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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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Our last day in the field was one our Ore Curator, Helena Toman, was particulary looking forward to. We had finished visiting the fossil sites and today we would spend having a look around an active mine and collecting samples for the Museum's collections.

 

Helena tells us more about it...

 

Before we delve into the world of ores, it’s probably best to clarify what an ore actually is! An ore is any naturally-occurring mineral or assemblage of minerals from which economically important constituents, particularly metals, can be extracted. The field of economic geology focuses on ore deposit formation, ore mineral exploration and the successful extraction and processing of an ore. I like to think of economic geology as occupying one of those crucial interfaces between science and society and so one of the challenges as the Ore Collections Curator is to make the science accessible to society.

 

Over the past couple of months, you’ve taken part in our adventure to the geological treasure trove that is Morocco. After sieving for Cretaceous sharks teeth; excavating extinct volcanoes for mantle xenoliths and exploring for minerals we reach the final field stop of this incredible journey, the cobalt-nickel arsenide ore bodies of Bou-Azzer.

 

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On the road into Bou-Azzer mine.

 

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Looking over the mine.

 

Located in the central Anti-Atlas Mountain range within a very old (788 ± 9 Ma, Gahlan et al., 2006) ophiolite – a section of the ancient sea floor that has been obducted onto land - Bou-Azzer is presently the only mining district in the world to produce cobalt as a primary commodity from arsenide ores (USGS, 2011).  As cobalt is usually extracted as a by-product, mineralisation at Bou-Azzer is unusual and therefore scientifically interesting. Put bluntly, we’d be mad not to visit and collect!

 

One thing that you can safely predict is that most mining operations are located in very remote and difficult-to-access locations. Bou-Azzer is no exception. After a long, bumpy, but visually stunning car ride we were warmly welcomed by mine employees who introduced the group to the geology and mining history of the district. Then, after a much needed sugary mint tea, the moment had arrived. The moment I had been waiting for – access to the ore pile! We drove up. The midday sun beat down on the mass pile of rocks before us.

 

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Looking through the discarded material next to the mine.

 

Dull silvers highlighted the primary cobalt mineralisation of Bou-Azzer: skutterudite (CoAs); safflorite (CoAs2); loellingite (FeAs); nickeline (NiAs) and rammelsbergite (NiAs2) while pale pinks and rich purples drew attention to the secondary mineral, erythrite (Co3[AsO4]2.8H2O) (Ahmed et al., 2009). I have to admit, as ores go, they rarely get ‘prettier’.

 

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Some of the samples we collected at the mine.

 

While I could have stayed for days, our schedule was very tight and it wasn’t long before we needed to leave; it really was a case of ‘all hands on deck!’ Decision making (often against the clock) is part of a curator’s in-field skill set, so only samples that best provided an understanding of the mineralogy, mineral assemblages, mineral textures and mineralisation styles present at Bou-Azzer, made it into the suite.

 

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Primary cobalt ore.

 

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Primary cobalt ore.

 

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Secondary erythrite.

 

This suite (of 30 hand samples) was collected with two purposes in mind:

 

     1) collection enhancement of the existing Natural History Museum ore collection

     2) to serve as material for research initiatives investigating cobalt as a ‘critical element’

 

As someone whose scientific interest area is economic geology, visiting Bou-Azzer was the cherry on top of the cake – or, as we are dealing with all things Moroccan, the mint in my tea. Describe the fieldtrip in one word? Ore-some.

 

If you would like to find out more about ores, the Museum ore collection and our research, please see our ores group webpages, or you can follow up with the references below.

 

 

Thank you to Helena for telling us more about the ores and what we collected.

 

I was particularly excited about going to the mine as we were trying to find some pink minerals, and pink is my favourite colour. Some of the specimens looked wonderful sparkling in the sun and it was great that we were able to collect so many new samples for the ore collections.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Morocco, seeing something new every day and you can learn so much more in the field than reading a book or paper about the area. For me, it was great to learn from the mineralogists on the trip and find out more about what they do and also learn from more senior members of staff (I think we all enjoyed learning from each other and getting to know each other better).

 

Being able to visit sites I have heard so much about such as the Kem Kem and Goulmima was fantastic. And knowing that finding the fossils (and mineral specimens) during our trip helped to enhance the Museum collections is a great feeling. I am hoping to return to Morocco later in the year to present some results at a conference of specimens we collected during our trip.

 

References

 

Ahmad, A.H., Arai, Shoji, and Ikenne, Moha, 2009, Mineralogy and paragenesis of the Co-Ni arsenide ores of Bou Azzer, Anti-Atlas, Morocco: Economic Geology, v. 104, no. 2, March–April, p. 249–266.

USGS, 2011, Minerals Yearbook: Morocco and Western Sahara (Advanced Release), p. 30.1 – 30.9.

Gahlan, H., Arai, S., Ahmed, A.H., Ishida, Y., Abdel-Aziz, Y.M., and Rahimi, A., 2006, Origin of magnetite veins in serpentinite from the Late Proterozoic Bou-Azzer ophiolite, Anti-Atlas, Morocco: An implication for mobility of iron during serpentinization: Journal of African Earth Sciences, v. 46, p.318–330.

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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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Kem Kem - dinosaur heaven!

Posted by Emma Bernard Dec 19, 2013

This is a special additional blog written by our fossil preparator Mark Graham, who was part of our group who went to Morocco. Here Mark tells us  why he was excited to visit Morocco and what we found at the famous Kem Kem beds...

 

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Mark happy to be at the Kem Kem.

 

While I am fascinated in all aspects of palaeontology, it is the vertebrates of the Mesozoic Era that have always been the main focus of my interest, whether collecting, preparing, or just reading about specimens. The fauna of the Late Cretaceous worldwide includes some truly amazing creatures and one of the iconic locations is the Kem Kem beds of Morocco.

 

Our visit to the Kem Kem was, for me personally, the part of the recent fieldtrip that I was most looking forward to – although I knew that every location would be fantastic.

 

In my mind’s eye, I was picturing the red exposures and imagining the wonderful fossils that we might find: Carcharodontosaurus saharicus, the fearsome theropod dinosaur and apex-predator of the region at that time, the sail backed Spinosaurus aegypticus, a relative of our own Baryonyx, massive sauropods like Rebbachisaurus – not to mention dromaeosaurs, crocodiles and pterosaurs!

 

It was very exciting as we neared the steep exposures and got our first glimpse of the upper layers, where local collectors dig triangular-shaped caves into the cliff face and work their way many metres in without the benefit of any supporting rafters.

 

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Mark Graham at the entrance to one of the mines at Kem Kem.

 

The climb up got all of us puffing but happily there was good footing so plenty of grip (unlike some other exposures that we had climbed). Here they pick at the rocks and drag them outside the cave-mouths to form spoil heaps and it was on one such mound that Zoe Hughes and I scraped away and found what looked like two jaw pieces, about 15cm long. There was a lot of the sandy matrix still attached, so identifying what they are will require some preparation in the lab.

 

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Mark Graham with a piece of jaw (Zoe Hughes found another piece).

 

All too soon we were out of time, back in the cars and off to the next (non-vertebrate!) location. I wish that we’d had more time at Kem Kem, but the trip encompassed many other important locales and we were cramming in a whole lot of geological and road time.

 

It’s difficult to single out the ‘best part’ of the fieldtrip as we were finding important materials to enhance the collections everywhere we went. The stromatolite exposures were incredible, but so too was collecting mantle xenoliths with mineralogy colleagues on the side of an extinct volcano and visiting echinoderm miners in the Sahara.

 

But the Kem Kem – ‘there be dragons’…   

 

I have to say I felt similar visiting the Kem Kem beds. I grew up being facinated with dinosaurs and hearing things about Spinosaurs, so being able to visit the place where some of these ferocious beasts once roamed the land was a special treat. I have to say I was slightly jealous of Mark and Zoe's find! We also collected some sediment from the Kem Kem which is being sieved and we are sure to find some more interesting fossils!

 

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Me at the entrance to one of the mines at the Kem Kem.

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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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On Friday 27 September the Museum will be holding Science Uncovered, part of the Europe-wide Researchers' Night.

 

Science Uncovered involves almost all the Museum's staff and volunteers talking to visitors about their job, recent research or their favourite specimens. If that isn't enough to tempt you, how about joining one of the Museum tours, or having a drink with a scientist to talk about their work, and maybe ending the night dancing under Dippy's tail with a DJ?

 

An evening with the fossil fish

 

On the night our team will be out in force...

 

Dr Zerina Johnanson will be talking about her work on fish specimens from the London Clay. These are beautifully three-dimensional specimens, which Zerina and her colleagues have been CT-scanning to reveal their internal structures so come along on to see inside these amazing fossils.

 

Chie Heath, one of our many fantastic volunteers, will be talking about the TLC she gives specimens (otherwise known as reboxing), which she carries out on the fossil fish collection.

 

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Picture of the Holotype of Percostoma angustum, a bony fish from the London Clay of the Isle of Sheppey.

 

Do you know who Sir Arthur Smith Woodward is? Mike Smith, another member of our fantastic volunteer team will be talking about our upcoming symposium to celebrate Woodward's contributions to the palaeontology world, specifically involving fossil fish. Woodward joined the Museum when he was only 18 in 1892, and spent his entire career here.

 

fossil-fish-img2-woodward.jpgA rather serious looking Sir Arthur Smith Woodward.

 

Myself, Research Associate David Ward and volunteer David Baines will be talking about our experiences of fieldwork - why we went to Woodeaton Quarry to collect samples (see my last blog entry), the processes involved in sieving and acid-preparing specimens, and what we have found so far. Woodeaton has proved to be a great site and so far we have found an early dinosaur tooth, a very early mammal tooth, bits of crocodile and lots of microfossils.

 

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One of our many Woodeaton samples being washed before we check for fossils.

 

PhD student Joe Keating from the University of Bristol will have several fossil fish specimens on show, and will be talking about the wide diversity of fish and how they evolved over time. You may have seen Joe at a past Nature Live event.

 

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Joe Keating during his last Nature Live talk.

 

We will also have Dr Martha Richter talking about her work on fossil fish and Research Associate Sally Young talking about fossil eels.

 

There will be a member of the fossil fish team on a table in Marine Reptile Way (where all the Ichthyosaurs are displayed on the wall). So why not come along and say hi! It is a free event with lots to see and do. If you are unable to attehnd, keep up-to-date by following us on Twitter (@NHM_FossilFish) or follow the hashtag #SU2013 for updates across the whole Museum.

 

I'm now off to pack for my next fieldwork trip to Morocco! Keep checking back to hear all about it!

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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.

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Hi everyone,

 

Thanks for visiting my blog! My name is Emma Bernard and I am a Curator of Palaeobiology. I've worked in the Museum for nearly two years now, working in many sections including fossil mammals, but I am now based in the Fossil Fish Section.

 

My job involves looking after all the fossil fish and sharks in the Museum - around 80,000 specimens ranging from the Ordovician Period (about 485 million years ago) to the Pleistocene (about 12,000 years ago), which have been collected from all over the world.

 

We have lots of historically important specimens, many with interesting stories, some that were part of the founding collections of the Museum, and others which just look a bit odd. In further posts I will give more details about some of these amazing collections.


You can also follow the collections on Twitter @NHM_FossilFish and #FossilFriday, which is becoming more popular.

 

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Me with a Fossil Mammal display I curated at the Munich Show in 2012.


I hope to give you an insight into the wide variety of day-to-day projects and jobs I undertake in the Museum, and what life is really like as curator.

 

Part of my job involves looking after and providing information to visiting researchers, and answering enquiries which come in about the collection. I facilitate loans, assist with exhibitions, participate in collection-enhancing fieldwork and public events, such as the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival. I also do a lot of work in documenting the collection, so people know exactly what we have and from where.

 

 

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On fieldwork on the Isle of Skye, looking for Jurassic fossils.

 

Keep checking back to find out more about fossil fish and what I get up to!