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Fossil Fish blog

4 Posts tagged with the shark_teeth tag
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As part of my job I often work with other curators and museum professionals. Part of having such a good network of colleagues is that we can learn from each other (us 'experts' don't know everything!).


Back in January (27th - 31st), I had the pleasure of the assistance of Alex Peaker who is a palaeontologist at Dinosaur Isle Museum on the Isle of Wight. Alex wanted to come to the Palaeontology Section to see how we document our specimens and deal with research visitors.

 

Here Alex tells us a bit about his job at Dinosaur Isle Museum and what he got up to during the week...

AlexPeakerCrop.jpgAlex Peaker ready to start his week with us at the Natural History Museum.


Dinosaur Isle is a museum that promotes the wealth of geology and palaeontology that can be found on the Isle of Wight. It displays a particularly fantastic collection of local dinosaur finds.

 

In a normal day's work I mostly deal with curation of the collection, spending much of my time documenting specimens into our electronic database, working with associated documentation, assisting with any enquiries, and facilitating research on our specimens.

 

Last year I had the fantastic opportunity to work for the museum with the Isle of Wight Destination Management Organisation, BBC, and 20th Century Fox, teaming together to work on promotion for the recently-released film Walking with Dinosaurs - the 3d movie. The result saw the creation of the Dinosaur Island augmented reality app, which has been a fantastic success in promoting the movie, the island, and our dinosaurs.

 

Recently I was given the chance to spend a week working at the Natural History Museum, which was greatly appreciated; the time that I spent there was absolutely amazing. The reason for the trip was to further my ability in curation, to work with people who have a wealth of experience in the area and to see how our practices compare to that of a national museum.

 

I spent the week working with Emma Bernard in the Fossil Fish Section, looking at:

  • documentation procedure
  • digitisation of the collection onto the Museum database (KE EMu)
  • general museum standards and policies
  • interpretation and outreach
  • display and storage of specimens

 

It was great to be able to work with such an amazing collection, and often with fossils that I have only seen in books. Virtually every drawer I opened seemed to have either a type fossil (the single specimen designated by an author to formally describe a new species), or something with an interesting history (e.g. donated by Sir Richard Owen). My personal favourites were a large Brychaetus (prehistoric bony fish) skull from the Isle of Sheppey, and a particularly large megalodon tooth (everybody loves a big shark, but even for megalodon this one was a real beast).

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Large Brychaetus skull (NHMUK PV P 3893), found from the Isle of Sheppey, UK.

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Megalodon tooth (NHMUK PV P 14534), found in Virgina, USA.


I was also given a chance to visit the Cephalopod and Brachiopod Section with Zoe Hughes, which was very interesting. I was shown some fantastic fossils including an amazing squid showing preservation of all of its soft tissue, and was even privileged enough to have a viewing of the 'Royal Brachiopod' (a fossil collected by Darwin on the Falklands that is often used as an example to royal visitors).

 

Thankfully the procedures set up at the Museum are very similar to those that I would work by at Dinosaur Isle but with some differences, most of which seem to derive from the size of the collections and slightly different collection policies (apart from a few comparative pieces, our collection holds exclusively Isle of Wight fossils whereas the Museum collects specimens from all over the world).

 

I learnt a lot in a week at the Museum with much of my newly-gained experience already having been a help at Dinosaur Isle. It was great to work with a fantastic group of people who were incredibly helpful and showed me a lot of great things.

I would like to thank the South East Museum Development Programme for the funding and making this opportunity possible.

 

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Alex photographing shark fin spines we brought back from Morocco.

 

Thanks very much to Alex for all his help during the week. He helped to document a lot of the specimens we collected whilst in Morocco and locate several specimens connected with our upcoming Sir Arthur Smith Woodward Symposium. I also learnt from Alex by discussing how he carries tasks out at Dinosaur Isle.

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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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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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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am lucky enough to participate in collection enhancing fieldwork. One place I have been to several times over the last year is Woodeaton Quarry near Oxford.

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A small part of the quarry

 

The quarry is disused and is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) as it contains one of the best exposures of upper Bathonian (about 160-million-year-old) rocks in the UK. Because of this the site is of great palaeontological interest. The rocks represent a marine or marginal marine environment.

 

Many different fossils have been found there in the past, including shark teeth, brachiopods and dinosaurs! Over the next few years the quarry is due to be filled in, but part of the Bathonian rocks will remain exposed. Therefore it is important we take samples of the different rock layers and try to understand the geology better.

 

A team of Museum scientists and curators went to the quarry over a period of a couple of months to take lots of pictures, determine the geology and how each rock level changes, and to plan for a week long expedition to recover lots of fossils.

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Myself and Museum scientist Steve Stukins, having a closer look at the rock.

 

In June this year our team went to the quarry for a week to collect bulk samples (large bags of rock and sediment) to bring back to the Museum, sieve, wash away all the rock and have a closer look for fossils. Most of the fossils are tiny and need to be looked at under a microscope.

 

We had people from different disciplines looking for microfossils, pollen, small vertebrates and invertebrates. Unfortunately, on this occasion we did not find any large vertebrates but we certainly have lots of small and microscopic fossils!

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Myself and PhD student Simon Wills loading the van full of bulk samples

 

The infomation we find out will be given to Natural England so they can make infomation boards about the site. Several scientists connected with the Museum will publish results to help others in understanding this time period better. The fossils we find will form an important part of our palaeontology collections for scientists to use in the future and maybe if we are lucky we might even find a new species!

 

As the bulk samples are processed and we start identifying what we have recovered I will write another post to update everyone on our findings.