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Day three was the day I was most excited about. The Palaeontologists and the Mineralogists split up and went to separate places. You can read about what they got up to in the next blog, a guest post from Mike Rumsey. The Palaeontologists were heading to an area known as Goulmima. The reason we were heading there was primarily to explore the fish and ammonite fauna to be found (there are also marine reptiles). These animals are from the Turonian stage of the Late Cretaceous. This means that these fossils are approximately 90 million years old! Being the curator of the fossil cephalopods and a particular fan of ammonites I was very excited!


Before we left our hotel we visited the fossil and mineral shop they had to have a look and see what there was. There were some very impressive large items but I was most impressed by the heteromorphic ammonites and spiny trilobites.

 

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Some of the wonderful ammonites on sale at the hotel.


We left our hotel and drove south, heading towards Goulmima. On the way we stopped in a town called Rich, where we visited another fossil shop. The owner of this particular shop knows the Goulmima area which we were interested in very well, he also had a lot of fossils from the sites there.  Knowing that we wouldn’t be spending very long at the site at Goulmima, and also that the Museum is working to expand its collection of ammonites from the region I spent some time having a look for the rarer species not represented in our collections. In the end we came away with some very nice ammonites.

 

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Me searching through a pile of ammonites.


After our detour we continued on the way to Goulmima. The drive there was filled with spectacular scenery as the landscape became more filled with the typical desert scenes you would expect from Morocco.  As we got closer we were driving along a river bed with spectacular cliffs and lush vegetation. On arriving we had lunch in the shade under a date tree (more fantastic tuna sandwiches!).  During our 300km drive south it had gotten noticeably hotter, I was definitely grateful for my sun hat and factor 50 suncream!

 

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Magnificent landscapes we travelled through on our way south through Morocco. 1 of 3

 

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Landscape 2 of 3

 

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More of the wonderful geology we passed on our drive south 3 of 3.

 



Once we had eaten our lunch we went to the first of two sites in the Goulmima area known as Asfla 1 (another town nearby). The more adventurous of the group scrambled up a very steep cliff to investigate what could be found. Lower down we found evidence of shell beds containing  lots of bivalve shells. After half an hour or so there we had found a few scrappy bits of ammonite and no fish so we got back into the jeeps and headed off to the second site; Asfla 2.

 

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View of site Asfla 1.

 

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The view from site Aslfa 1. Photograph courtesy of Martha Richter.

 

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Can you see my collegues on the cliff at Asfla 1?


On reaching Asfla 2 we hopped out of the jeeps and headed up towards the site. On the way up we found pieces of plesiosaur. Martin found a lovely specimen of an ammonite genus known as Mammites at this site.

 

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Site Asfla 2.

 

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Me and Emma Bernard at Asfla 2.


Our next stop before heading towards a place called Erfoud and our hotel was a small settlement near Goulmima. We were taken here by our guides as the local people make living excavating fossils from the area. We made a couple of stops, one of which being to a man who specialised in collecting the ammonite fauna. I spent another happy few minutes having a look through a pile of ammonites. In the end I came away with a good selection of specimens, some very rare which may never have been found here before!

 

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The village we visited. Photograph courtesy of Martha Richter.


The last stop before our hotel was a brief stop in another fossil shop. As we were now in Erfoud an area with much older Palaeozoic rocks, this was starting to be seen in what the shop was selling, with goniatites and trilobites which are much older alongside the more recent Cretaceous fauna.  While we were here Mike, Emma and Helena; the mineralogists met us so we could head to our hotel and a comfortable bed after a long and busy day.

 

Keep an eye out for the vertebrate perspective on day 3 from Emma Bernard, and a guest post here from Mike Rumsey about what the mineralogists were up to.

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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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As I mentioned on my Twitter account @NHM_FossilFish, myself and several colleagues from the Museum and another institutions recently went on a collections-enhancing trip to Morocco. It was absolutely amazing! Over several blog posts myself and Zoe Hughes will take you through our adventures, so make sure you check out her Brachiopod and Cephalopod collections blog!

 

Over the last few years lots of fossils and minerals from Morocco have flooded the market. We are even seeing an increase in people bringing them to events for us to identify. Currently our collections from Morocco are limited, so during the trip we wanted to:

  • expand the Museum's collections
  • see famous sites like the Kem Kem (famous for dinosaurs) and Goulmimia (famous for ammonites and fish)
  • collect some of our own samples

 

Over the last year the Museum's former Palaeontology and Mineralogy Departments merged to form the new Department of Earth Sciences, and because both minerals and fossils from Morocco are of interest to the wider scientific community we mounted our first earth sciences fieldtrip

 

The palaeontologists of the group were myself, Martin Munt, Martha Richter, Zerina Johanson, Zoe Hughes, Mark Graham our fossil preparator, research associate David Ward and regular Fossil Fish visitor Charlie Underwood from Birkbeck, University of London. The mineralogists were Mike Rumsey, Helena Tolman and analytical chemist Emma Humphreys-Williams.

 

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Back row: Mark Graham, Zerina Johanson, Martin Munt, Charlie Underwood, David Ward, Martha Richter, Mike Rumsey, Helena Toman and Emma Humphreys-Williams. Front row: Myself (Emma Bernard), Moha (our guide) and Zoe Hughes.

 

On Wednesday 18 September our group arrived at Heathrow Airport for our flight out to Casablanca, Morocco. We arrived late at night and were met by our drivers and our guide Moha. We went straight to the hotel and settled in for the evening ready for our first day in the field.

 

On Thursday 19 we were all up ready for a trip to a farm near the town of Oued Zem. This area is known for the phosphate mining industry, a by-product of which is fossil material, specifically Cretaceous reptiles such as mosasurs and thousands upon thousands of shark teeth!

 

It was a warm day, about 30 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. We went to a farm where Charlie and David had previously collected samples and have a good relationship with the owners. Here we wanted to sample different beds to see what sharks and other marine animals were present in each layer.

 

We collected large samples and them put them through several fine sieves and then picked out what fossils we could find. This mainly consisted of shark and ray teeth and small fish bones. We collected over 20 bags of this sediment to bring back to the Museum so we can have a closer look.

 

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Charlie Underwood digging in the rock face and sieving for shark teeth.

 

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Emma and Zoe enjoying the sun and picking the sediment for shark teeth.

 

For lunch we went to another local farm where I think we all agreed, we had one of the best tagines any of us have every had. It was delicious. The farm also had a fossil shop and it was great to look around at what they had on offer.

 

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Just some of the fossil specimens on offer in a Moroccan farm shop.

 

In the afternoon we were back at the farm with all the shark teeth and we were in for a real treat. Part of their land included an old phosphate mine which they now use for excavating fossils, and inside there was a near complete shark belonging to the genus Otodus of Yspresian age (Early Eocene in age, about 50 million years old). Shark skeletal material is cartilaginous and therefore rarely fossilised, but this specimen has several articulated vertebrae and lots of teeth preserved.

 

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All set and ready to go down the mine.

 

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Me with the shark skeleton, the round white circles are the vertebrae.

 

The mine was a lot cooler inside than outside which made for a nice change when we were still adjusting to the temperature difference. After we stumbled back outside we were greeted with some lovely saffron tea (a first for me) and we packed all our specimens and sediment into the van and headed off for the hotel discussing what we had found that day.

 

From here on, myself and Zoe Hughes will be taking each day in the field in turn, so make sure to check back to find out what else we did...

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During three hectic days from 25 to 27 October 2013 I attended The Munich Show, one of the most important fossil and mineral fairs in the world.

 

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Marienplatz, in the heart of Munich, was home to medieval markets, celebrations, and tournaments in the 12th century.

 

We arrived Munich on 23 October to install the Museum's exhibition at the Mineralientage München (Munich Show), which this year was devoted to gold in celebration of its 50th anniversary. In the case of fossils this translated as golden discoveries in Palaeontology.

 

The Museum contributed by exhibiting some of our most valuable fossils, including the iconic first finding of Tyrannosaurus rex, an incomplete lower jaw with teeth, which is the holotype of Dynamosaurus imperiosus.

 

2013-10-24 11.58.02.jpgVenue for the Museum specimens at the Messegelände, the New Munich Trade Fair Centre.

 

 

Another important fossil from the Museum was Proceratosaurus, a small-sized carnivorous theropod.

 

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Proceratosaurus, theropod from the Middle Jurassic of England.


As well as fossil vertebrates the show included invertebrates, like this slab of Balanocrinus and Palaeocoma from the David Harvey Collection.

 

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Crinoids and brittle star of the David Harvey Collection at the Museum exhibit.

 

The Museum displayed specimens from 'golden palaeontological sites' like the Burgess Shale and Lyme Regis.

 

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Palaeocoma milleri, brittle star, collected by Mary Anning.

 

During the three days I visited all the stands concerning fossils in detail and I saw very striking specimens. Some of them were really uncommon and important scientifically. It was possible to see Edicarian fossils from Russia, really nice slabs of a whole colony of crinoids from Holzmaden or medusae from Solnhofen.

 

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Ediacarian fossils from White Sea, Russia.

 

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Well-preserved medusa Rhizostomites from Solnhofen.

 

On the other hand, this fossil fair has also been a very good place to see fossil fakes or “reconstructed” fossils.

 

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Ammonite that has been half carved.

 

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Eurypterid that has been 90% reconstructed - painted on.

 

The show also included activities for children, such as interactive workshops like fossil splitting and soapstone carving.

 

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A 'caveman' working on cutting and polishing stones.

 

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Little raiders of the lost fossil.

 

We enjoyed not only the fossils but also a big party to celebrate the Golden Jubilee on 25 October, the first day of the show, with a Bavarian orchestra that was playing while we had our dinner with typical dishes and drink from Munich, like my favourites ones: Spaetzle with cheese and German beer.

 

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Bavarian orchestra to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Munich Mineral and Fossil Show.

 

Congratulations to Christoph Keilmann for organising the Munich show!

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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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Specimens in the historical collections housed at the Museum's Palaeontology Building are an invaluable resource for historical research and were the founding core of the British Museum and later the Natural History Museum. They mark the progress of early palaeontological exploration and the collections containing fossils were from:

 

  • Hans Sloane (1660‐1753)
  • Carl Dietrich Eberhard König (1774‐1851)
  • Thomas Pennant (1726‐1798)

 

They are not only the core collections in the Department of Earth Sciences today, but also - through Sir Hans Sloane’s specimens - formed the basis of the British Museum and, ultimately, the Natural History Museum. The collection of König (or Koenig), first Keeper of the Department of Natural History and Modern Curiosities, refers to the fossil and mineralogical core collections that he described in his Icones fossilium sectiles (1825). Lastly, there is the Pennant (1726-1798) Collection, which is from the 18th century zoologist, antiquarian and correspondent of Gilbert White, and was donated to the British Museum in 1912 by the Earl of Denbigh. It has more than 1,000 specimens, some of them described in Pennant’s manuscript Reliquiae Diluviannae, or a Catalogue of such bodies as were deposited in the Earth by the Deluge.

 

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Marta Martin Mendoza curating the Pennant Collection as part of her internship in the Department of Earth Sciences.

 

These collections contain fossils of multiple groups: bryozoans, molluscs, echinoderms, brachiopods, sponges, corals, arthropods, worms, fishes, reptiles, mammals, plants and artefacts.

 

The curation of the collections has just finished completely thanks to Marta Martin Mendoza and Jane Barnbrook’s help. Marta is performing a 6 month internship sponsored by the Spanish Government and Jane is a volunteer in the Department of Earth Sciences and the best reboxer ever! While Marta has been databasing and registering the specimens, Jane was reboxing all these with new trays and cutting the plastazote foam used for protection and storage to the shape of each fossil.

 

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One of the drawers containing Pennant's specimens that has been reboxed by our volunteer, Jane Barnbrook

 

The fossil information has been uploaded to our Collection Management System (KE EMu) and is now accessible to other researchers from the Museum website. There are more than 1,300 specimens (with over 1,000 from the Pennant Collection).

 

Among these specimens, there are nice bryozoans such as the lectotype and paralectotype of Blumenbachium globosum Koenig, 1825 in the Koenig Collection, and specimens still unpublished of Cupuladria Canu & Bassler, 1919 in the Pennant Collection.

 

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Lectotype (on the left) and paralectotype (on the right) of Blumenbachium globosum Koenig, 1825 from Coralline Crag of Suffolk [Koenig Collection].

 

 

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Specimens of Cupuladria Canu & Bassler, 1919 from Paleogene (?) [Pennant Collection].

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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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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 weather looks set to be fine for the May bank holiday weekend, so why not head down to the south coast where you can join our scientists and other festival-goers at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival?

 

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Lyme Regis Fossil Festival, 3-5 May, full of fossil discoveries, arts, entertainment and coastal treasures. Select all images to enlarge.

 

The 8th annual Lyme Regis Fossil Festival on Dorset's renowned Jurassic coast is taking place from 3 to 5 May. The theme of this year's festival is 'Coastal Treasures' and as well as the fossil displays and talks, there is an abundance of entertainment for all ages. Perhaps a toe or two will be dipped in the sea too...

 

 

Get a glimpse of the experience in the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival's video

 

A big team of our scientists and learning staff have already set off for Lyme - we are regular partners of the event - and they will be setting up stalls in the Grand Marquee's Fossil Fair, which is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday.

 

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Mapping the Lyme rocks the mobile way on a coastal walk.

 

Among the intriguing specimens the scientists will display and discuss are ammonites, fish, sharks and a replica Baryonyx skull. They will join many others on fossilteering walks on the beaches and be leading hands-on activites like sieving for sharks' teeth, identifying visitors' fossil finds, and revealing the wonders of the 407-million-year-old Rhynie Chert rock deposit.

 

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Museum specimens on display this year: Fish and shark specimens found in Lyme Regis (left). Ammonite 'death assemblage', a common fossil found in Lyme Regis (right).

 

Nearer home in South Kensington, we're linking up live on video to the festival in our free Nature Live fossil talks in the Attenborough Studio on both Saturday and Sunday (12.30 and 14.30) if you're visiting the Museum.

 

There is, of course, a vast array of incredible fossils in the Museum itself, but specially look out for Fossils from Britain gallery, the Fossil Marine Reptiles gallery and our Earth Lab on your next visit.

 

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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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