Category: Geology

His and Her Trilobites

Dorset Fossil Expert Sends Everything Dinosaur Trilobites

For Brandon Lennon, fossil expert and Ammonite polisher supreme, this time of year is very busy as he prepares for the public Lyme Regis fossil walks which start again on Saturday 14th February.  February 2015, may seem a long way off, but for someone who spends his time studying the extensive fossil beds on this part of Dorset coast, it is merely a blink in geological time away.  Over the winter months, Brandon will be examining tide tables, looking at where rock falls and mud slides occur and plotting the best walks for those members of the public lucky enough to join him on his fossil finding adventures.

Brandon Lennon – Looking Forward to More Fossil Collecting in 2015

Exciting Plesiosaur Fossil Discovery

Exciting Plesiosaur Fossil Discovery

The picture above shows Brandon, with some beautifully preserved vertebrae from a Plesiosaurus, a marine reptile, fossils of which can be found eroding out of the cliffs on some parts of the Dorset coast.  Next year, marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of the world’s first extensive geological map.  The map that plotted the geology of England, Wales and parts of Scotland was created by the surveyor William Smith, (1769-1839), nick-named “strata Smith”, as it was Smith who used knowledge about which types of fossils could be found in which types of rock to plot the depositional sequence of strata.

This map, with its catchy title “A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland*, is regarded by many scientists and cartographers as one of the most important and significant maps ever created, it has even been dubbed “the map that changed the world”.  The geology of the Dorset coast is included, it forms one of fifteen sections that when combined produce the geological map.  Brandon and his father (a retired geologist), would be able to recognise the underlying geology as identified by Smith all those years ago.  Being able to identify the best places to look when it comes to finding fossils is a key skill for a leader of guided fossil walks and Brandon has more than twenty years experience in the role.

For further information on Guided Fossil Walks in the Lyme Regis area: Lyme Regis Fossil Walks

Brandon’s extensive interests are not confined to Jurassic aged sediments.  The other day, he kindly sent Everything Dinosaur a couple of Trilobite specimens to add to our Arthropod fossil collection.  Most vertebrate palaeontologists, when quizzed, will openly admit to having a passion for all things Trilobita.  These entirely marine relatives of crustaceans, insects and spiders, evolved during the Cambrian and survived right up to the End Permian mass extinction event.  Trilobites come in all shapes and sizes and the two specimens sent to us by Brandon are fine examples of the genus Calymene (the genus name means “beautiful crescent” and it is pronounced kal-im-minny).  These particular fossils probably come from Morocco and date from the Late Ordovician, making them approximately 270 million years older than the strata explored by Brandon and the groups he takes out on his fossil walks.

We have nick-named the Trilobites “Mike and Sue”.

Trilobite Fossils Sent to Everything Dinosaur by Brandon Lennon

"Mike and Sue" - the Trilobites.

“Mike and Sue” – the Trilobites.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To read more about Brandon’s fossil hunting adventures including an article on Ammonite polishing: Fossil Experts Demonstrate Their Skills

*In Georgian times, in nascent scientific circles, there was a trend to give extremely long titles to publications.  It seems a case of don’t use one word when five words would do instead.  The full title of the 1815 geological survey map is:

“A  Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland, exhibiting the collieries and mines, the marshes and fen lands originally overflowed by the sea, and the varieties of soil according to the variations in the substrata, illustrated by the most descriptive names by W. Smith.”

Recommended Christmas Reading for Dinosaur Fans

“Dinosaurs of the British Isles” – An Ideal Christmas Gift

Not sure what to buy a budding palaeontologist for Christmas, well, Everything Dinosaur recommends “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” by Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura (Siri Scientific Press).  This book provides a comprehensive guide to the dinosaur discoveries that have been made in the United Kingdom and it takes the reader from the Triassic through to the Late Cretaceous, cataloguing all the various dinosaurs in geochronological order.

The Front Cover of Dinosaurs of the British Isles

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

Dean and Nobumichi have painstakingly compiled a comprehensive review of all the major dinosaur fossil finds and this book is aimed at the general reader as well as at fossil collectors and dinosaur fans.  Southern England and the Isle of Wight may be globally significant locations when it comes to Early Cretaceous dinosaurs, but readers may be surprised to find that the sandstones in Morayshire (Scotland) have provided tantalising clues to life on the super-continent Pangaea during the Triassic and the oldest dinosaur tracks can be spotted at Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan (south Wales).

The authors are to be commended, as they provide a fascinating introduction to the Dinosauria, their classification and the emergence of palaeontology as a science.  This all follows a well-written foreword by Dr. Paul Barrett, a highly respected academic and vertebrate palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum (London).  With the Dinosauria well and truly introduced, it is time to meet some of the amazing prehistoric creatures that once roamed the British Isles.  For example, at least three types of tyrannosaurid may once have roamed across this part of the world.  There’s the Proceratosaurus (P. bradleyi) whose fossilised remains, come from Gloucestershire, the fearsome, five-metre long Juratyrant, a terror of the Late Jurassic whose fossilised remains have been discovered near Swanage (Dorset) and Eotyrannus (E. lengi), represented by a partial skeleton found on the Isle of Wight.

 Documenting the Theropoda of the British Isles

A potential Compsognathidae?

A potential Compsognathidae?

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

 It is not just the meat-eaters that palaeontologist Dean Lomax has documented in collaboration with California based, palaeoartist Nobumichi Tamura.  The United Kingdom boasts some very impressive (and gigantic) herbivorous dinosaurs too. This book also provides a comprehensive account of the huge Sauropods that once stomped across the British Isles, many of which rivalled the long-necked dinosaurs of North America in terms of size.

To visit the website of Siri Scientific Press to learn more about “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”: Siri Scientific Press

Author Dean Provides a Scale for Cetiosaurus

A belly up view of "Whale Lizard".

A belly up view of “Whale Lizard”.

Picture Credit: Dean Lomax

The full colour photographs are very informative and support the text extremely effectively.  This is a rare example of a book that will appeal to serious academics as well as to the general reader.  ”Dinosaurs of the British Isles” provides a fascinating introduction to the Dinosauria, before moving on to describe every dinosaur species represented by the known fossil record from this part of the world in great detail.

Highly recommended.

“Dinosaurs of the British Isles” by Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura is available from Siri Scientific Press (Siri Scientific Press), length 414 pages, ISBN: 978-0-9574530-5-0.

Fresh Rockfalls at Monmouth Beach (Lyme Regis)

Warnings for Fossil Hunters at Lyme Regis

The cliffs that surround the picturesque town of Lyme Regis in Dorset on England’s famous “Jurassic Coast” are very treacherous.  Rockfalls and landslips are a relatively common occurrence and team members at Everything Dinosaur, have done much to help inform and to warn visitors to the area of the potential hazards.  Fossil collecting or simply exploring the beaches can be a lot of fun, but the recent cliff fortification and shore stability measures put in place by the local council will not solve the problem of the unstable geology of the area.   The cliffs are composed of relatively loose sediment, that when saturated after heavy rain or somewhat dried out after a prolonged spell without too much precipitation, are prone to rockfalls.  It is always advisable to stay well away from the base of the cliffs, fossil collecting on a falling tide helps, as this gives an increasing distance between the sea and the cliffs.

Dangerous Cliffs at Lyme Regis

Good idea to go fossil collecting on a falling tide and to keep away from the steep cliffs.

Good idea to go fossil collecting on a falling tide and to keep away from the steep cliffs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Recently, we were sent some photographs by Lyme Regis fossil expert, Brandon Lennon.  The photographs showed a rockfall that had taken place on Monmouth beach (to the west of Lyme Regis).  Brandon explained that he had observed a number of cliff falls this year and that he expected more to occur as the autumn weather sets in.   This particular rockfall had occurred on that area of the beach famous for its extensive ammonite and nautiloid fossils preserved within the blue lias limestones – an area known as the “Ammonite Pavement” or the “Ammonite Graveyard”.

Recent Rockfall at Monmouth Beach

Rockfall onto the Ammonite Pavement on Monmouth Beach.

Rockfall onto the Ammonite Pavement on Monmouth Beach.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A supervised, fossil collecting walk is one of the best ways to explore the beaches around Lyme Regis, for further information on such tours: Fossil Walks in the Lyme Regis Area

Perhaps if you are lucky enough to go on a field trip with Brandon to Monmouth beach, you might be able to hear the theories that have been proposed to help explain why so many large ammonite fossils are found together at this spot.

Everything Dinosaur was sent a beautiful piece of fossilised wood from nearby Portland.  The specimen still had the bark preserved on it and when polished in section, growth rings could still be made out. We think that the fossil represents an Araucaria spp. (monkey puzzle tree).  This fossilised wood dates from the Upper Jurassic.  Fossil wood can occasionally be found on the beaches of Lyme Regis and nearby Charmouth, but this is usually much older dating mainly from the Lower Jurassic.

A Polished Section of Fossilised Wood

A polished section of fossilised wood.

A polished section of fossilised wood.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Remember if fossil collecting, be careful out there.

Evolution and Extinction of the African Carcharodontosauridae

“Shark Toothed Lizard” – The Rise and Fall of Carcharodontosaurus

The Carcharodontosaurus genus currently consists of two species, the first of which Carcharodontosaurus saharicus  (originally called Megalosaurus saharicus), is known from fossil material found in North Africa.  The second species, named and described in 2007, was erected following fossil finds, including skull material from the Echkar Formation of Niger, this species is known as C. iguidensis.  Although both species are known from fragmentary material and a few isolated teeth, differences in the shape of the upper jaw and the structure of the brain case enabled scientists to confidently establish Carcharodontosaurus iguidensis as a second, distinct species.

An Illustration of a Typical Carcharodontosaurid Dinosaur

Fearsome "Shark Lizard"

Fearsome “Shark Lizard”

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Carcharodontosaurus means “shark-toothed lizard”,  a reference to the fact that the teeth of this huge carnivore, reminded scientists of the teeth of sharks belonging to the Carcharodon genus of sharks, such as the teeth of the Great White Shark (C. carcharias).  It is ironic that this terrestrial predator should be named after a marine carnivore, as changing sea levels very probably influenced the evolution of these dinosaurs and may have ultimately led to their extinction, at least from Africa.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Collecta dinosaur models including a 1:40 scale Deluxe Carcharodontosaurus: Collecta Scale Dinosaur Models

Pronounced - Car-car-oh-dont-toe-sore-us, the oldest dinosaur currently assigned to the Carcharodontosauridae family is Veterupristisaurus (Vet-ter-roo-pris-tee-sore-us).  This dinosaur was named and described in 2011, although the fossil material was discovered over seventy-five years ago.   The fossils come from the famous Tendaguru Formation of Tanzania, it lived during the Late Jurassic and the trivial name V. milneri honours the now retired Angela Milner who worked at the Natural History Museum (London).

Carcharodontosaurus lived during the Cretaceous (Late Albian to mid Cenomanian faunal stages).  During this time, the great, southern super-continent called Gondwanaland continued to break up and as sea levels rose, so populations of dinosaurs became separated by the inflow of sea water.

Rising Sea Levels Influence Dinosaur Evolution

Rising sea levels but off dinosaur populations.

Rising sea levels cut off dinosaur populations.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Communities became isolated and this may have provided a boost to the evolution of new species.  The map shows the approximate location of fossil material associated with C. saharicus and C. iguidensis.  Populations of carcharodontosaurids may have become cut-off from each other and this gave rise to new species of Carcharodontosaurus.  This may help to explain the abundance of super-sized predators that lived in this part of the world during the Cretaceous.  Both species of Carcharodontosaurus shared a common ancestor, but their separation led to the evolution of two, distinct species.  This natural process is called allopatric speciation.

Sadly for the mega fauna that inhabited the coastal swamps and verdant flood plains of North Africa, rising sea levels in the later stages of the Cenomanian led to the destruction of much of this habitat.  The loss of habitat probably led to the demise of the ecosystem and the vulnerable apex predators such as the carcharodontosaurids and the spinosaurids became extinct.

To read an article on the discovery of C. iguidensisNew Giant Meat-Eating Dinosaur from Africa

What Kind of Prehistoric Animal was Urvogel?

Explaining about Archaeopteryx

Earlier this week, Everything Dinosaur was emailed by a young dinosaur fan who asked about a prehistoric animal named Urvogel.  She had come across it whilst learning about the famous fossil site of Solnhofen in southern Germany.  The word “Urvogel” is German and it means “first bird”, it refers to Archaeopteryx (A. lithographica), the fossils of which are synonymous with the finely grained limestone beds of the Solnhofen quarries.

The Ancient “Dino-Bird” Archaeopteryx

the first bird - "Urvogel".

the first bird – “Urvogel”.

Picture Credit: Carl Buell

Palaeontologists now know that this creature, fossils of which show a transitional form between Theropod dinosaurs and birds, was probably not the first bird to evolve.  However, when a spectacular fossil discovery was announced in 1861, Archaeopteryx became the first feathered fossil of its kind to be formerly studied and its fossils caused a sensation, as only two years before Charles Darwin had published “The Origin of Species” that outlined the case for evolution and natural selection.

The Solnhofen limestone deposits are finely grained and they outcrop in an east to west belt north of Munich and south of Nuremberg.  Hundreds of fossils of invertebrates have been found and the vertebrate fauna preserved includes over fifty types of fossil fish, around thirty reptiles (Pterosaurs, marine reptiles, dinosaurs and crocodiles).  The Solnhofen deposits are regarded as a Lagerstätte.  This is a German phrase from the words Lager (which means storage) and Stätte (which means place).  It refers to a deposit of sedimentary strata that contains a lot of fossil material that is exceptionally well preserved.

During the Late Jurassic, shallow tropical lagoons and small islands stretched all the way from Portugal in the south through France and into southern Germany.  Coral reefs formed in the tropical seas and these reefs split the coastline up forming a series of isolated lagoons.  These lagoons were cut off from the sea and also from terrestrial run off.  The salinity levels rose in the lagoons and the water may have become oxygen deficient.  This made the mud on the bottom of these lagoons almost devoid of life so any animal or plant remains that drifted into the lagoon was not consumed by scavengers.  The almost stagnant waters had little current so the remains of corpses were not broken up.  Organisms buried by the soft, carbonate muds and formed as fossils in the finely grained sediment therefore have exceptional details preserved and many of these body fossils are almost complete.

Two Hundred Years of Ichthyosaurs

200th Anniversary of the First Ichthyosaur Scientific Paper

This week saw the 200th anniversary of the first scientific description of an animal that was later named as an Ichthyosaur.  On June 23rd 1814, Sir Everard Home published the first account of the Lyme Regis Ichthyosaur that had been found a few years earlier by the Anning family (Mary and her brother Joseph).  The paper was published by the Royal Society of London, it had the catchy title of “Some Account of the Fossil Remains of an Animal More Nearly Allied to Fishes than any Other Classes of Animals”.

In the account, Sir Everard Home, an anatomist who held the distinguished position of Surgeon to the King, attempted to classify the fossilised remains of what we now know as a “Fish Lizard”.  Reading the paper today, one can’t help but get a sense of utter confusion in the mind of the author.  Sir Everard, had one or two secrets and although two hundred years later, it is difficult to place in context what was behind the paper, after all, at the height of the Napoleonic war there was intense rivalry between the French and English scientific establishments, an assessment of this work in 2014 does little to enhance Sir Everard’s academic reputation.

A Model of an Ichthyosaur and One of the Plate Illustrations from the Scientific Paper

The illustration from the paper and a model interpretation of a "Fish Lizard"

The illustration from the paper and a model interpretation of a “Fish Lizard”

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd top and the Royal Society (William Clift) bottom

Back to those secrets.  Whilst notable figures in the history of palaeontology such as the Reverend William Buckland was corresponding with Georges Cuvier, the French anatomist and widely regarded as “the founder of modern comparative anatomy”, against a back drop of war between Britain and France, in a bid to understand the strange petrified remains found on England’s Dorset coast, Sir Everard raced into print, to be the first to describe this creature.  Just like today, if you are the first to do something than fame and fortune can await.  Trouble is, Sir Everard, by a number of accounts, was relatively incompetent.  He was also a cheat!

In 1771, when the young Everard was a teenager, his sister married John Hunter, an extremely talented surgeon and anatomist who had already built a reputation for himself as being one of the most brilliant scientists of his day.  He was able to learn a great deal from his brother-in-law and this coupled with his wealthy background soon propelled the ambitious Everard to the forefront of London society.  However, the much older John Hunter died suddenly from a heart attack in 1793 and it has been said that Everard used his brother-in-laws untimely death to his distinct advantage.

Having removed  ”a cartload” of John Hunter’s unpublished manuscripts from the Royal College of Surgeons in London, Everard began publishing them but under his own name.  This alleged plagiarism enhanced the young surgeon’s reputation and led to his steady rise in scientific circles, permitting Everard to gain the fame and good standing amongst his peers that he so craved.  Such was his desire to keep his plagiarism a secret, that it is believed that he burnt Hunter’s original texts once they had been copied out.  So enthusiastic was he to get rid of the evidence that on one occasion he set fire to his own house.

And so to the published account of the Ichthyosaur.  Sir Everard explained his willingness to examine the fossilised remains by writing:

“To examine such fossil bones, and to determine the class to which the animals belonged comes within the sphere of enquiry of the anatomist.”

In the paper, Sir Everard describes the fossil remains in some detail, although his descriptions lack the academic rigour found in other papers later published by Cuvier, Mantell and Owen.  The author states that the fossil material was found in the Blue Lias of the Dorset coast between Charmouth and Lyme Regis, the fossil discovery having been made after a cliff fall.  The paper claims that the skull was found in 1812 with other fossils relating to this specimen found the following year.  The role played by the Annings in this discovery is not mentioned by Home.  This assertion itself, may be inaccurate.  Many accounts suggest it was Joseph Anning who found the four foot long skull in 1811, as to whether Mary was present at the time, we at Everything Dinosaur remain uncertain.  Although Mary and Joseph together are credited by many sources for finding other fossil bones related to this specimen in 1812.

The potential mix up in dates, pales when the rest of Sir Everard’s paper is reviewed.  At first, the idea that these bones represent some form of ancient crocodile is favoured.  Embryonic teeth ready to replace already emerged teeth were noticed.  However, to test this theory one of the conical fossil teeth was split open.  He mistook evidence for an embryonic tooth ready to replace a broken tooth in the jaw as an accumulation of calcite and hence, Everard wrongly concluded that this creature was not a reptile.  The sclerotic ring of bone around the eye reminded the anatomist of the eye of a fish, but when the plates were counted that make up this ring of bone (13), he commented that the fossil may have affinities with the bird family as this number of bones is found only in eyes of birds.

The position of the nostrils and the shape of the lower jaw is considered to be very like those seen in fish.  The freshwater Pike is mentioned, although there are other parts of the skeleton that seem to confuse Sir Everard still further.  The shoulder blades both in their shape and size are reported as being similar to those found in crocodiles, part of the fossil material is even compared to the bones of a turtle.

One of the Illustrative Plates from the Original Paper

One of the illustrations by William Clift.

One of the illustrations by William Clift.

Paper Credit: Royal Society (William Clift)

The paper concludes by stating:

“These particulars, in which the bones of this animal differ from those of fishes, are sufficient to show that although the mode of its progressive motion has induced me to place it in that class, I by no means consider it wholly a fish, when compared with other fishes, but rather view it in a similar light to those animals met with in New South Wales, which appear to be so many deviations from ordinary structure, for the purpose of making intermediate connecting links, to unite in the closest manner the classes of which the great chain of animated beings is composed.”

Our baffled author had described a few years early the Duck-billed Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) after specimens were brought back from eastern Australia.  Sir Everard is referring to the Platypus when he writes of “those animals met with in New South Wales”.

Much of the French scientific establishment (and a significant number of British scientists) pilloried this paper.  The difference being, the French who were at war could do it openly, however, in Britain, such was the power and influence of Sir Everard Home, no one dared challenge his assumptions openly.

It was perhaps because of Sir Everard’s influence and strong standing within the Royal Society, that the Reverend William Buckland along with the Reverend Coneybeare supported by up and coming geologists such as Henry de la Beche published a rival scientific paper on the Annings’s discovery in the journals of the Geological Society.  This paper correctly identified that the fossils were reptilian.

Sir Everard, although ridiculed by other academics continued to work on the puzzling Ichthyosaur specimens.  Five years after his 1814 paper, he thought he had finally solved the mystery as to this strange creature’s anatomical classification.  A new vertebrate to science, referred to as a “Proteus” had been described by a Viennese doctor some years earlier.  This was a blind, amphibian of the salamander family (Proteus anguinus) that lived in freshwater streams and lakes deep in caves.  Sir Everard mistakenly concluded that the Lyme Regis fossils were a link between the strange Proteus and modern lizards.  From then on he referred to the 1814 specimen as a “Proteosaurus”.  However, this name never was accepted by scientific circles as the moniker Ichthyosaurus (Fish Lizard) had been erected a year earlier by Charles Konig of the British Museum where the Ichthyosaur specimen resided.

Ironically, as our knowledge of the Ichthyosaur Order has grown over the years, so the Lyme Regis specimen has been renamed.  It is no longer regarded as an Ichthyosaurus, as the fossils indicate a creature more than five metres in length, much larger than those animals that make up the Ichthyosaurus genus today.  In the late 1880′s it was renamed Temnodontosaurus (cutting tooth lizard).  The Lyme Regis specimen, studied all those years earlier by Sir Everard Home, was named the type specimen with the species name Temnodontosaurus platyodon.

A Close up of the Head of a Typical Ichthyosaur

An Icththyosaurus with an Ammonite that it has caught.

An Ichthyosaurus with an Ammonite that it has caught.

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd

The 1814 paper might say more about the petty rivalries and snobbery that dogged British scientific circles than it adds to our knowledge of the Ichthyosauria.  However, there is one final point to be made.  Accompanying the notes were brilliant illustrations of the fossil material, carefully and skilfully prepared by the naturalist William Clift.  The child of a poor family from Devon, William had shown a talent for art from a young age.  His illustrative skills were noticed by one of the local gentry, a Colonel whose wife happened to know Anne Home, the sister of Everard who had married John Hunter.  When John Hunter was looking for an apprentice to help classify and catalogue his growing collection of specimens at the Royal College of Surgeons, Clift was recommended.  He quickly rose to prominence and despite being hampered by the removal of many of John Hunter’s manuscripts by Everard, Clift’s reputation grew and grew.  His daughter, Caroline Ameila Clift married Professor Richard Owen (later Sir Richard Owen), the anatomist who is credited with the naming of the dinosaur Order and the establishment of the Natural History Museum in London.

Famous K/T Boundary gets UNESCO World Heritage Status

Stevns Klint Awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status

The World Heritage Committee, meeting in Doha (Qatar) have granted World Heritage status to a number of new sites and locations.  These awards are given to reflect the cultural or natural heritage that such sites and locations represent, they are important to humanity and therefore it is imperative that their value is acknowledged.  One such site is the nine mile long cliffs at Stevns Klint, on the Danish island of Sjaelland.  These fossil rich cliffs record the K/T boundary, (Cretaceous – Tertiary) and as a result, this site is extremely important to palaeontologists and geologists.  The cliffs have preserved an exceptional fossil record showing a complete succession of fauna and micro-fauna that charts the extinction event and the subsequent recovery of life on Earth.

An exceptional fossil record is visible at the site, showing the complete succession of fauna and micro-fauna charting the recovery after the mass extinction.  Tertiary aged limestone deposits overlie much softer, older Cretaceous chalk deposits.  Sandwiched between the two distinct rock types is a thin, ash grey coloured band with high levels of the rare Earth element iridium.  This is the ash layer that is associated with the Chicxulub impact event that occurred approximately 66 million years ago and marked the end of the dinosaurs and the extinction of something like 50% of all life.

The Picturesque Stevns Klint Cliffs (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

Geologically significant site awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.

Geologically significant site awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.

Picture Credit: UNESCO/Jacob Lautrup

This part of the Danish coast is a popular tourist destination, it lies twenty-five miles south of Copenhagen on the east coast of Sjaelland and many types of Cretaceous and Tertiary marine fossils can be seen at the local museum.  This site is one of three known in the world that exhibit the iridium anomaly, which helped form the basis of the extraterrestrial impact theory proposed by Walter and Louis Alvarez in 1980.

The K/T Boundary can be Made Out very Clearly

The K/T boundary is very clearly defined.

The K/T boundary is very clearly defined.

Picture Credit: UNESCO/Jacob Lautrup

The exposed succession is around forty-five metres thick and shows the stratigraphic evolution from Maastrichtian (Upper Cretaceous) across the K/T boundary into the very early Tertiary (Danian faunal stage of the Palaeogene).  A huge amount of research has been undertaken in this area.  Studies into the micro-fauna, palaeontology, geochemical changes, sediment deposition and sea level changes are just some of the research that has taken place recently.  The Stevns Klint locality is defined as the type location for the classification of the Danian faunal stage, it joins such famous fossil locations as the Jurassic Coast of East Devon and Dorset and the Messel Quarry near Frankfurt (Germany) as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Our congratulations to everyone involved in nominating this wonderful location.

World Cup – Brazil Fantastic Geology

World Cup in Brazil Starts Today

Today, the twentieth FIFA World Cup is due to kick off in Brazil.  Heralded as a football festival, thirty-two teams will battle it out over the next month or so for bragging rights as to which country has the best football team in the world, of course there is the prize money too, something like $35 million USD for the winners.  As well as its football, Brazil is famed for its amazing fauna and flora, each year, football tournaments not withstanding, it attracts an ever increasing number of eco-tourists keen to explore the spectacular Amazon, the wetlands of the Pantanal or the Atlantic rainforest.

The geology of Brazil is also fascinating.  As one of the largest countries in the world by area, it is not surprising that virtually every major geological time period from the Phanerozoic is represented.  In the Everything Dinosaur blog, news stories and articles about Brazilian extinct and extant fauna  feature nearly fifty times.  Perhaps the most famous geological formation is the Santana Formation, which is found in the north-east of the country.  The Santana Formation dates from the Cretaceous, this Formation along with the older Crato Formation has provided a vast array of vertebrate fossils.  Fossils excavated from the Santana Formation show exquisite levels of preservation.  For example, stomach contents in fossil fish have been identified and both representatives of the Dinosauria and the Pterosauria have been found.   The fossil rich deposits are regarded as a Lagerstätte (an area with a huge amount of well-preserved fossil material).

To read an article about the discovery of a new genus of Pterosaur from Brazil: New Genus of Cretaceous Flying Reptile from Brazil

A number of huge spinosaurids are known from the Cretaceous-aged strata of Brazil.  There is the fearsome Irritator (I. challengeri).

A Model of the Brazilian Dinosaur Irritator

The dinosaur known as Irritator.

The dinosaur known as Irritator.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Reaching lengths in excess of eight metres, Irritator was a formidable Theropod, but it may not have been the largest Spinosaur to be classed as a “boy from Brazil”.  Back in 2011, team members at Everything Dinosaur reported on the discovery of a fragment of jawbone found in Maranhao State that indicated the existence of a truly colossal Spinosaur.  This dinosaur was named Oxalaia quilombensis.

To read an article about this fossil discovery: Giant Spinosaur from Brazil

Best of luck to all the teams in the tournament, hope the fans enjoy themselves and perhaps in between the matches, a few of them might take the time to visit some of the museums in the country and to appreciate the rich geological heritage of Brazil.

Forty-Six Ichthyosaur Fossils Discovered in Chile

Retreating Glacier Reveals Ichthyosaur Graveyard

A team of German and Chilean researchers have just about finished cataloguing, mapping and recording one of the densest assemblies of Ichthyosaur fossils ever found.  Scientists from Heidelberg University and the State Museum of Natural History, Karlsruhe, in collaboration with colleagues from a number of scientific institutions in Chile, have identified a total of forty-six, complete or near complete specimens of Early Cretaceous Ichthyosaurs (fish-lizards).  The fossils represent at least four species, with juveniles, pregnant females and other adult Ichthyosaurs having been identified.  All the Ichthyosaur fossils represent ophthalmosaurids and the site is being heralded as the most important location discovered to date in South America that records a marine ecosystem that existed around 140 to 132 million years ago.

One of the Many Ichthyosaur Fossils Found at the Site

Fossilised remains of Early Cretaceous Ichthyosaur

Fossilised remains of Early Cretaceous Ichthyosaur

Picture Credit: W. Stinnesbeck

In the picture above, the geological hammer provides scale and to the left of the picture elements of a limb and the small pebble-like bones that make up a flipper can clearly be seen.  The back-bones and ribs can also be made out.  The Ichthyosaur specimen has been identified as Platypterygius hauthali.

The fossils were found as a glacier retreated in the Torres del Paine National Park, southern Chile.  The retreat of the glacier (Tyndall glacier) revealing the fossils could be a case of global warming providing palaeontologists with benefits, affording them a unique insight into an ancient marine ecosystem.  Some of the Ichthyosaurs are so well preserved that skin tissue imprints have been found, along with the remains of embryos within the body cavity of female Ichthyosaurs.  Such is the concentration of “fish lizard” remains, that the Tyndall glacier location has been heralded as amongst the prime fossil Lagerstätten for Early Cretaceous marine reptiles worldwide.

The Remote and Beautiful Tyndall Glacier (southern Chile)

Retreating glacier reveals fossil remains.

Retreating glacier reveals fossil remains.

Picture Credit: W. Stinnesbeck

Ichthyosaurs were an Order of fast-swimming, nektonic and predatory marine reptiles with dolphin-shaped bodies.  They evolved in the Early Triassic and survived into the Late Cretaceous, eventually dying out as a group around eighty million years ago.  It is now thought ophthalmosaurid Ichthyosaurs like most other Ichthyosaurs, were viviparous, that is, the females retained fertilised eggs inside their body, until the embryos were sufficiently well developed to be born directly into the sea.

A Model of a Typical Ichthyosaur

Ichthyosaurus Model (Carnegie Collectibles)

Ichthyosaurus Model (Carnegie Collectibles)

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd

The first fossils were discovered in 2004 as scientists were mapping the retreat of the glacier.  It has taken a total of three  major field expeditions for all the Ichthyosaur material exposed at the site to be mapped and catalogued.  An academic paper detailing the research has been published in the scientific journal “The Bulletin of the Geological Society of America”.

Alongside, the remains of the reptiles, the research team found Ammonites, Belemnites, Bivalves and marine fish fossils.  In addition, there were plant fossils also preserved.  The Ichthyosaurs were not found at the same level in the strata, but scattered throughout the Formation Member at several levels indicating mass mortality events occurring in this marine ecosystem from time to time.

A Diagram Representing the Deposition of the Strata and Indicating the Location of Ichthyosaur Fossils

Evidence of mass mortality events in the ecosystem.

Evidence of mass mortality events in the ecosystem.

Picture Credit: W. Stinnesbeck

The joint German and Chilean research team have interpreted the geology of this location thus:

The gregarious Ichthyosaurs lived and hunted along the north-eastern edge of a deep sea that then separated the Antarctic continent from the southern tip of South America.  Cold water rising up from the depths of a deep underwater canyon provided nutrients to sustain a large population of primary producers such as plankton.  These were fed upon by large shoals of bony fish and Belemnites.  The Ichthyosaurs in turn hunted the fish and the Cephalopods.  With the rifting of the sea floor as geological forces gradually extended the Atlantic Ocean, there were a great number of earthquakes.  Some of these earthquakes were powerful enough to set off underwater avalanches that swept marine organisms down the steep slopes into the deeper water.  This led to the formation of several “Ichthyosaur graveyards”.

Commenting on the significance of this discovery, one of the lead authors of the research paper, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Stinnesbeck, Institute of Earth Sciences (Heidelberg University) stated:

“Occasionally, high energy turbiditic mudflows sucked down everything in their reach, including Ichthyosaurs.  Inside the suspension flows, the air-breathing reptiles lost orientation and finally drowned.  They were instantly buried in the abyss at the bottom of the canyon.”

The speed of burial and the lack of oxygen in the mud layers permitted the exceptional degree of preservation.

The professor went added:

“The deposit is Early Cretaceous in age [Valanginian to Hauterivian faunal stage] and forms part of a deep water sequence located in the Rocas Verdes Basin, a straight separating Antarctica and South America from Late Jurassic to Early Cretaceous times.

Volunteers Required to Help Protect Scotland’s Fossil Heritage

Action Taken to Safeguard Fossils In Scotland

The Isle of Wight off the coast of southern England might be regarded by some as Britain’s “Dinosaur Isle” but the United Kingdom does in fact have several contenders for this accolade.  Travel north of the border into Scotland to the Inner Hebrides and you might find the residents of the Isle of Skye taking issue with such claims.  However, the island’s rich fossil heritage has been under threat with unscrupulous fossil collectors damaging important scientific sites in their quest to obtain rare vertebrate specimens.

Everything Dinosaur team members reported on the sad case of “fossil vandalism” back in 2011: Important Fossil Site is Vandalised

Steps are being taken to help protect Scotland’s fossil heritage and local people on the Inner Hebrides are being asked to volunteer as wardens to help watch over and safeguard sites that are important to geology and palaeontology.  The Isle of Skye may seem like an unlikely place to find dinosaurs and fossils of other Mesozoic vertebrates, but back in the Jurassic, this part of the world was joined up with the land mass that was later to become the western United States.  Rocks laid down in the Middle Jurassic are exposed on the Isle of Skye and in the U.S. States such as Utah, Colorado and Wyoming – parts of America famed for their Jurassic aged dinosaur fossils.

‘To view Everything Dinosaur’s article explaining the importance of the Isle of Skye and its links to the western United States: Question!  What do the Isle of Skye and the State of Wyoming have in Common?

Scotland did introduce a national fossil hunting code back in 2008.  Most fossil hunters and amateur palaeontologists follow this code when collecting fossils, however, there are those who simply see an opportunity to hack into the relatively deserted cliffs and gullies on Scottish islands in a bid to find fossilised bones of vertebrates which then can be sold to private collectors.  A public meeting was held at Portree (Isle of Skye), this week which involved representatives from Scottish National Heritage (SNH), National Museums Scotland, The Hunterian Museum and the Highland Council with the aim of setting up a network of wardens to help record and protect important fossil sites.  With a managed approach to these important fossil sites, it is hoped that more fossil collectors will visit Scotland, especially the Isle of Skye and neighbouring islands, boosting tourism and the local economy.

Skye and the nearby island of Raasay have a rich geological heritage spanning the last three billion years of Earth’s history.  Fossil remains of plants and animals record the evolution of life .  They also record the fascinating journey of the area we now know as Skye and Raasay, as it drifted for hundreds of millions of years across the face of the Earth, from once being part of America to now being part of the western edge of Europe.

Commenting on the plan to form local action groups to protect the beaches, Dr. Colin MacFadyen of Scottish National Heritage stated:

“Skye and Raasay have a fantastic fossil heritage, and kids and amateur fossil hunters should be encouraged to collect.  But at the same time something has to be done about irresponsible collecting and to reduce examples where people for whatever reasons damage fossil localities and important fossils.   This is where the local community can get involved and help secure their threatened natural heritage.  Local action may ensure that rare fossil finds are rescued, recorded and saved for the nation.  The public meeting in Portree will encourage local people to play an important part in safeguarding and promoting an internationally significant asset.”

Dr. Nick Fraser, Keeper of Natural Sciences at National Museums Scotland commented:

“We are excited by the opportunities to work together to bring Skye’s remarkable fossil heritage into greater prominence.  This is a precious resource which, with support from the wider community, will benefit generations of islanders.”

Plans to Protect Scotland’s Fossil Heritage

The Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur explained the importance of the Isle of Skye fossil sites, stating:

“Only a few places in the world have exposed strata dated to the Middle Jurassic that contain vertebrate body and trace fossils preserved within them.  The Isle of Skye is one such location and the fossils found here and on neighbouring islands have helped palaeontologists to understand more about the fauna and flora of our planet around 170 million years ago.  It is vitally important that such fossil bearing sites are protected, whilst at the same time striking a balance to help encourage tourism to boost the economy.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the contribution of a press release from Scottish National Heritage in the compilation of this article.

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