptor; some of the highlight dinosaurs that feature in the exhibition at Wollaton Hall. On a personal level, Microraptor is one of my favourite fossils, although I’d never seen the real specimen until this exhibition. It is truly one of the most incredible dinosaur fossils ever discovered. One of my favourite parts of the exhibition was not necessarily the brilliant dinosaurs, but the accompanying information and artwork. It is very clear that Adam and co. have taken a considerable amount of time to strike a fine balance between academia and the general public. One of my personal favourite lines is simply, ‘Birds are Dinosaurs’. A fact that still remains outside of the public realms. I think this new exhibition will help to change the public perception of dinosaurs.”

“In short, anybody interested in dinosaurs, fossils, or the natural world must see this exhibition!”

This exhibition is truly unique and its like may not be seen again outside of China.  It is the result of extraordinary hard work and collaboration between the Chinese institutions who have discovered, studied and displayed these fossils, IVPP and Nottingham City Council and the University of Nottingham, who extended themselves many years ago to be the first university to site a campus in China.  This very special relationship has borne extraordinary fruits that we can partake in for the briefest of moments. And we should.

To find out more visit http://www.dinosaursofchina.co.uk/

To see the full programme of events see http://www.dinosaursofchina.co.uk/events/

Tickets cost £7.70 adult, £5.50 child (under 5’s go free) or £22 for a family of 4 (includes booking fee).  Tickets are available here: http://www.dinosaursofchina.co.uk/tickets/

The exhibition runs until Sunday 29th October.

 

Salthill Quarry, Clitheroe, 16th July 2017

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Sunday 16th July saw a UKAFH hunt to Salthill Quarry Local Nature Reserve, Clitheroe, Lancashire. Salthill is a former limestone quarry and is known not only for its important geological formations but also the rare wildlife that can be found here. It has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and because of this no hammers were allowed on site, but fossils here could be found loose in the spoil, so all that was needed a was a keen eye!

The rocks at Salthill formed during the Carboniferous period in a shallow, warm tropical sea, like today’s Caribbean, and are packed with crinoid fossils. The site even includes a bench made with panels of carved crinoids.

The day started with a great animated talk from UKAFH leader, Andrew Eaves, on the types of fossils that could be found at the site, before everyone got stuck in and it was all eyes to the ground! It wasn’t difficult – crinoids were abundant and crunched underfoot in places. No members went home empty-handed! Many crinoid columnals were found, along with isolated ossicles and less-commonly, crinoid thecae. Andrew pointed out the rarer blastoids in situ.

Despite mother nature threatening us with a potential downpour, the day turned out sunny and fine. The exposure of interest was contained in a small area on a gentle grassy slope, so there was plenty of opportunity to sit back and enjoy the warm sunshine.

Thanks to everyone who joined us on the day. We hope you enjoyed it!

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UKAFH King’s Dyke Nature Reserve Fossil Hunt on 2nd July 2017

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Fresh quarry spoil to search for ammonites, belemnites, gryphaea and marine reptile bones

The 2nd July was a momentous day in UKAFH history being the last hunt that founder Craig Chapman would lead before stepping down from leadership duties and we were very hopeful it would be a good hunt. We weren’t disappointed!

I had only been to King’s Dyke once before on a blisteringly hot day and got quite pink in the sun! So I was relieved that there was some cloud cover and we didn’t have to worry about people getting sunburnt.

The hunt was very well attended with about 30 or so people eager to pick through the clay in search of ancient treasure. I must thank the quarry owners for having refilled the area the day before giving us 2 large areas of fresh clay to pick through. After a brief introduction at the identification board we headed up to the smaller heap just up the hill and the hunt was on!

One of the best features of this locality is that is suitable for all the family and is productive enough that hunters are guaranteed to go home with something, and everyone who wanted one of the plentiful (and beautiful) flat ammonites found at least one. Belemnites are also very common and range in size from a few centimetres to several inches (sorry about mixing metric and imperial!) The largest complete ones are not to be found everywhere and are quite the prize and I was lucky enough to find a couple of beauties. James found the biggest most complete one and was justifiably delighted with it!

After about an hour or so at the secondary heap we headed down into the main larger fossil hunting area where we were hoping to find some of the other things that can be found from this section of the Jurassic. Fish, crocodiles, ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs are all known from here but are not common and are a major highlight if you are lucky enough to spot them. Between us we found 5 Lepidotes fish scales and even a couple of fish coprolites.

I am deliberately leaving the best till last, and chronologically they were found last, all within the last 30 minutes of our time hunting. It wouldn’t have been a proper UKAFH hunt in the Jurassic without Craig finding a vertebra and he duly obliged with a lovely ichthyosaur vertebra. I chipped in with 20 minutes to go with my most spectacular UK find – a plesiosaur vert which truly made my day. Then just as we were packing up, a random family who weren’t even part of our group arrived and the young man hunting with his Mum and sisters found a “weird belemnite” that we were not at all jealous to identify as a plesiosaur tooth! They were on their first ever fossil hunt so I shamelessly plugged UKAFH as a great group to join!! Maybe we’ll see them again on a hunt another time, who knows.

Either way it was a great day and the feedback was very positive. Thanks again to the quarry owners for the fresh clay to hunt through and I look forward to hunting there again next month with a new group.

Chris Tait

Fossil Hunt at Caistor Quarry 1st July 2017

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Caistor Chalk Quarry

On the 1st July, UKAFH members met at Caistor Quarry in Caistor st Edmund, a village just south of Norwich in Norfolk.

The quarry produces over 19,000 tonnes of ground chalk, lump chalk and flint per annum. Sand derived from the Norwich Crag and Pleistocene gravels are also commercially extracted from the surface before the extraction of chalk begins. However, our interest here was firmly in the chalk. The chalk forms part of the Beeston Chalk Member, some of the earliest chalk exposed in the UK of Late Campanian age about 80 million years old. Importantly, this chalk member is not exposed on the UK coastline and so access to it can only be achieved via inland sites such as Caistor Quarry. The chalk formed at the bottom of a warm, relatively deep sea that was inhabited by great numbers of microscopic coccolithophores – tiny phytoplankton whose tiny calcite platelets, called coccoliths, formed the striking white calcium carbonate sediment. Fortunately for us the Beeston Chalk Member is particularly fossiliferous with belemnites, brachiopods, echinoids and fish remains being frequently found.

We began with a geological explanation and description of likely finds provided by Sam Caethoven before heading into the quarry. The quarry was in operation during our visit so it was vital we kept away from the large machinery and remained as a group throughout the hunt, however there was a huge expanse of quarry walls and scree piles to explore and the quarry had kindly provided a large amount of fresh material for us to search through.

We were in many ways lucky with the weather, a beautiful warm and Sunday Norfolk day, however within the quarry we were very exposed so plenty of water and sunscreen was essential and the bright sunshine reflecting off the bright white chalk was glaring, making it harder to spot fossils than would otherwise be the case. That said, there was no shortage of great finds.

The finds began with a lovely partial echinoid found by Adam Taylor before many superb Echinocorys echinoid specimens were found by David Clark, Sam Caethoven, Susan Harley, Mary Bite and James Hewitt. Other interesting finds included fish remains found by Martin Beever who also found some very lovely crinoid stems; Poppy Hewitt discovered a lovely Ventriculites sponge preserved in flint; Aidan Philpott found a partial shark tooth and plenty of belemnites and brachiopods were also found among the group.

It was a glorious day to be out fossiling even though it was a bit glaring at times. Thank you to the awesome group who attended and a huge thank you goes to Needham Chalks Ltd who let us investigate their quarry.

Fossil Hunt at Smokejacks Pit 15th July 2017

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The Quarry

On Sunday the 15th July UKAFH met at the world famous Smokejacks Pit – a large clay pit situated just outside 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.

The pit cuts through a section of the Wealden group, specifically the Weald Clay. The clay was deposited in a lake and floodplain environment during the Barremian stage of the Cretaceous period about 129-128 million years ago. At this time, the environment was warm and moist due to England’s then position in mid-latitudes but the climate was exceptionally seasonal with ground scorching dry seasons and intensely stormy wet seasons. Although this weather system may sound inhospitable, the cycle of organic deposition provided by the flood waters created a fertile ecosystem rich in both aquatic and terrestrial fauna and flora – perfect for giant dinosaurs! The diversity of fossils to be found here is quite extraordinary; some beds are extremely rich in plant material, others are ripe with insect remains.  Fish, shark and shrimp are common too in the right layers and crocodile, pterosaur and of course dinosaur remains can be unearthed here with a good eye and a bit of luck.

Weald Clay expert Peter Austen provided us with a fantastic, in depth presentation on the Weald Clay and showed us examples of what could be found in the pit. 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) and plant remains and the well-known concostracans, small shrimp-like creatures which bear superficial similarity to bivalves. Peter provided a handout and a stratigraphical column to assist the group members in finding the various fossil beds. This was particularly beneficial in helping members determine where to look for certain fossils.

We entered the pit very excited and eager to see what we could found. We were lucky with the weather on this occasion; although rain threatened it remained dry – any downpour could soon turn the clay into mud – and we were grateful for it being overcast as the site is extremely exposed and will become uncomfortably hot in the sunshine very quickly, especially when traversing the steep quarry sides.

We began by walking the quarry slopes in search of any fossils visible on the surface. This proved fruitful for Chris Tait, who stumbled across several pieces of crocodile tooth enamel, and Mark Goble who found a broken block containing a large amount of fish material thought to be Lepidotes. Some then headed to the base of the quarry in search of rocks containing insect remains. Sam Caethoven struck lucky with a beautiful wing and wing case side by side in the same block. Some headed for the middle of the slope in search of fish remains: Dan Slidel, who is a geoscientist, took time to investigate the stratigraphy and found fish scales and an abundance of concostracans while Betsy Ooms found the most exquisitely preserved shark tooth.

By the end of the hunt many of us were digging in a bed high up the slope which is full of plant material and is known for an abundance of dinosaur remains. Notable finds include a large piece of bone found by Mary Bite, a beautifully detailed bone found by Seth Cook, an Iguanodont vertebra found by Katherine Combe and a huge crocodile tooth found by Mark Goble, as well as many other bone fragments. However; the prize of the hunt and possible of the year so far goes to Nicky Parslow who found a huge Theropod tooth about 5 cm in length. The tooth was rushed to the Natural History Museum for identification and was examined the very same day.

NHM staff advised: “Your find was of immediate interest, with the curator, Paul Barrett, coming down to identify it this afternoon.  He has identified it as the tooth of a large theropod. He considers it an exceptional find as they are not commonly found. It is not from a Baryonyx but is from an indeterminate large theropod. Unfortunately, it can’t be identified any further as the teeth of these animals are all very similar and there are not enough identifying features to distinguish it from the various other species.”

Peter Austin has since confirmed that this is the only theropod tooth to have been found at Smokejacks apart from Baryonyx so it is a very significant find from the pit! We hope to seek further advice on the tooth in case more information can be found and we are all really excited to try and learn what large, ferocious beast this may have come from.

 

Smokejacks pit is not always as productive as this hunt assumed so I am really proud that everyone made some varied and exceptional finds on this occasion.

Thank you so much to everyone who came and made the day incredible. A huge and special thank you goes to Peter Austen and Joyce for sharing their expertise and organising access at such short notice.

We will, of course, keep everyone posted on the theropod tooth.

 

Aidan Philpott