Wednesday, 12 May 2010

This blog started years ago as a favour for Rock n Gem magazine and appeared in every issue. The magazine changed hands and the new owners deleted all the best stuff from the last blog i.e. Manchester museums recent shenanigans, on ‘legal’ advice. I suspect my lack of respect for pagans offended their new age sensibilities but I will never know: I am not actually prejudiced against pagans in particular. I am happy to report on wrong science whether it is Jewish, Creationist, Catholic, Pagan or whatever. Rock n Gem will not be printing any more of my gems!…but I do have more Manchester meanderings in this edition of the blog. Read on.

Dinosaur Colours

A joint research team from Bristol University, the IVVP in Beijing, Dublin university and the open university identified colour bearing cells from fossilised feathers of birds and dinosaurs from the lower cretaceous Jehol beds of north east China.

They concluded the therapod dinosaur Sinosauropteryx had alternate orange and white rings of bristles on its tail and the early bird Confuciusornis had patches of white, black and orange brown colouring.

Fat Flightless Birds

Australasian Emus, African Ostriches, New Zealand Moas and South American Rheas all independently became flightless shortly after the cretaceous extinction. An abundance of food and lack of predators saw the birds put on so much weight that they had to walk instead of fly, according to research by the Australia National University, contradicting previous thought that they were all descended from non flying ancestors.

Long Time Coming

‘Dinosaurs Unleashed’ an exhibition of animatronic dinosaurs in central London was billed as ‘the family day out that London has been waiting 65 Million years for.

Life on Mars

A new analysis using high-resolution electron microscopy of a meteorite from Mars provides stronger evidence than before of preserved bacteria – i.e. Life on Mars! The meteorite was first studied in 1996 and the suggestion of bacterial remains was in considerable dispute at that time. The meteorite was found in Antarctica. It was traced to Mars because its chemical composition matched relative proportions of gases measured in the atmosphere of Mars by the Viking spacecraft in the 1970’s. Scientists say it was broken off the surface of Mars by an asteroid impact and reached Earth after floating through space for about 16 million years.

The meteorite also suggests the presence (16 million years ago) of water on Mars, which suggests more stable conditions for supporting life than today.

Two other Martian meteorites one found in Antarctica and another found in Egypt in 1911, are being studied and the results will be published soon. Both are said to contain similar evidence of microscopic life.

West Country Dragons

Following the success of last years Ichthyosaur Symposium at Street, Somerset another one is planned for this July. “It is titled 200 Years of West Country Sea Dragons” and will celebrate the 200th birthday of Thomas Hawkins. He was the most serious and prolific collector of the area, eccentric, obsessive, misogynist and disliked by all who met him.

Teeny Tiny Teeth

The first gobicondontidae remains found in the UK (a possum like creature form the cretaceous) was found recently in the Isle of Wight… with the aid of an electron microscope!

More Sea Dragons

Five different species of Plesiosaur have been found in the Bulldog shale of lunatic hill opal fields of northeast, south Australia. Because of the prevalence of juvenile skeletons it is thought that the area was a calving ground in a nutrient rich cold-water habitat.

Carping on about Carpoids

Amateur Trilobite enthusiast Bob Kennedy has a new specimen of Carpoid named after him: Galleauystis Kennedyi. He found it whilst searching for Trilobites in Betton quarry in Shropshire and recognised its significance. The publication comes 12 years after he found the fossils.

Jones the Fish

Another amateur collector, Roger Jones, has found uniquely well preserved Devonian acanthodian fish (with the aid of ace preparitor Terry Manning) that are shedding new light on generally poorly preserved fossils.

The fishes were found in nodules from a spoil heap of a well-known old site in the Dundee area and acid prepared. Acanthodians are known as ‘spiny sharks’ and continued into the Permian but the point where they diverged from real sharks – or when real sharks developed from them – is not known yet.

This is the first time that Clementius – the oldest known Acanthodian has been found with a preserved 3D skull and brain case. It has now been cat scanned by the natural history museum. Shark like dentition never seen before was also revealed. You can admire his collection at

Dead Wrong

According to the Opodo website – the official CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) specimens, Mesosaurus Brazilensis, is an endangered species. Actually this aquatic reptile became extinct 250 million years ago.

Even Wronger

Here is some American creationist nonsense that I was told recently: Butterflies and frogs (and a few other species) are creatures of the devil. You see God only makes perfect creations. Any animal with a larval stage cannot have been created by him!

Northern Nonsense

And now for some good old British lunacy. I promised more madness from Manchester Museum. Here we go… Tenontosaurus was the centrepiece of the lottery funded new display a few years ago. It cost $100,000 and looked pretty impressive in its £5000 reinforced glass case. It was 70% complete which is pretty good for dinosaurs and mounted in a lifelike pose with the missing bones made up with plaster, an old and accepted practice. Various interesting fossils found near the skeleton, coprolites, vegetation etc were also on display to give a picture of the dinosaur’s habits and habitat. Only about 30 specimens of this Montana dinosaur have been found. The holotype is at the American museum of natural history in New York but this specimen is more complete. Dr Phil Manning, television palaeontologist and temporary curator at the museum likes his dinosaurs raw and without make up so he had all the glue and plaster bones removed (at great cost) and threw the metal framework away to bring the dinosaur back to the condition it would have been when taken out of the ground. It will never be displayed again and Dr Manning no longer works for the museum.

Also in 1960 curator Fred Broadhurst collected an almost complete “12-foot Plesiosaur from Whitby. It was reprepared in 1998 with lottery money with special attention given to its skull, brain case and stomach contents. It is about to be described as a holotype of a new species…but it is being removed from public display at the museum to make way for a children’s soft play beanbag area.

Also, Michael Eager was the keeper of geology from 1945-1987. His life’s work was a collection of 20,000 non-marine bivalves, many of which were the type specimens from local coalmines that have since closed down. The collection is unique and unrepeatable. The museum which has plenty of (lottery funded) storage – including the Eager room (named after the curator) but bivalves are not popular so the museum have been trying to dump the collection. As well as offering it to any British museum (the National History Museum has already refused it) they suggested giving it away piece by piece to school children!


There is a well-known rock face near Fort Peck, Montana, half of which is public land, half private. There is a T-Rex skull weathering out of the face, mostly on public land. It is not very easy to get at safely, but how many T-Rex skulls are? It is illegal for private individuals to collect vertebrate fossils on public land and so far no official body has asked permission to collect it. Collectors say it has been left as bait to entrap enterprising amateurs. Within 5-10 years nature will have had its way and the skull will have weathered out in little pieces.

You Will Enjoy

According to its brochure the first Idar-Oberstein Mineral Show will carry out 'offensive public relations' for its marketing strategy. Prehaps this is not a translation error.