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Saturday and Sunday at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival were busy in the tent. Lots of people swarmed around our fossil table to see the invertebrates and sharks on display, talk to our experts and get their own fossil finds identified.


Adrian Glover was showing off his ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle), sending it out into the sea to get live images of the sea floor! Alex Ball was showing people the wonders of the scanning electon microscope and the meteorites team were explaining impacts using pink gravel.



Laetitia Gunton launching "REX" the ROV and Adrian Glover controlling from inside the tent.


Just some of the Museum scientists at work on Saturday.


Martin Munt, Emma Bernard and I were also called upon to do a live link-up with the Nature Live studio back at the Museum, to talk about the fossil festival and going fossil hunting. We took along a selection of specimens to help us talk about some of the things that can be found in Lyme Regis.


David Nicholson was live in the Attenborogh Studio with Ana Rita and some specimens from the collection we selected last week. Our filming took place at the Cobb (harbour) in glorious sunshine. This did however mean that both Emma and I got slightly sunburnt! If you do come down, make sure you've got plenty of sun cream.



Martin being interviewed for the 12.30 show (top). Me and Emma talking about a nautilus and a shark with Charlotte for the 2.30 show (below).


It's not just specimens on display - outside you can visit a pliosaur cinema and go on the Jurassic airline!


Pliosaur cinema.jpg

The Pliosaur Cinema!


We also had some special guests come along to talk to us: Mary Anning and Charles Darwin! (well...people dressed as them at least).


Mary and Charles.jpg

Mary Anning and Charles Dawrin.


Today is the last day of the fossil festival and its looking like is will be another busy day in the tent with lovely weather and lots of people on the beach eating ice cream.


We hope you have enjpyed reading this blog and hope to see you next year at the festival!


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).


photo 1(1).JPG

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.


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



The equipment for shark sieving and the sediment


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


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


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


gold panning.jpg

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



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



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


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



Emma and me being interviewed for Palaeocast


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


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.


Jade assists a willing group of fossil hunters


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


photo 1.JPG

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.


Yesterday, we went to a secondary school in Dorchester. We set up our stand along with several others from the Museum, local fossil groups and the school's fossil club. At our stand we were giving students a brief explanation of taxonomy (how you classify all living things), specifically cephalopods.


We explained the difference between three major groups of cephalopod: ammonites, belemnites and nautiloids. The belemnite phragmacone we found yesterday proved to be very useful in explaining how a belemnite dealt with buoyancy control. The children enjoyed examining the recent nautilus we had with us to locate the hole for the siphuncle.



Zuzanna Wawrzyniak and Emma Bernard with our taxonomy stand (Zoe Hughes as photographer)


After the school event we returned to Lyme Regis to help set up the tent for the main event: the Fossil Festival. Our main earth science table is set up, with specimens for the public to handle starting today. We constructed the Baryonyx skull and helped David Ward set up his shark sieving activity.



Nearly finished setting up in the tent (with the Baryonyx spine and skull on the left)



David Ward setting up the shark sieving (to find fossil teeth, etc).


Today is the primary school day and we have been told approximately 600 children willl be visiting - wish us luck and we will report back soon!


We’re here on a three-week trip to continue our explorations of the caves of Rodrigues. The south-western part of Rodrigues (the smallest of the Mascarene Islands) has a partial covering of calcarenite, a type of wind-deposited limestone, which is riddled with caves. This rock is locally known as ‘corail’, and is believed to have formed when the coral reef was exposed during a period of low sea level, and the coral sand blew inland, forming dunes, which later lithified (turned to rock).


The caves were formed by groundwater dissolving the rock, and they boast all the usual flowstone formations - stalactites, stalagmites, columns, curtains, straws, helictites, gours and crystal pools. Two of the more awe-inspiring larger caves, Caverne Patate and Grande Caverne (below), are open as showcaves, but we are here for the old dead stuff - the bones of the animals that lived on this remote island before humans got here. We tend to find bones in the sediment on the cave floor, but not always.


DSC_0021.JPGGrande Caverne, one of the larger caves inRodrigues


We are aiming to find the caves that were excavated by two 19th century naturalists, George Jenner and Henry Slater, who were among the first to collect bones of extinct species in the caves. Unfortunately, Jenner delegated the work to his deputy, and he in turn ducked out of his duties, meaning that Jenner’s report is vague at best, and perhaps fictional at worst!


Slater’s account was not much better. Using these tatty shreds of evidence we are trying to figure out where these two teams actually dug. There is a point to this - Jenner’s collections were sent back toCambridge University Museum, and Slater’s are now in the Natural History Museum, London. We’d like to know which caves the bones came from.



So what lived here in the past?


Rodrigues is 534 km east of Mauritius, the home of the famous dodo, but its little-known cousin, the solitaire, lived on Rodrigues. This bird was also flightless, and succumbed to extinction for similar reasons - human arrival, introduced species and rapid changes to its environment, that began around 1730.


The Rodrigues giant tortoises were taken to provide meat and oil for long sea voyages and to supply the hospital in Mauritius (the oil of giant tortoises was believed to cure scurvy). This over-exploitation caused their extinction around 1795; just 70 years after the Mauritius giant tortoises became extinct for the same reason.


Many other species of bird and reptile on Rodrigues also became extinct. Some of them we know from contemporary accounts and from museum specimens that were collected while the species were still alive; others we only know from the bones left behind in the caves.


There were no mammals except for the fruit bats, which are still with us today, thanks to a massive conservation effort. Of the endemic birds, only the warbler and the fody have survived, helped by local conservation work. The sparrow that visits our dinner table and the gecko that patrols the house, are just two of the introduced species here. Goats, cattle, cats, dogs, pigs, chickens, ducks and turkeys are here too, and we find their remains in the caves.


DSC_0012.JPGSieving cave sediment in search of bones, big and small



Island hospitality


In 2007 we helped to set up a small museum on Rodrigues. It is here that we are based, and where our finds will remain. We are staying with a local family, a short walk from the museum and most of the caves. They are feeding us very well, with local produce including fish, octopus, vegetables and fruit, washed down with bucketfuls of rice.


The cyclone season has just finished and the strong winds that were keeping the mosquitoes at bay have now dropped, so I am fighting my usual battle with them (helped by a good mosquito net called ‘Mosinet’ which I highly recommend!). Julian says that he only brings me on these trips so I can be the mosquito bait. However I think I have proved my worth this time…


DSC_0082.JPGTaking a well-earned rest after lots of digging and sieving



Exciting fossil finds


We have been excavating in one large cave for about a week, and got down to about 1 metre depth. We are sieving the sediment and picking out all of the bones, big and small. Julian is very pleased that we have found some bones of the solitaire (probably all from the same female), rail, owl, night heron, parakeet, petrel, starling and other passerines. As usual, there is lots of small reptile, including the world’s largest ever gecko, which was half a metre long, not including the tail.


At some point I went to explore the other side of the cave. Having stopped to pick up a solitaire wing bone (as you do), I looked up and saw the carapace (upper shell) of a tortoise wedged under rocks and partly buried in sediment. We carefully freed the fragile carapace, which was in pieces, and transported it back to the museum in a big washing-up bowl lined with bubble wrap, where I carefully cleaned, repaired and mounted it. Today we made a space for it in a display case. This carapace might be the third species of extinct giant tortoise of Rodrigues- we are still pondering this, and will send photos to an expert on the fossil tortoises of the Mascarene Islands.



The carapace (upper shell) of a tortoise, found wedged under rocks


As if this wasn’t enough, today (1 May) we visited three caves, to take GPS readings and photos. In the last one of these caves, I spotted another tortoise carapace, in a really awkward position under rocks. As it was nearly 3pm on Labour Day, and we hadn’t brought our washing-up bowl (!), we decided to leave this one until morning. This is why we are celebrating with a well-earned beer! In your face, Jenner and Slater, you should’ve gone to Specsavers!



Braving tight spaces in search of fossils


We arrived on Tuesday, set up what will be our home for the week, with a stream babbling under.


We spent today visiting fossil shops and talking to the owners to see what was on offer and meet the collectors. We then went to the Lyme Regis Museum to talk to our colleagues there about new specimens and the local geology. Whilst there Emma had some fun dressing up as Mary Anning, the 'Princess of Palaeontology'.



Emma dressed as Mary Anning with a newly acquired Ichthyosaur skull.


In the afternoon (after an ice cream by the sea) we set off for Seatown where we learnt about the geology and did a little fieldwork. The geology is the upper Lower Lias (about 185 Million years ago) - it is a marine setting with lots of belemnites and ammonites.


We found lots of bits of belemnite, but the highlight was definitely finding a phragmocone of a belemnite; the cone-shaped structure that housed the creature's internal organs. Of the ammonites, Aegeroceras was the most common find. However we did find part of an Amaltheus (My favourite Jurassic ammonite because of its rope-like keel).



Seatown in the glorious sunshine.



One of the many ammonites (Aegeroceras) we found



Emma and Zoe in the field at Seatown.


Tomorrow we are heading off to a secondary school event in Dorchester to explain the wonders of cephalopod taxonomy. Now we are heading off to grab some well earned dinner! Come back to read more about our adventure!