Thursday, 30 September 2010

Fossil News, October 2010

Museum News

Hats off to Oxford Natural History Museum. Always a fine fossil museum. It has plenty of STUFF, including historic holotypes, and has not yet sold out to current design fads of models, diagrams and no real fossils. Until November it has a special exhibition of modestly stunning lower Cambrian soft-bodied animals from the Chengjiang formation of China. This is the first official display lent from Chinese academic collections and contains animals that are unlike anything that exists today including some particularly weird crustaceans. Evolutionary beginnings and dead ends when evolution was in its infancy.

More Museum news

Taunton Museum Somerset is set to reopen soon after an £8 million revamp. A small but very cute and complete Plesiosaur found a few years ago at Hinkley point in the Bristol Channel will be the new centrepiece.

Plans are afoot to put the Alfred Gillet collection of Jurassic marine reptiles from Street, Somerset on public display thanks to the philanthropic efforts of Clarks Shoes. Many of the fossils were actually exposed in local quarries that provided the stone for Clarks’ workers cottages and factory buildings. With admirable Quaker sentiments Clarke’s plans to house the collection in a grand old building adjacent to Clarke’s village, their factory outlet shopping centre.

These snippets of information were gleaned at’ Two hundreds years of West Country sea dragons: Thomas Hawkins and his fossil legacy’ – a two-day symposium held at Street and sponsored by local and national organisations and an anonymous grant (more Quaker philanthropy and justified local pride?)

Thomas Hawkins was a colourful character to say the least It is permanently under discussion whether he was a confidence trickster, fraudster and profiteer or merely egocentric, obsessive and mentally ill. He was certainly a bigamist and thoroughly litigious. He intimidated quarry workers with threats and violence to secure his fossils at knock down prices and had the charm or guile to sell his collections, not just once but twice, to the newly formed Natural History Museum at highly inflated prices.. His ideas of restoration involved adding missing parts ,often anatomically incorrect and from other specimens and lengthening specimens by adding more bones to make them the right shape for wall mounts. There is a Mary Anning specimen of his from Lyme Regis in the Natural History museum with Whitby Ammonites placed in the matrix, which are 20 million years younger than the Ichthyosaur itself.

Indignant questions were asked in the House of Common about the excessive sums of money (£20,000, 150 years ago!) he secured from the public purse. Most entertaining.

There were also talks about the West Dorset fossil collecting code of conduct- an enlightened initiative that encourages non academic collecting, the Lyme Regis (Philpot museum)( see article about Remarkable Creatures )and about the efforts of amateur collector and world expect on Kimmeridge fossils Steve Etches to raise funding to display his outstanding world class collection, amassed over thirty years ,to the public.

Update on Manchester Museum shenanigans as reported in my last blog:
They have been persuades by such august bodies As the British Geological Survey and the Natural History Museum that it is their responsibility to maintain the unique Michael Eager collection of 20,000 non marine bivalves and, as nobody will take it off their hands, that is what they will do. The Fred Broadhurst plesiosaur will now not be taken off display. His family have agreed to fork out the cost of a new display case (a few thousand pounds) so plans to remove it to facilitate a children’s soft play area have been amended. Their latest politically correct gesture id likely to be the repatriation to China of a fossil bird purchased with Museum funds in 2000 despite the fact that there was no export ban of these fossil until 2001.

Even More Museum News

And I quote from the Geological curator newsletter. “The Ulster museum reopened in October 2009 following a three year closure and a 17.2 Million pound redevelopment. Since then the museum has received public acclaim, attracted over 400,000 visitors, won the Museums and Heritage award for excellence and been placed amongst the four short listed institutions in the running for the Art Fund Prize 2010. That’s the good news. The downside is that the museums curators have been moved to offices situated 9 miles from the museums, the collections have been re-housed in an industrial estate 6 miles distant from the curators and curator numbers continue to shrink to a level that would leave a biologist to classify the Ulster museum curators as an endangered species”.

Book News

Two must buy Trilobite table books if you have the loot:
Back to the Past Museum Guide to Trilobites by Enrico Bonino and Carlo Kier ISBN: 9788872035153. 90 Euros.
Lavishly illustrated and as encyclopaedic as the author can make it – including a selection of Trilobites from Sardinia- and you cannot get much more obscure than that! Full of tiny mistakes, a jealous Trilobite nerd tells me, but that is hardly a surprise as Trilobites get re classified and renamed every time a PHD student has nothing better to do. A visual feast based on a private collection open to the public at the Azul Sensation hotel, Puerto Morelos, Cancun, Mexico, where one of the authors happens to be the manager. Worth a visit – Trilobites and Tequila!

Ordovician Trilobites of the St Petersburg region of Russia,
Beautifully produced by St Petersburg Palaeontological laboratory. Very technical but lavishly illustrated. These elegant trilobites, and there are plenty of them, come in all shapes and sizes with spines and ornamentation in the strangest of places. A snip at £150.

More Book News:

Bit of a blunder with the cover of’ Remarkable Creatures ‘by Tracy Chevalier – a well researched novel about Elizabeth Philpot,one of the world’s first fossil collectors, contemporary and friend of Mary Anning and resident of Lyme Regis. The town Museum is now named after her. There is also a well constructed website with background information about the scientific and theological thinking at the time, a profile of Lyme Regis with typical pictures of the area and some insight into the author’s inspiration.

There is a picture of an Echioceras Ammonite from Lyme Regis on the front cover of my copy and on the back cover are pictures of a Moroccan Goniatite , a Madagascan Peresphinctes Ammonite and a Quenstetoceras Ammonite from Russia. These are all commercially available these days but were not generally collected until about 150 years after the demise of Miss Philpot and Miss Anning.

Somebody must have realised the blunder as the cover has now been redesigned and does not include these pictures. This makes my copy a collectors item. All serious offers considered.

Fossils in Fossils…In artefacts with Meteorites

Well, fossils in fossils is not so unusual – Fish with fish in their tums, Belemnites inside Ichthyosaur stomachs, Trilobites inside Phragmacones of Orthocones in Sweden, Crustaceans in fossil wood in Joggins, Nova Scotia, Gastropods inside Ammonite body chambers, Priapid worms inside larger Priapid worms in the Burgess shale, Pollen on the legs of insects in Amber, Sharks teeth stuck in whale vertebra from the Miocene… Any more suggestions?

I have seen a Neolithic scrapper made from part of a flint Cretaceous sea Urchin and I have seen a Neolithic scrapper made from Libyan glass (a Silicaceous Tektite)

Plenty of tools have been made from Obsidian (volcanic glass) and I am sure that there must be some somewhere made from Nickel Iron Meteorites.

The holy grail would be fossils( inside fossils of course) that had been struck by meteorites and then used as tools. Can anyone out there suggest permutations on this theme?

…’s one from my assistant Shaun: Well we can offer one such plausible location which is the Ries impact crater located in Bavaria, Germany and is widely believed to be the impact that created the Moldavite deposits found largely in Czechoslovakia. The impact hit Jurassic fossil bearing deposits which contained Belemnites. The fossils have been seriously distorted due to the friction and heat from the impact. I wonder if Neolithic man ever used any of the fossil bearing strata or fossils themselves?


Have you noticed how similar the logo of the Geological Society is to that of a high street brand of toothpaste?

Malus domestica

Research in New Zealand where they take apples very seriously suggests that the fruit evolved as a direct result of the same meteorite impact that wiped out the Dinosaurs and ended the Cretaceous period. Massive and rapid genetic changes allowed the Ur Apple bush to adapt to tougher conditions and change from a bush to a tree unlike its closet relations, strawberry and raspberry bushes.

Free the Frogs

Teruel is a charming old Spanish town. Recently parts of what might be the largest European Dinosaur have been found in the area. The largest carnivorous dinosaur tooth (9.8cm )ever found in Spain was found nearby last year, as well as some unusual lower Cretaceous plants. However, Teruel is most famous for uniquely well preserved late Miocene fossil frogs. If you are passing through and want to see these world class fossils you will be directed to Dinopolis, a theme park on the edge of town where you can picnic with Neanderthals, take a roller coaster ride up a T-Rex ass and see their fossil museum. This will cost 22 euros per person. If you tell the polite youngsters on the door that you just want to see the fossils, as I did, they will make a call to the boss upstairs and come back with a message’ make an appointment a week in advance or cough up’.

I have been in touch with the theme park’s director and told him he was reneging on his responsibility to allow public access to pieces of major international cultural heritage and I suggested a couple of ways this could be put right He described my suggestions as truly amazing. This was not meant as a complement. I have since discovered that there are better specimens to be seen in the Museum of the Collegio La Salle in Teruel and the Geology Museum of Zaragossa University.