Reports

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

Fossil Hunt at Ringstead Bay, Dorset Sunday 9th July 2017

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Ringstead Bay

Ringstead Bay remains an almost forgotten gem along the Dorset Coast. Despite the obvious beauty of the location, the site has never been commercialised. Private ownership of much of the land has prevented companies, such as Pontins or Butlins, from exploiting the area in the past and Ringstead Bay remains much unaltered. The winding lane leading down to the bay is certainly not conducive to heavy traffic. Nowadays, the area is under the care and ownership of the National Trust and despite a fairly busy scene around the beach café and car park on Sunday, the rest of the large bay was characteristically mostly deserted, even on a blisteringly hot summer day, as we found out! A few hundred yards away from the slipway and the peace and tranquillity of Ringstead Bay becomes apparent. A brief talk, by Steve, set a backdrop to the location; the geology, the fossils and the Jurassic coast.

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The group gathers for an introductory session.
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The hunt begins
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Some of the group, with the Isle of Portland in the distance.

To the west of the bay, the harder rocks of the Corallian sequence form the headland of Bran Point, composed mostly of the Osmington Oolite Series and packed full of the large cockle Myophorella clavellata, which are also evident in the reefs and rock pools at low tide. To the east, the majestic Chalk cliffs of White Nothe form a prominent cliff. In between, the tall, slumped and badly weathered cliffs within the bay are entirely composed of Kimmeridge Clay, which is where our hunt began.

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Ringstead Bay, viewed towards the west
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View across the bay, looking west.

The Kimmeridge Clay here is 151 to 156 million years old and is composed of much degraded mudstone, formed on the Jurassic sea bottom when England once bathed in a sub-tropical climate. In fact, it was probably much the same as the day of our hunt, where the sun shone fiercely and the sky and sea were blue and mostly cloudless.

After an introductory chat, explaining the geology of this part of the Jurassic Coast, the party descended to beach level and the hunt was on. Ringstead Bay suffers much the same as other locations at the height of summer; poor erosion from tides and rain and from tourists. The tourists love fossil hunting in Dorset and consequently the more usual specimens found at Ringstead Bay were in short supply. Local collectors wait for the autumn and winter storms to help stir up the coast replenish supplies of fossils. However, the recent lack of good storms, even over the winter, has also meant fewer cliff falls and fresh material being exposed. The Kimmeridge Clay here was very dry and finding fossils within the hard clay body was not easy. However, the first fossil – a piece of the oyster, Deltoideum delta- was found by 6-year old Sophie de Candole. This was followed by several large complete oysters of the same being picked up by most members of the group.

Pieces of hard shale, which could be easily split by hand, exposed several ammonites and various shells. The largest ammonite remained in an immovable boulder on the beach but Aaron Roberts, aged 11, found a nice smaller specimen. The Sandsfoot Formation, which marks the junction between the older Corallian rocks with the overlying, younger Kimmeridge Clay was exposed in the cliff  and formerly known as the Ringstead Coral Bed. Broken ‘chunks’ on the beach revealed little in the way of fossils, although 12-year old Cem Izzet found a good-sized bivalve, named Ctenostreon proboscideum. whose large strongly-ribbed shell is unmistakable and easily recognised.

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Halfway along the bay, high in the cliffs, are the visible strata of the Portland Limestone Formation and capped by the basal part of the Cretaceous Purbeck Formation. The folded and faulted rocks, form a spectacular unconformity, with the Chalk dipping to the right and the Portland and Purbeck rocks dipping towards the right.

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The day was certainly a success. The majority of the group found various fossils and were very pleased with the outcomes. Coupled with the glorious weather, it was a wonderful day out and encouraged those who had never been to the location before, to return. Many thanks to everyone who came along and UKAFH look forward to seeing you on another hunt.

Steve Snowball

UKAFH interviews Dr. Adam Smith, curator of Dinosaurs of China.

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Dr Tom Hartman, Dr Wang Qi and Dr Adam Smith with the head of the Mamenchisaurus, the centrepiece of the Dinosaurs of China exhibition
Dr Tom Hartman, Dr Wang Qi and Dr. Adam Smith with Mamenchisaurus head outside Wollaton Hall

Dr. Adam Smith is curator of Dinosaurs of China and of the Nottingham Natural History Museum at Wollaton Hall, which hosts the Dinosaurs of China exhibition alongside its extensive collection of over 750,000 exhibits and 40,000 fossils.

Anyone interested in palaeontology and modern understanding of dinosaur and bird evolution and really needs to get to the groundbreaking Dinosaurs of China exhibition. The specimens on display are incredibly important, many seen for the first time outside of China. The curation is superb, blending the extraordinary fossils with Wollaton Hall’s permanent natural history collection and enlivened by fresh new palaeoart which imagines the creatures in life based on our most up-to-date research and scientific knowledge.

With a lifelong interest in fossils, Adam established his own fossil collection as a child before embarking on undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Palaeobiology.  Outside of the day job Adam is a keen palaeoartist, a subject which is highly integral to the Dinosaurs of China exhibition.  He also advises toy company Safari Ltd. on their dinosaur figures as well as running the Dinosaur Toy Blog and Forum and the Animal Toy Forum.  His personal research focus is Plesiosaur and he was consultant to the BBC on Planet Dinosaur.

We invited Adam to tell us more about his love of fossils and asked for his pearls of wisdom for budding palaeontologists, young and old.

 

Bob Nicholls liopleurodon
Palaeoartist Bob Nicholls adds the finishing touches to Liopleurodon, a model built around the tooth held in Nottingham Natural History Museum’s 40,000 object fossil collection

UKAFH: What attracted you to fossil collecting?

AS: I suppose I was attracted to fossil hunting because fossils connect us to prehistoric worlds. Fossils are real and tactile so it made sense to collect some for myself. There’s also that hope that one day you might discover a new species of dinosaur, but I never found anything of importance! Even if I had, I would’ve donated any significant discoveries to my local museum.

UKAFH: Which finds were your favourites and why? 

 AS: Ammonites were always my favourite discoveries because they are so iconic and beautiful. The shiny pyritic ones at Lyme Regis are extremely common but always a joy to discover.

UKAFH: How did fossil hunting inspire you? 

AS: There’s something special about being the first person to see the remains of a creature that died millions of years ago. Fossil hunting also gets you out in the field and helps you to understand the objects in their geological context.

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Chris Packham and Dr. Adam Smith welcome visitors with Mamenchisaurus towering above.

UKAFH: What advice would you give to amateur fossil hunters whose passion inspires them to progress into palaeontology?

AS: Collecting fossils is sometimes an end to itself for many amateurs. However, I would advise amateur fossil hunters with a serious interest in palaeontology to take up a hammer in one hand and a scientific paper in the other and learn as much as they can about the fossils they discover. Amateurs can attend academic conferences, such as the annual SVPCA and PalAss meetings, which are open to all and provide an opportunity to learn about current palaeontology directly from those conducting the work. This can also open doors.

UKAFH: Is it ever too late to attempt a career in palaeontology? 

AS: So long as the passion is there, it is never too late to attempt a career in palaeontology. However, you have to be realistic – it can take years of hard work to get to the stage where you can make new contributions to the field, and even then paid jobs are few and far between. For example, conducting research isn’t part of my job remit as a curator at Wollaton Hall; I research and write papers about plesiosaurs in my personal time out of passion.

UKAFH: What routes and opportunities are there for amateurs?

AS: Every professional palaeontologist began as an amateur. The traditional route is through university and that’s the one I took. However, I know several self-taught palaeontologists who have made significant research contributions. Especially now in the information age it is possible to gain knowledge by seeking out academic papers online and attending academic conferences. Most palaeontologists are more than happy to send PDFs of their papers to anyone who asks – they’re just an email away. Volunteering can also help get good working knowledge and hands on experience working in a museum.

Adam Smith and Wang Qi discuss the Sinosauropteryx
Dr. Wang Qi and Dr. Adam Smith discuss Sinosauropteryx

Featuring fossils and specimens never before seen outside of Asia, Dinosaurs of China will bring to life the story of how dinosaurs evolved into the birds that live alongside us today.

Wollaton Hall, Nottingham, will host the main exhibition, with a complementary exhibition at Lakeside Arts, running from 1 July – 29 October 2017.

Book your tickets online now! 

Adults: £7 Child: £5 Family Ticket: £20 All tickets subject to additional 10% booking fee. Under 5’s visit for free. Carers free.

http://www.dinosaursofchina.co.uk/

Look out too for the museum’s forthcoming new permanent Jurassic exhibition which will showcase fossils from the museum’s 40,000 strong collection, including locally found specimens like a dinosaur footprint from Mapperley, a Liopleurodon tooth complete with palaeoart model to show the creature it came from and the very important Nottingham ichthyosaur which can be seen at Lakeside Arts as part of the Dinosaurs of China exhibition and has been researched by UKAFH patron Dean Lomax. 

Sam Caethoven

 

Fossil Hunt at Monmouth, Dorset 25th June 2017

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On Sunday the 25th June, UKAFH attended a hunt at the ‘Mecca of palaeontology’; namely Lyme Regis in Dorset. Lyme Regis is where fossil collecting and palaeontology all began and where, in 1811, Joseph Anning, the older brother of Mary, dug up a skull of an ichthyosaur on the ledges on the beach. At the time, he thought it was a crocodile but the significant find was followed by Mary’s own discovery of the skeleton that accompanied the 4-foot long head and the rest is history, as they say! Mary Anning went on to become the world’s most famous fossil collector and the discoverer of ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, pterosaurs, fish and countless other fossils from this very location. She undoubtedly paved the way for this newly evolving science at the time.

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The hunt begins along Monmouth Beach.
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The ledges were revealed as the tide retreated.

Although nobody in the UKAFH party found anything as spectacular, the coastline at Lyme Regis certainly sets the scene for any fossil enthusiast. The constantly crumbling cliffs can reveal ammonites and other fossils on an almost daily basis. This, of course, has its drawbacks also because during the summer months, hundreds of thousands of people flock to the Jurassic Coast, especially to Lyme Regis and the neighbouring Charmouth, to chance their arm at finding a fossil. Consequently, with low erosion rates, particularly during the summer and with every man and his dog combing the beaches, it’s never an ideal time. Undaunted however, our party made the most of dry weather and great scenery.

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The party below Ware Cliffs on Monmouth Beach

As is usual, we began with a short explanation about the geology and what could be found there. To the west of the Cobb at Lyme Regis is Monmouth Beach and here the famous rocks of the Blue Lias Formation can be seen, extending west to Pinhay Bay. The distinctive cliffs of layered limestone and shale is present, particularly at Ware Cliffs. The rocks are the oldest in the sequence of rocks found along the Jurassic Coast and date from around 199 million years ago. These hard, pale layers of limestone and darker organic-rich shales, also occupy much of the foreshore around Lyme Regis, appearing as a series of ledges on the foreshore at low-tide. The rocks gently dip towards the east and the overlying Shales-with-Beef Member and the Black Ven Marl Member (both from the Charmouth Mudstone Formation) eventually reach beach level, beneath Black Ven and East Beach at Charmouth.

Looking for fossils in the cliffs at this location is both dangerous and pointless. The rocks are under constant attack by the sea and the fossils are washed out of the clays and shales and deposited on the foreshore, between the rocks and boulders on the beach and ledges. Searching in these places is far more productive and members of the party were encouraged to do just that and soon some finds were found. As explained, there is a low frequency of fossils during the peak season and specimens that were picked up were in no way spectacular but they, nonetheless, were representative of the myriad of life forms which were present in Jurassic seas; for this is where Lyme Regis was once located. Then, the current Dorset coast was enjoying a climate similar to the current coast of North Africa and the nearest land mass lie many miles away. Consequently, fossils are mostly of marine origin, despite them being from the time of the dinosaurs. Dinosaur remains and vegetation are rare as fossils at Lyme Regis and such fossils are invariably of those organisms that were swept into the sea, from the nearest land, only to sink into the muds and silts of the ocean floor. However, bones and teeth of marine reptiles, such as ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and pliosaurs are common finds but not during our hunt, alas!

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Our partY reach the start of Pinhay Bay, where our hunt ended.
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Part of the spectacular ‘ammonite pavement’ at Monmouth Beach.

As with most hunts at coastal locations, the best time is to coincide with a falling tide, which is exactly what we did. The walk along Monmouth Beach, traversing rocks and boulders, searching for fossils can be quite arduous and we soon reached the spectacular ‘ammonite pavement, very near to our destination at Pinhay Bay, just as the tide retreated fully. This incredible stretch of foreshore accommodates dozens, perhaps even hundreds of large ammonites among the boulders and in situ on the exposed bedrock. These particular ammonites cannot be collected but their enormous size and abundance makes them worth seeing all the same.

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Lizzie Hingley’s cracked nodule with a very crushed, calcified ammonite within.

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On the way, members of the party found a number of ammonite fragments and in the case of Rebecca Walsh, a complete ammonite. UKAFH Leader Lizzie Hingley found a nodule, which looked quite promising until it was expertly cracked open, to reveal a highly an ammonite badly preserved in calcite within! However, she did find a nicely preserved Gryphaea (an oyster) and a large bivalve from the slumped Upper Greensand boulders found nearer to Pinhay Bay. Serpulids (worms), belemnite fragments, gastropods and various bivalves were also found by the party, so despite the finds being unspectacular and few everyone thoroughly enjoyed a sunny (yes, the sun finally came out!) and informative day, on the stunning Jurassic Coast of Dorset. Many thanks to all who attended and made this a very enjoyable event.

Please note that the site is given SSSI status, as part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, so the cliffs themselves are not to be hammered into.

Steve Snowball

UKAFH exclusive interview with Chris Packham, broadcaster and naturalist, at Dinosaurs of China exhibition.

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Chris Packham is supporting Dinosaurs of China
Chris Packham meets Hunter, Dinosaurs of China’s animatronic Sinraptor

UKAFH reporters Aidan Philpott, Nicky Parslow and Sam Caethoven visited the press preview of Dinosaurs of China and gained an exclusive interview with BBC’s Chris Packham.  Here he gives us his views on the exhibition and tells us about his own interest in fossils as an amateur collector. Chris has been a fossil enthusiast since childhood and still recalls modelling his first plasticine T-rex as a child, complete with teeth and claws but with a dragging tail (to stop it falling over) and keeps a diary of his fossil finds.

UKAFH: How did you start fossil collecting?

CP: I grew up in Southampton so as a child I used to regularly go to nearby Bracklesham Bay where I collected bivalves, shark teeth and turritella gastropods.  I recall when they built the power station they dug a tunnel under the Solent which went through the Bracklesham beds.  The spoil from the tunnel works was deposited at Warsash and I found my best shark tooth there.  I still have it.

We used to have family holidays in Lyme Regis too and I was always begging my parents – unsuccessfully – to get up early to beat the crowds to the beach and Black Ven.  I remember other fossil hunters being kind and I still have a good ammonite that a local collector gave to me when hunting there as a kid. Oddly, even though we lived in Southampton, we never went to the Isle of Wight.  But now my partner owns a zoo next to Dinosaur Isle so I look out for fossils when walking the dogs at Yaverland and have found a few bits.

UKAFH: What do you think responsible amateur fossil hunters contribute to science?

CP: When I am on the Isle of Wight I see the enormous conflict between scientists and amateurs.  But amateur collectors have found a lot of fossils.  Fossil collecting should primarily be about science (an enquiring mind and a wish to preserve and study) rather than money (purely commercial collecting). Amateurs contribute a lot by being out there in numbers and finding fossils.

 

Sam Caethoven speaks to Chris Packham at the Dinosaurs of China Exhibition in Nottingham

UKAFH: What fossils do you have on display?

CP: I have a collection of axe heads – human ichnofossils – on display.  I also have a museum quality T-rex skull that was given to me once as payment in kind! Aside from that I have 1/3 scale casts of T-rex and Triceratops and a really great Ichthyosaur coprolite (fossil poo) from Lyme Regis.  I also have a Carcharocles megalodon tooth which sits on top of my microwave.  It isn’t huge but it’s really good quality and cost around £40.  If investing in fossils I consider quality is a better investment than size.  My dream is to own a banana sized T-rex tooth.

UKAFH:  What next?

CP: Next week I’m off to the Black Hills, South Dakota, on a T-rex dig.  I’m wildly excited as the Tyrannosaurus rex is an iconic dinosaur known to everyone and was the dinosaur I modelled from plasticine as a child. I’m making a show about the T-rex which is due to air at Christmas as a 1 hour special which will look at how our understanding and depiction of the dinosaur has evolved over the years. The programme is inspired by David Hone’s Tyrannosaur Chronicles. The programme will see what a wide range of contemporary scientific research and techniques is revealing to us about T-rex physiology, biology, behaviour, diet and environment.  Best of all, by the time the programme airs it will already be out of date because our understanding of dinosaurs is constantly changing and growing so there is always more to know.

Microraptor gui type specimen
Microraptor gui – holotype fossil feathered dinosaur on display at Dinosaurs of China

 

UKAFH: Tell us your thoughts on the Dinosaurs of China exhibition here at Wollaton Hall, Nottingham.

CP:  What this amazing exhibition really demonstrates is how our understanding of dinosaurs has transformed as scientific examination has improved and developed and more specimens have been discovered, including these 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 endure and inspire future generations to constantly pursue better understanding.  This 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. In fact, 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.  WE don’t know if dinosaurs evolved feathers for warmth or display but can examine the clues And study the fossils and continue to learn.

Microraptor gui
Microraptor gui palaeoart

UKAFH: The exhibition also focusses strongly on palaeoart.  What are your views on this?

CP: Palaeoart is hugely important as the public face of palaeontology.  People see dinosaurs depicted in books, pictures and films and it profoundly influences how we think of dinosaurs.  I recall desperately wanting to see 1 Million Years BC as a child because I wanted to see moving, living dinosaurs portrayed on screen.  I was hugely disappointed.  Even at a young age I could see through the prosthetic horns on iguanas, enlarged tortoises and badly animated dinosaurs.  Seeing specimens in the bone or, as with Dinosaurs of China, in the feathers and flesh, is hugely important to our understanding.  Palaeoart can represent truth and beauty and reflect and portray animals according to the most up-to-date scientific knowledge, directly contributing to public perception.  It is always disappointing when  opportunities to achieve this are missed, such as Jurassic World persisting with the scaly, mis-sized beasts of the earlier and less informed original Jurassic Park.

Featuring fossils and specimens never before seen outside of Asia, Dinosaurs of China will bring to life the story of how dinosaurs evolved into the birds that live alongside us today.

Wollaton Hall, Nottingham, will host the main exhibition, with a complementary exhibition at Lakeside Arts, running from 1 July – 29 October 2017.

Book your tickets online now! 

Adults: £7 Child: £5 Family Ticket: £20 All tickets subject to additional 10% booking fee. Under 5’s visit for free. Carers free.

http://www.dinosaursofchina.co.uk/

Sam Caethoven and Aidan Philpott

 

Fossil Hunt at Pett Level, East Sussex 4th June 2017

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On Sunday the 4th June UKAFH descended in number upon the Sussex shoreline for a fossil hunt from Pett Level towards Fairlight – a stretch of coastline famous for its dinosaur foot prints, foot casts and dinosaur bone.

We began with a short explanation about the geology and what could be found. Exposed in the cliff here is the lower part of the Wealden group of formations, a deposit of sandstone, siltstone, clay and conglomerates dating to the Lower Cretaceous, about 140 million years ago. It was deposited in a vast river system and flood plain at a time of exceptionally warm global temperatures and an area of extremely seasonal weather. The seasonal nature of the palaeoclimate helps explain why this deposit came to be so fossiliferous and preserve the famous foot prints and casts. We can imagine the area as a warm, wet, densely vegetated environment, indicated by the great number of plant remains found here. The numerous rivers and lakes were abundant with life, made apparent by the dense assemblages of bivalve fossils, abundance of fish bone, scales and teeth and most notably by the huge slabs of bioturbation found on the shoreline – the trace fossils of creatures moving through the fluvial mud. This mud was also deposited on the river banks where huge (and sometimes small) dinosaurs such as Iguanodons or Baryonyx would stop for a drink, leaving their distinctive foot prints. Then came the dry season, which was extreme enough to cause bush fires – indicated by the presence of charcoal in the formation – the rivers dried up and the lakes became anoxic, aiding preservation. This was followed by the wet season, with intense storms and flooding, depositing larger grained sediment across the floodplain, burying the foot prints to form foot casts and preserving the remains of plants and animals to be found here 140 million years later.

Heading onto the beach

Beautiful Sunny Weather along the Sussex Coastline

We didn’t have to worry about such seasonal extremes on this fossil hunt however, as the sun was shining while we enjoyed the summer warmth with a refreshing sea breeze. There was a lot to see as he headed west towards Fairlight. We saw large blocks of bioturbation and ripple marks preserved in claystone, the black remains of plant material were also abundant. The foot casts and prints were unfortunately sparse compared to previous UKAFH visits however a spectacular and rare theropod print was found. We also found huge slabs of Cliff End Bone Bed, a conglomerate which as the name suggests contains a lot of a bone fossils. These slabs contained clearly defined fish scales and teeth – those members lucky enough to find small pieces of bone bed took them home to treat with a mild acid such as vinegar to extract the fossils within. Other finds included bivalves, the odd rolled dinosaur bone, fish bones and of course Nicky Parslow found an echinoid preserved in flint, something that’s become a trademark of hers. Another unusual find was the barrel of a gun found by Chris Avis. It was debated as to whether it was an Air rifle, a pressure washer, or even a WW2 American paratrooper rifle! I hope Chris has it looked at and lets us know the conclusion.

A great Theropod footprint!

The first dinosaur footprint find of the day 

Investigating a slab of bone bed containing bones, fish teeth and scales.

A split slab of unio bivalve bed found by John Laurent

The impressions of bivalves found by Hannah Costerton

Fish bone, plant matter and scales in siltstone.

Although the finds were few and far between on this occasion I hope everyone enjoyed a sunny and informative day on the beautiful Sussex coastline and I hope to see you all again soon on another UKAFH hunt.

Chris Bite finds some bone bed

Possibly a rifle! found by Chris Avis.

Please note. This stretch of coastline is a SSSI. Do not dig into or hammer the bedrock or cliffs – only loose fossils along the foreshore should be collected and any significant finds should be registered with Bexhill Museum. The often abundant foot prints and casts must not be collected – instead take a photograph and leave them for everyone to enjoy.