Monday, 21 September 2009

Car park fossil hunting

Hello again,

With my next Open University course on fossils due to start mid November, I have borrowed a couple of books on the subject from my local library, just to whet my appetite. One is the book of the recent BBC TV series 'Fossil Detectives' and the other, 'Fossils of the World' by Turek, Malek and Benes, which is a much more academic book than the other. They will both prove useful in different ways in the coming months I think.

One of the first passages that I read in 'Fossil Detectives' suggested that when you start out in the world of palaeontology, you never forget that first fossil find. Well, I have only recently begun to look into the subject and have never actually found one at all myself, so feel a bit miffed! Anyway, during my lunch break last week I happened to mention to a colleague of mine that I was going to have a stab at doing the OU course, 'S193 - Fossils and the History of Life'. He immediately opened his drawer and produced a handful of what looked to the untrained eye like shells that you might find on a beach. These were in fact fossils of a mollusc which abound in the car park where we work. Bizarre but true!

To explain further, I work on the construction site of a major road improvement scheme in the East Midlands where the company has constructed a site office for the duration of the scheme. All around the car park perimeter, the borders have been dressed with what I simply assumed to be simple, 'bog standard' gravel. Thanks to my eagle-eyed colleague however, I now see it for what it is - a geologists treasure trove of goodies! In amongst a variety of miscellaneous pebbles and chunks of granite are loads of these:-

A brief thumbing through 'Fossils of the World' easily identified these albeit slightly ropey specimens. They are in fact a fossil called Gryphaea arcuata, a mollusc from the Jurassic, i.e. 180 - 135 Ma. According to the natural history museum web site, this is a fairly common fossil but is particularly common to Suffolk, Gloucestershire and the Scunthorpe area, where the Lower Jurassic rocks were mined for their iron ore. Quite why so many of these fossils are lying in amongst other random pebbles and chunks of granite I've no idea. Maybe the dressing supplied to the company to decorate the borders is just a mix of waste rocks of about 2 -3 cm just thrown together.

Anyway, this little chap consists of two pieces, being what I believe is called a 'bi-valve' - a curved left valve and a flat, lid-like right valve. I have only managed to find one example of the latter, seen at front left of the photo. The curved part of this little creature sat in the soft sediment with the lid above the surface. They are commonly called 'Devils Toenails' apparently, presumably because of their resemblance (with a bit of imagination) to toenails? Well, sort of . . .

It seems amazing to me that even in these fairly poor quality specimens, there are distinct growth bands to be seen, which is remarkable for something up to 180 million years old and have most recently been churned up in sacks! But this is what is amazing. Looking at something that stems from something that lived millions of years ago, is pretty mind blowing. Well, mind blowing to me at least. I'm not sure the rest of my family quite understand the fascination - yet!

So, there you go - my first fossil find! A bit of a cheat really, as they were rather handed to me on a plate! What I need next , is a genuine 'first', out in the field extracting a nice trilobite or ammonite from its rocky matrix. Proper palaeontology?

All in good time eh?

Before I go, I had a message posted up (see here) in response to my June post on the 'Geology of Charnwood'. The postee highlighted an innocent error on my part which I've corrected and highlighted my lack of acknowledgement of the source of my information. While I recognise that paraphrasing other peoples work and passing it off as ones own constitutes plagiarism in academic work, perhaps one should bear in mind what 'Holey Schist' actually is - a humble blog! A serious piece of academic work it ain't! I have and always will acknowledge my sources of text and photos, when I deem it sensible, but please remember folks, these are just the casual ramblings of a wannabee geologist - no more, no less!

Cheers for now!


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