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Brachiopod and Cephalopod collections blog

4 Posts tagged with the collections tag

The week before last (30 June - 4 July 2014) I had two enthusiastic work experience students working alongside me in the collections. Below are two short passages that I asked them to write about their time in the Museum.


Zechariah Francis


On my first day I was given a tour of the Museum, including the palaeontology building. The people that work here are very friendly. On my second day I learnt about type and figured specimens and then counted how many of each were in the Davidson collection of type and figured brachiopods. This was so Zoë had an accurate idea of how many were there, and to help her put together a bid for funding for a digitisation project.


An excellent experience being at the Museum was having a tour of the fossil mammal collection. The bones were massive and I was left speechless when I had the privilege to see a fossilised rhino-like animal.


My experience at the Natural History Museum has been memorable; it is an experience I will never forget. I have met dedicated scientists who have helped me understand the world of palaeontology. They have helped build a road which I will follow.


Thomas Miller


Over the past week I have been working in the palaeontology department with the Curator of Fossil Cephalopods and Brachiopods, Zoë Hughes. During this time I have been assigned many interesting activities that have given me a very good idea of what being a curator is like. These included counting the Davidson collection of brachiopods for a project, and cataloguing a large number of Ordovician nautiloids in preparation for a potential visiting researcher. I was particularly privileged to be able to work with the Jim Craig collection of Gault ammonites; photographing them for the Museum – it was also very useful to be able to learn how to use the brand new camera and stand.


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One of the Photographs taken by Thomas of a Gault Clay ammonite.


Aside from working, I was also given a tour of the fossil mammal collection by Pip Brewer - this was very enjoyable and also let me see some different specimens to what I am used to working with.


Working in the museum showed me the scale of the collections and also the scale and importance of the work that goes on here. I am very grateful to Zoë and also Martin Munt for giving me this wonderful opportunity.


Huge thanks to both Zechariah and Thomas for all their hard work during the week! 


Time for a guest blog from Mike Rumsey, to tell you all what the Mineralogists got up to on the days they split up from the Palaeontologists.


Having another geological commitment to attend I arrived in the middle of the night a couple of days after everyone else had settled into the Morrocco fieldtrip – a long taxi drive by darkness and a rough couple of hours sleep and then it was off into the field with the other mineralogists. (We split up so the palaeo people and the min people could get as much done as possible). First up was the amazing abandoned mining town of Angil, nestled in a steep valley once mined for its copper and lead content.



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Looking over a town in the valley.

Although an incredible vista, the many hundreds of steps leading up to the top of the valley was difficult in the heat and having only had a few hours sleep – it was a real fieldtrip wake-up call! We found some representative material with our local guide and then moved onto the main important task for the day – Mibladen.


The Mibladen area is famous for beautiful bright red crystalline specimens of vanadinite, which are probably the best in the world, and as such Mibladen is well known to most mineralogists and it was great to visit such a famous locality. Vanadinite from here has been known for a long time, but most of the material that ends up in the UK is poorly located and is often just labelled vanadinite from Mibladen, Morocco - this is not really fit for some of the scientific purposes of the museum, so we wanted to collect material directly from a number of different outcrops, mines and workings so we could record exactly where subtly different specimens of vanadinite occurred.


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Another feature of the material that reaches the UK on the commercial market is that it has often been heavily prepared. This might involve cleaning in acids or selective trimming or removal of other less aesthetic mineral species that get in the way of the bright red vanadinite crystals. This is unfortunate as we are losing geologically relevant information when this happens, so I wanted also to obtain some ugly, fresh material that might have all sorts of natural alterations, erosion crusts and associated minerals combined that could tell us or future geologists something a little extra about this place than the readily available specimens.


After a few hours of driving between localities and getting some quick representative samples the day was complete before I knew it, but I had lots of samples and was happy - we met some really interesting people and saw some incredible hand-dug mines and pits in the middle of the desert where prospectors had been searching for vanadinite.


On the second split day from the palaeo guys, we mineralogists visited the area of M’fis and Taouz, M’fis is a famous area for barite specimens and Taouz is another area famous for its vanadinite. Both these places were really out in the middle of the desert and it was very, (very!) hot - a specific locality called the wulfenite vein at M’fis – was so open and exposed, it felt a bit like some horror film where we might have been abandoned in a desert oven.


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The hot desert in M'fis

Still we got to it and collected some really interesting specimens from some more off the beaten track spots in M’fis including areas that have never really been written about or documented in any systematic fashion. At the main site of M’fis we picked up some good representative barite specimens and saw some pretty scary mining operations that I’m certain you would not see in the UK.


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An example of scary mining operations


At Taouz we didn’t collect much as I had been lucky enough to visit the locality the previous year. However, we did get some nice specimens from the local miners and we got a quick tour inside the mine workings to see some of the vandinite in situ, both of which we documented to better illustrate the geological environment of the finds from my trip to Taouz the year before.

Analysis of the minerals is still ongoing, but it seems successful so far, with a few species being identified and/or documented for the first time at specific localities and in one case, possibly the first documented occurrence in Morocco… and perhaps the first even for the planet, which considering there are only 4800 known minerals is a fairly rare occurrence.


Huge thanks to Mike for writing this so I could share his experiences of Morocco!


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.


Welcome to my blog!

Posted by Zoe Hughes Jun 20, 2013

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!


Getting stuck into fieldwork in an Oxfordshire quarry.