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I received an email recently from one of my contacts in the Museum's library which simply said: 'Zoe Hughes has a doorstop with an interesting story'.

 

Intrigued, I fired off an email to fossil invertebrates (Brachiopods and Cephalopods) curator Zoe and made a date to meet her to talk about the doorstop. But we would soon discover that this was just the beginning of the story.

 

The item in question was a very heavy iron cast of a brachiopod, Spirifer striata, that had been found in the roof of a cave in Derbyshire by fossil collector William Gilbertson. From there the fossil came into the possession of Edmund Garwood, a professor of geology and mineralogy. The fossil was then cast in iron by a member of the Slade School of Art, part of University College London.

 

Before we go any further, let me briefly explain what a brachiopod is, because I didn't know before Zoe told me. A brachiopod is a sea-dwelling creature. Most anchor themselves to the ocean floor with a worm-like pedicle (or 'arm foot'; literally brachio = arm and poda = foot). Some cement themselves to stones and shells, others have spines which anchor them and some just rest on the ocean floor. Originally thought to be part of the mollusc family which includes mussels and clams, it was later discovered that brachiopods were their own phylum (the taxonomic rank below kingdom and above class). On the outside, brachiopoda resemble bivalve molluscs in that they're comprised of two shells (also known as valves), but inside, they're orientated top to bottom instead of left to right, and feed in a different way. Brachiopods are one of the oldest animals found in the fossil record, and were most abundant in the Paleozoic era, around 250-500 million years ago. There are 30,000 species of brachiopods described, but only around 385 of those occur today.

 

Now, back to the story. Upon the death of Professor Garwood in 1949, the cast iron brachiopod was given to Helen Muir-Wood, who had carried out post-graduate research on Palaeozoic brachiopod faunas with Garwood at University College London. Muir-Wood worked at the Museum (then the British Museum of Natural History) from 1922 until she retired from her role as curator of the Brachiopoda in 1961. She was the first woman to reach the rank of Deputy Keeper of Palaeontology at the Museum, and (as far as we know) the first to use the brachiopod cast as a doorstop. When she retired, she took the cast home with her to Findon, from where it was recovered after her death in 1968 by brachiopod curator Ellis Owen.

 

Owen was the custodian of the brachiopod cast until his retirement in 1983, at which time he passed it to Howard Brunton (another curator of the Brachiopoda) who wrote the label that sits in the box in which the cast is housed today, where it comes under the remit of Zoe Hughes.

 

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The cast iron brachiopod, formerly used as a doorstop.

 

 

And that brings the story back to the present day. At least it did at the point I first began writing this blog. But then a few days later I received a rather excited email from Zoe.

I've just found the actual specimen the cast was taken from! I never imagined that I would, as there's no specimen info with it. It was just a lucky find. I happened to open the particular drawer it was in on a tour this morning!

But that wasn't all, she said.

The brachiopod is part of the Davidson collection, which is a very important historical collection. Thomas Davidson wrote a series of monographs charting British brachiopods. And even more excitingly, this brachiopod is figured in one of the monographs. Plus we have Davidson's original notebooks with the initial notes and drawings he created to write the final monographs.

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The original brachiopod fossil from which the cast was made.

 

 

It really was an extraordinary and serendipitous find, which has added a new chapter to the 'doorstop with an interesting story'.

 

Both specimens - the original fossil and the cast - have now been officially registered in the Museum's digital database in recognition of their scientific, and artistic, merit (specimen number NHMUK PI B 321, to be precise), and housed together in our vast collection. It marks a satisfying conclusion to a tale that spans several generations of scientists and more than 120 years of Museum history.

 

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Thomas Davidson's sketches of the brachiopod fossil (left), and the illustrations that appeared in his book The Monography of British fossil Brachiopoda (right).

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It has been a while since I last posted about our Moroccan adventure last year, (please excuse me) I've been rather busy in the collections and hosting students and researchers. I will bring you up to speed with some of that in later blogs!

 

Back to Morocco! We had been in Morocco for several days now and were loving every minute of it. Myself and Zoe will both be blogging about our trip to Goulmima as we both had strong interests in the area and the fauna. See Zoe's blog for her view of the day!

 

The day started off by looking around a fossil and mineral shop/museum which was attached to the hotel where we were staying. They had lots of great things and some great casts, if only I had enough room at home to have a Triceratops skull in my living room!

 

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Triceratops skull (reconstruction).

 

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Some fish from Morocco available to buy in the fossil shop.

 

After we had left the museum we were on the road again. Everyday we were travelling to different localities and seeing something new. It was great to see so much of the Moroccan landscape, it was amazing. The geology and landscapes which we were driving through changed everyday.

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Myself and Zoe ready for the day ahead!

 

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Driving to Goulmima.

 

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Just one of the many pictures I have of the Moroccan landscape.

 

Zoe was definitely the most excited about the trip to Goulmima as you get lovely ammonites from there. I was also interested in going there as amongst the ammonites you get fish in calcareous nodules and I knew we had nothing from that area in the collections so I was intrigued to find out more about the site and what we could find.


We stopped at a few sites on our drive but we didn't find any vertebrate material. Our team found some invertebrate material, bits of shells and ammonites, so after a while we moved onto another site.

 

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Me at the Asfla 1 site. It was a steep climb to the top of the hill behind me!

 

The next site, Asfla 2, proved to be more fruitful. We discovered partial pieces of ammonite and Plesiosaur bones, but still no fish. Althought they were only scrappy bits of Plesiosaur we still collected them as they will be useful in the handling collections and in the Angela Marmont Centre (where you can bring fossils to have them identified) in the Museum.

 

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Mark at Asfla 2 site, trying to sniff out some Plesiosaurs!

 

Our last stop was a village settlement where most of the residents make a living out of fossil hunting, particularly from Goulmima. The rocks here are Cretaceous in age - about 90 million years old. Here were were taken by our local guide and shown some amazing specimens. What particularly caught the eye of TEAM FISH were the famous fish in nodules to be found in Goulmima!

 

These fish are called Goulmimichthys and are part of the class of fish commonly known as ray-finned fish (you can still find ray-finned fish swimming in the seas today e.g. cod). These fish are elongate and had numerous small spiny teeth. Some of the specimens we saw even had some soft tissue preservation, which is amazing. It is very rare you get soft tissue (muscles, skin etc.) fossilised, as it is usually eaten by predators or rots away very quickly after the animal dies.

 

Goulmimichthys looks very similar to fish (Rhacolepis in particular) that are found in the Santana Formation in Brazil. There has not been a huge amount of research done on Goulmimichthys and because we do not have any fish material from that area in Morocco in the collection we decided to purchase all of the specimens that` you can see in the picture below. The other flatter fish you can see are Ichthyodectes, which had a large mouth with pointed teeth. It was a fast swimming predator at this time.


I am actually going to start doing a research project on these fish which I am quite excited about. We are going to have the specimens CT scanned. This is a powerful machine which allows us to look inside the nodules (similar to an x-ray) instead of cutting the nodules (and the fossil) in half. I have not done this before so I am looking forward to learning new skills. Hopefully by doing this we can better understand how Goulmimichthys relates to other fish like Rhacolepis  from Brazil.

 

morocco-resize-feb14.jpgTEAM FISH: David Ward, Martha Richter, Zerina Johanson and myself.


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Fossil fish mostly in nodules collected from Goulmima. This picture does not do them justice, they are more beautiful when you see them for real!

 

We did very well visiting the local collectors and seeing what they had. We gained many new specimens for the Museum's collections and made some good contacts with the local collectors.

 

From here we headed to our next hotel and packaged up our specimens to be shipped back to the UK.

 

My next blog about Morocco will be a guest one from our ore curator who was with us talking about pretty pink minerals!

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On our second day in Morocco we had to pack our cases as we would be staying in a different hotel that night. Our team would also be splitting up to cover as many different sites and areas of interest as we could.

 

Desert driving

 

Our adventure to the first site was not without drama. We had three vehicles travelling in a convoy (I likened it to something from Top Gear - three Land Cruisers, traveling over amazing desert landscapes and each with its own personality) and an hour into our journey I had started to doze off. The next thing I knew I could smell burning - we had pulled up at the side of the road and were told to get out of the car immediately. It turned out our brakes had overheated and fused together.

 

There was a strong burning smell and some smoke. It wasn't anything major, but did mean we had to go down to two cars. All the luggage was transferred to the roof and seats put up in the boot and off we went again. It was a slightly more bumpy ride in the boot but all good fun. The adventures of an earth scientist!

 

On the way, we stopped to look at some monkeys in Cedar Forest, it was along a touristy trail so they were fairly tame and would steal your food if you gave them the chance. Many had infants attached to them, which were cute.

 

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Monkey eating some bread in Cedar Forest.

 

Finally we reached the first stop,  an extinct volcano site where analytical chemist Emma Humphreys-Williams wanted to collect some mantle xenoliths for her research. Mantle xenoliths are fragments of rock from depths of up to 50km, brought to Earth's surface through volcanism. We all got out the vehicles and spent a little time walking over the site looking at the volcanic rocks, which for me meant thinking back to my undergraduate degree in geology.

 

There were some lovely lava flows and volcanic tuff (basically consolidated volcanic ash). The xenoliths that we were looking for were a lovely green colour. My team were only there for about half an hour as most of the palaeontologists went onto Bakrit to look for more shark teeth. However, Emma HW, Zoe, Mark and Helena spent the day here. To find out more about what Emma and others did, check out the Brachiopod and Cephalopod collections blog!

 

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Arriving at the volcano site, I thought it looked like something out of a Star Trek film.

 

After another hour's drive with quite a bit of bumpy off-roading (which I found quite fun) we reached our next site at Bakrit. Late Maastrichtian in age (last part of the Cretaceous period, about 70 million years ago) and an area rich in black organic deep water phosphate deposits. This is overlain by shallow-water limestone of unknown age (but is something we are working to determine) containing a diverse molluscan assemblage.

 

Searching for shark teeth

 

Bakrit is a site that both Charlie and David were very keen to look at as both had collected shark teeth from there before and wanted to add to their knowledge and increase diversity of the Museums collections. Again this site was great for just walking along and finding lots of shark teeth sticking out of the surface. Some of the most common shark teeth we found were Cretolamna and Squalicorax which belong to the same family as the Great White shark (Carcharodon carcharias).

 

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At Bakrit walking up the exposure looking for shark teeth.

 

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The very small lighter/whiter bits were small (0.5-1cm)  shark teeth, Zerina is looking for some.

 

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A small number of the shark teeth we found. The scale is 1cm.

 

After an hour or so at the site, where we took measurements and GPS co-ordinates for all the material we collected, we were back in the vehicles and back on the bumpy road to meet our other colleagues who had been at the mine for the afternoon. Then we made our way to our accommodation in Midelt.

 

Charlie currently has all the shark teeth and is working to identify them all. They will then be marked up and put into the collections in the Museum for people to research and use. It's likely that a couple of scientific papers will be published about the site at Bakrit and the fossils found there over the next year or so.

 

Keep checking back here for more updates about our trip and visit Zoe's blog to see what others got up to in the field!

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Over the weekend as you may have noticed if you follow my Twitter feeds (@NHM_Brachiopoda and @NHM_Cephalopoda) I have been on the Isle of Wight. We arrived on a very wet afternoon on Friday 8 November.

 

The main reason for our trip was to participate in the Dinosaur Isle Museum's "Blast from the Past" event which gathers local collectors, universities and museums together to talk to the public about palaeontology, fossil collecting and metal detecting.

 

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Me with our display of cephalopods.


Me and my collegues - Dr Martin Munt, Dr Lorna Steel, Dr Christine Stullu-Derrien, Dr Ria Mitchell and Zuzanna Wawrzyniak - had a stall showing the diversity of fossil cephalopods through time and the plant and arthropod fauna of the Rhynie Chert. Lots of people came to talk to us, asking questions about the specimens and bringing their own fossils for us to identify.

 

On Monday Christine came back to the Museum as she's very busy at the moment but the rest of us stayed on the Isle of Wight to do some fieldwork. We wrapped up warm with lots of layers and waterproofs and braved the weather on Yaverland beach near Sandown. I found some dinosaur ribs and a fish vertebra.


When we went up to Dinosaur Isle that is close by for lunch, we realised our waterproofs had failed and we were all utterly soaked so instead of going back out into the dire weather we were invited to visit the Isle of Wight off-site store to have a look at their collections.

 

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Our group on Yaverland beach getting rather wet and windswept.

 

Alex Peaker and Martin New of Dinosaur Isle showed us lots of wonderful fossil plants, dinosaurs and invertebrates while Lorna took the opportuinty to have a look at their fossil crocodiles.

 

On Tuesday the weather was much better and we took a trip to a Pleistocene mammal locality on the east of the island called Saltmead Beach, which is near Newton. Luckily the military firing test zone was not in action that day as we had to cross it in order to get to the beach. After a long walk across a water-logged field and down the beach we finally made it to the site. Lots of bone fragments were found, most likely from bison. These will be passed along to our fossil mammal curator.

 

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Left: Lorna and Zuza looking for Pleistocene bones.

Right: The beach at Saltmead near Newtown.

 

 

After lunch we visited an Eocene site known as the insect limestone. Here there were pieces of the limestone strewn on the beach which you can then break open with a hammer. If you are lucky you may find insects such as ants and beetles or even fossil plant remains. In our case, Zuzanna was the lucky one as she found a lovely beetle that our arthropod curator was very excited to recieve for the collection.

 

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Left: Ria breaking up the limestone. Centre: Looking carefully for tiny insects.

Right: The insect limestone.

 

When we got back to the house Zuzanna started the process of removing the salt from the bison bones we had found. She did this by soaking them in tap water overnight to draw the salt out. In the process, however, a small shore crab emerged from one of the bones! We put it in a tupperware tub (with no lid) with some seaweed from the bone and sea water from the sample bag. In the morning on the way back to the ferry we released him in a suitable pebbly location with seaweed.

 

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Left: The crab we rescued
Right: I'm about to release him!

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On Saturday 7 September my colleague Dr Tim Ewin and I travelled down (rather early in the morning) to Lyndhurst in Hampshire, where we were participating in the Hampshire Fossil and Mineral show. On arriving with Barry, the department’s trusty Baryonyx, we joined forces with the final member of our team, Dr Martin Munt.

 

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Tim Ewin adding the finishing touches to our stand, under the watchful gaze of Barry.

 

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The Hampshire Fossil and Mineral show poster.

 

Alongside Barry we had a selection of lovely new acquisitions, which Tim has collected from trips to Oklahoma and New York State. I was telling people about our planned trip to Morocco and what we hoped to collect while there (come back soon for blog posts on this from me and Emma Bernard).

 

The show itself had lots of stalls selling some beautiful fossils and minerals. There were also people selling books, and I bought myself a slightly battered copy of “A manual of mollusca” by Samuel Pickworth Woodward from 1880!

 

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Some of the stalls selling beautiful minerals and fossils.

 

Alongside us there were stands from other museums and local councils, including Dinosaur Isle on the Isle of Wight and Christine Taylor from Hampshire County Council who had a wonderful patchwork quilt showing the geology of Hampshire!

 

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Martin New and Alex Peaker from Dinosaur Isle showing off their fossils.

 

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Christine's stunning Hampshire geology quilt (complete with fossils in pockets!).


After speaking to lots of people about all sorts of fossils and doing some identification we packed Barry back up and drove home to London.

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Paris is nice at any time of the year! This September has been very warm everywhere and especially in Paris. I have had a Leonardo da Vinci mobility grant to visit the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle (MNHN) to study how they cope with their digitisation plan.

 

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The Grande Galerie de l'Evolution of the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle (MNHN) in the Jardin des Plantes of Paris.


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Georges-Louis Leclerc (1707-1788), Comte de Buffon, intendant (director) at the Jardin du Roi (1739-1788), now called the Jardin des Plantes.

 

I was based in the Département Histoire de la Terre, Laboratoire de Paléontologie, and my host has been Dr Didier Merle, curator of fossil molluscs and editor-in-chief of the palaeontological journal Geodiversitas.

 

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Main entrance of the Laboratoire de Paléontologie.

 

 

My main interest in this visit was to see how they manage the 'Typothèque', a place where type and figured fossils are housed, and how the MNHN publishes its database of these specimens online.

 

conulariids-post.jpgLeft: Dr Didier Merle showing us some types at the Typothèque. Right: Some of the facilities at the Typothèque used to study the specimens inside.

 

The Typothèque was created by M. Jean Claude Fischer in 1985 in order to keep all the type and figured specimens of fossil invertebrates together in the same room, making them more accessible to the visitors. This is a big advantage compared to other collections in the same department (fossil plants, fossil vertebrates and micropalaeontology) or other departments at the MNHN. It contains important specimens such as those of the d’Orbigny, d’Archiac and Cossman collections.

 

Currently there is a technician, M. Jean-Michel Pacaud, working full time at this Typothèque, maintaining it and recording any new type or figured specimen. More than 90% of the fossil invertebrates have been databased.

 

The database application used at the MNHN is the demonstrator program JACIM, linked to a paleo database supplying data to the website of the MNHN automatically. An xsp (eXtensible Server Pages Processor) is used to make their collection visible on the website.


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The JACIM website.

 

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Specimen labels produced and immediately visualised by the user interface of JACIM.

 

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Information visible about the specimen through the MNHN website.

 

Curation at the Typothèque involves using different colour labels depending on whether specimens are types (yellow labels) or figured specimens (white ones), making them visible immediately. Specimens are ordered:

 

      • principally by the main invertebrate groups as gastropods, echinoderms, corals, bryozoans, etc
      • secondly by stratigraphy
      • thirdly by geography
      • finally by alphabetical order of the species name

 

typotheque.jpgLeft: Fossil coral label at the Typothèque. Right: Drawer with Palaeozoic corals from Europe.

 

This organisation is really useful as you can find any specimen kept there immediately. Another advantage  is that the MNHN policy does not allow loans of type specimens. Consequently they are always available for visitors.

 

Congratulations to the MNHN for their well thought out and planned in advance Typothèque!

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My work diary of last week, in which members of the public put a valuable part of the collection at risk with their smart phones, tiny floating snails cause a flurry of visitors and microfossils are mentioned on the Test Match Special cricket commentary(!) in a varied week for the curator of micropalaeontology.

 

Monday

 

First up is a trip across the Museum to the Nature Live Studio with some delicate specimens that will be the subject of my two public talks later in the day. We can't move large items across the Museum during opening hours and, with the galleries filled with summer visitors, this is more than sensible at present.

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In the Nature Live Studio with host Tom Simpson - a CT-scan of a Blaschka glass radiolarian model on the screen.

 

All of the specimens in my care bar the one in the Treasures Gallery are housed behind the scenes, so regular visitors might not even know that we have microfossil collections. A previous head of palaeontology collections calculated that we have as few as 0.001 per cent of our fossil collections on display.

 

If you haven't been to one yet, the Nature Live events are a great way to bring these parts of our collections out for the public and allow us to talk about our science. The incredibly delicate and unique Blaschka Glass models of radiolarian microfossils are always a big hit, but we have to ask a smart phone-brandishing throng of children and their parents to move away from the specimens after the first show as a mother leans over the barrier and takes a picture on her phone from right above the specimen. We add two extra barriers for the second show!

 

Tuesday


I've had an enquiry from The Geological Magazine asking me to review a book that I have almost finished reading. I have to think carefully about saying yes or no. Receiving a free copy is the usual bonus for undertaking these tasks but, as I have a copy already, dedicating a lot of time to a review does not seem so appealing.

 

I decide that I shall send the extra copy to my student in Malaysia but I think I will wait until after she has finished writing up her MSc thesis. Her first chapter arrives today for comment as do some proofs for a book chapter on microfossil models that I have written. Much of the day is spent checking these and providing additional information requested by the editors of the book. It will be about the history of study of microfossils and will have an image of one of our microscope slides on the cover.

 

Wednesday

 

The galleries are packed with summer visitors but it is relatively quiet behind the scenes with many staff on annual leave, away on study trips, conferences or fieldwork.

 

This quieter period is a good time to catch up on some of the documentation backlog so today I finish documenting a new donation, continue to work on a large dataset relating to specimens from the Challenger Collection, and register 30 Former BP Microfossil Collection specimens that are due to go out on loan to the USA.

 

I spent my first 6 years at the Museum on a temporary contract curating the Former BP Microfossil Collection so it is always satisfying to see it being used by scientists. We have big plans for this collection in the future. However, I feel that I will need to do more than wait for a rare quiet day if I am to meet my part of the databasing targets set by the Museum. We plan to have details of 20 million of our specimens on our website within 5 years.

 

Thursday

 

An enquiry has come in this week about our heteropod collection. These are tiny planktonic gastropods, or literally floating snails. They are of great interest to scientists looking to quantify the effects of ocean acidification because they secrete their shells of calcium carbonate directly from the seawater that they lived in.

 

Measurement of carbon and oxygen isotopes from fossil examples can give details of the composition of ancient oceans and help to quantify changes over time. I mention the enquiry to staff in the Life Sciences Department and three visitors arrive to look at our collection within a day, including two from the British Antarctic Survey looking to develop projects on ocean acidification.

 

Friday


It is back to documentation again, a task I often save for days when the cricket is on. I am amazed when I hear dinoflagellates mentioned during the Test Match Special commentary. Dinoflagellates are protists that are a major consituent of modern and fossil plankton. We have thousands of glass slides of them here at the Museum within the micropalaeontology collections.

 

straussii_cookii_montage.jpgNew species of Australian Jurassic dinoflagellate Meiogonyaulax straussii (1-4) and Valvaeodinium cookii (16-20) published by Mantle and Riding (2012). Images courtesy of Dr Jim Riding, British Geological Survey.


A regular visitor to our collections who works at the British Geological Survey in Nottingham has described two new species of Jurassic microfossil from the NW Shelf of Australia and named them strausii and cookii after the former and current England cricket captains and Ashes-winning opening batsmen. It causes much merriment in the Museum microfossil team as another former England Captain, Michael Vaughan, remarks on the radio that they look rather like omelettes.

 

Cricket is the theme for today as I attend a lunchtime retirement party for a former cricketing colleague at the Science Museum next door. I leave a colleague to take a visitor to lunch but come back to find that he has gone home sick and the visitor is still here with a list of requests that account for the rest of the day...

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As curator of the brachiopod and cephalopod collections, I will be alternating my blog posts about each group of organisms. If you're not sure what a brachiopod or cephalopod is stay tuned, as I'll be explaining the ins and outs of these groups and why both are amazing in their own way....

 

In amongst our many cabinets are some rather special historical collections, specimens known as types, and lots of other equally amazing treasures. I'd really like to use this blog to show you around the collections I look after, which are held "behind the scenes".

 

If you follow the collections' Twitter feeds (one each for brachiopods and cephalopods) you will be aware that on a Friday I participate in #FossilFriday. If there's a specimen featured there that warrants more explanation I will do so here.

 

Sometimes I go out to fossil fairs as a representative of the Museum to talk to the public about the wonderful specimens I look after. I also go out collecting on field trips. When I'm out of the Museum doing these activities I will share what I've been up to.

 

Keep reading to find out just what I get up to as a curator here and explore with me the wonders of the collections!

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Getting stuck into fieldwork in an Oxfordshire quarry.

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With our satellite dish at the ready, the sun shining and half a dozen Museum scientists raring to go, last weekend's Nature Live events went down a storm!

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Linking back to the studio from the harbour in Lyme Regis, we brought the annual Fossil Festival to South Kensington. For visitors who were unable to visit the south coast in person, we revealed why Lyme Regis is THE place to go fossil hunting and showed our audiences some of the weird and wonderful specimens that can be found there.

 

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Museum curator Zoe Hughes reveals an Ammonite, found in the local area.

 

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Does this count as Big Pond dipping?

 

Sunday's events brought us up to date with the organisms that call our seashore home. I was out first thing trying my luck with my bucket and net. I think I was the oldest 'rock-pooler' on the beach!  Unfortunately, I didn't manage to find very much, except for lots of seaweed ... but this proved to be far more interesting than I had first thought!

 

Museum scientist Lucy Robinson explained that there are many different species of seaweed to be found along our coastline, varying in colour, shape and size. She also explained the various ways seaweeds and their extracts can be used - in toothpaste, ice-cream, fertilizer and cosmetics (to name but a few).

 

And of course, some types of seaweed can be eaten - such as sea lettuce. Lucy and I decided to give it a go ... our conclusion, it's very salty and a bit crunchy (but I think that may have been sand!)  To find out more about seaweed and how to identify them, visit our Big Seaweed Search pages.

 

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Yum!

 

Lyme Regis is a great place to visit at any time of the year. If you're interested in fossil hunting, look out for the many guided walks that are on offer throughout the year, giving you the opportunity to explore the beaches with a local palaeontologist who knows what to look out for and who can tell you more about the fossils that are found there.

 

And if you'd like to experience the Fossil Festival for yourselves, put this date in your diaries: Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 May 2014. If this year is anything to go by, it will be another great weekend!

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It was our first day at the festival proper yesterday, and the weather was great!

 

We had a day of great interactions with local primary schools. Scientists from the Museum brought along a massive cast of a baryonyx skull, and visitors were invited to take a closer look at some microscopic life through one of our amazing scanning electron microscopes (SEM).

 

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Cast of the skull of Baryonyx, a Cretaceous dinosaur with huge claws for hooking fish 


Other great exhibitors included:

 

  • The Buckland Club, who invited the public to help excavate a model plesiosaur
  • Rock Watch, running creative plasticine fossil workshops
  • The University of Plymouth, who measured visitors' strides to work out which dinosaur they are most like
  • a great collaborative artwork of the Jurassic coast, led by artist Darrell Wakelam

 

photo 2(1).JPGThe fine art of fossil excavation

 

Here's hoping for some good weather this bank holiday weekend! More news from the learning team soon.

 

Posted on behalf of Emily, Ben and Jade from the Museum's learning team.

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Today was the first day of the festival on the beach at Lyme Regis, Otherwise known as primary school day! Through the day, hundreds of school children from twenty local primary schools filltered through the tent, enjoying all of the fabulous activities and sights! A popular activity was the shark sieving, with children searching through sediment from Abbey Wood to find and identify shark teeth and shells - which they got to keep at the end!

 

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The equipment for shark sieving and the sediment

 

The British Geological Survey were showing off their 3D scanning equipment and printer. This was rather amazing! I was also very impressed with the British Antarctic Survey's specimens, particularly one ammonite  that had incredible sutures.

 

Museum staff had a very busy day with all of their activities, with Mike Rumsey and Helena Toman especially busy with their gold panning. Jerry Hooker and Noel Morris dealt with many fossil identifications.

 

I was sucessful in identifying the meteorite in a task designed by Caroline Smith and Deb Cassey - it is often difficult to identify a true meteorite! The DNA activity got many children very excited, with lots going past our fossil stand waving their tubes and enthusiastically telling us that they had DNA.

 

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A girl hunting for 'gold' at the gold panning station.

 

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'Barry' our Baryonyx skull watching over us as we work.

 

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Many of the Museum stations and associated staff inside the tent (but not all of us!)

 

Emma and I were also intervied for Palaeocast, a podcast about palaeontology. Emma talked to them about fish and I discussed ammonites.

 

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Emma and me being interviewed for Palaeocast

 

Tomorrow the tent will be open to the public so we are expecting a busy couple of days ahead. If you are nearby do pop in and say hello!

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Having arrived in Lyme Regis yesterday, greeted by sunshine and sweet salty sea air, we have been exploring the seashore and getting our bearings today.

 

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Lyme Regis

 

No visit to Lyme is complete without a trip to the beach to go fossil hunting!  Keeping an eye on the tides, we headed out first thing this morning to try our luck.  Museum scientist Ed Baker is a regualr visitor to the Jurassic Coast and showed us what to look for.  Rounded rocks can sometimes contain beautiful fossils...but need to be cracked open to reveal the animal or plant within.  This requires a special geological hammer (ordinary ones can shatter if used!) and a touch of experience/skill (cracking the rock open at the right angle is important).  Fortunately Ed has both of these things and showed us how it was done....

 

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Rounded rocks are hit along the edge using the blunt end of the hammer


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Several ammonites are revealed within the rock

 

But you can also find fossils without the need for hammers.  By looking carefully and sifting through the rocks on the beach, you never know what you might find.  Ammonite fossils are pretty common and vertebrae and other bones from fossil marine reptiles can be found by the keen eyed.

 

With our pockets bulging with our dicoveries and faces glowing from the sun and sea air, we headed back into town to start setting up the satellite equipment for this weekend's live links.  If you can't make it down to Lyme Regis, why not join our museum scientists in the Attenborough Studio at the Museum as we link to you live from the festival....

 

 

You can also follow us on Twitter @NatureLive

 

For more information about the Fossil Festival, visit www.fossilfestival.com

 

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Honorary member of the team Ed Baker helps Media Techs Tony and Eddie set up our satellite equipment

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The Museum learning engagement team's first day at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival ended yesterday and it was an epic day!

 

We were up at 6.30 to start at 8 yesterday at Thomas Hardye School, where five schools from the Dorset area participated in earth science related activities throughout the day. The team have been helping students investigate a dinosaur dig and identify what they uncover.


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Jade assists a willing group of fossil hunters

 

Other activities included creating meteor impact craters and extracting copper from malachite using electricity!

 

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Extracting copper from the mineral malachite

 

Scientists from the Museum brought lots of amazing specimens for the 450 students, including tektites, formed from sand rapidly heated by meteorite impacts and ejected to form these beautiful tear drops shapes.

 

photo 2.JPGA tektite (on the left) formed when sand is rapidly heated by a meteorite impact, with a pound coin for scale.

 

Other highlights included the biodiversity team's activity, where students identified bugs and other arthropods, contributing to important citizen science data. There was also a great stand featuring Thomas Hardye's very own Fossil Club, who were busy inspiring fellow students to get into fossils.

 

We finished packing up, headed to Lyme Regis to set up for the festival on the water front and today's primary school day, (and finished off with some well earned fish and chips!)

 

The festival runs from today until Sunday 5 May so if you're in the area come and join us and many other exhibitors for more earth science fun!

 

Posted on behalf of Emily, Ben and Jade from the Museum's learning team.

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The sun is shining, the bank holiday weekend is approaching, what better time to head down to the coast? But this is no regular seaside jaunt because this weekend Nature Live is joining scientists from the Museum, Plymouth University, the British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton to name but a few (! ) for the annual Fossil Festival in Lyme Regis. It's free, open to all and crammed full of exciting events and activities. 

 

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The coast at Lyme Regis

 

 

Nature Live will be linking live, via satellite, back to the studio in South Kensington, reporting on all the comings and goings at the festival, new fossil discoveries along the coast of Lyme Regis and where's the best place in town for a decent ice-cream (extensive sampling will be taking place throughout the weekend!)

 

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A seagull stole Natalie's (centre) ice-cream shortly after this photo was taken at Lyme Regis last year!

 

So, if you're free this bank holiday weekend, come and join us in Lyme Regis - more details about the festival can be found here - or join us in the Museum for the following events:

 

 

You can also follow us on Twitter @NatureLive

 

Now, it's time to track down some ammonites ...

 

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The specimens are packed and tomorrow the first Museum staff will make our way down to Lyme Regis for the fossil festival (3-5 May). We have a nice selection of ammonites, brachiopods, fish, sharks, and a replica dinosaur skull of a Baryonyx and its claw to show people different types of fossils which can be found on the Jurassic Coast. We do seem to have a lot of things to take...

 

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Emma Bernard (left) and Zoe Hughes (right).

 

This first group is Martin Munt, Zuzanna Wawrzyniak, Zoe Hughes and me, Emma Bernard. We will be heading out to do some fieldwork on Wednesday (Hopefully we’ll find lots of ammonites!), though we haven’t yet quite decided where we will head to, it might be weather dependant, so hope for sunshine.

 

Thursday will take us to a school event in Dorchester where we will be talking about the wonders of cephalopod taxonomy. Over the weekend it is the festival and the Museum will be represented by many staff and lots of fun activities including sieving for sharks teeth, learning all about the wonders of the Rhynie Chert (which is 407 million years old) and gold panning. There is also an opportunity for people to bring along any fossils of their own for identification.

 

The festival is important as Lyme Regis is at the heart of the Jurassic Coast and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

For more information about Lyme Regis Fossil Festival, visit their website.

 

Zoe and I will be posting updates all week here on our blog. Stay tuned!