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April 4, 2012

5th Annual Palaeontographical Society Address


Virtual Fossils and the Herefordshire Lagerstatte


Dr Mark Sutton
Imperial College, London


Wednesday, April 18th 4.15 pm
Flett Lecture Theatre, Natural History Museum



Three-dimensional soft-bodied fossils represent some of the richest sources of palaeobiological data available, but are often difficult to work with using conventional techniques. Various technologies, both new and old, now exist to recover 3D morphology from such material. Most of these are tomographic in nature, based around the recovery of parallel 'slice images' through the fossil, either directly through serial grinding or sawing, or indirectly through scanning techniques. Reconstruction of tomographic datasets as three-dimensional interactive ‘virtual fossils’ on a computer screen not only provides a practical way to study difficult material, but brings a host of benefits along with it.

The Herefordshire Lagerstätte is a Silurian-aged deposit preserving a range of marine invertebrates in three-dimensions, complete with soft-tissues. These are essentially impossible to extract or image in their entirety without the use of tomographic techniques. The deposit hence provides a testbed and showcase for the ‘virtual fossil’ paradigm; prior to the advent of these techniques its significance was unclear, while after 12 years of ‘virtual’ study it is arguably the most significant invertebrate fossil locality known from Britain. Studies having yielded a wealth of new and often rather unexpected anatomical information on molluscs, echinoderms, brachiopods, polychaetes, and most especially arthropods. New finds discussed in this lecture include a chiton-like mollusc, a horseshoe-crab-like arthropod, and a potential stem-group Euarthropod, but further spectacular animals continue to emerge.

All welcome. Tea/coffee available in the Flett Foyer from 3.45 pm onwards


For details on attending this or other seminars see