Ardingly College Finds Oldest Residents – Dinosaurs
Dinosaur Bones Found in College Grounds
For school pupils at Ardingly College, an independent, fee paying school located in West Sussex, local history lessons just got a little more interesting with the discovery of a large number of fossils dating back to the Early Cretaceous. The fossils described as a “treasure trove” by some observers include several dinosaur bones, the remains of crocodiles, freshwater turtles, fish scales, plants and a number of invertebrates including bivalves.
The first discoveries were made back in June as staff and pupils explored rubble and debris excavated as part of building work for a new boarding house. One of the teachers at the private school took pupils on a “geo-trail” and apparently when studying rocks that had been dug up as part of the construction work, they came face to face with evidence of an Early Cretaceous ecosystem.
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Ardingly College is an independent co-educational boarding and day school for boys and girls aged from under 3 years up to 18 years of age. It is situated just a few miles away from the West Sussex village of Cuckfield, a location well-known for its Iguanodontid fossil remains. For dedicated palaeontologists hoping to get a glimpse of these fossils, the College is planning an open day “dig for dinosaurs” event for locals to participate in.
The Ardingly Sandstone Member
This part of West Sussex from a geological perspective, is strongly associated with the Ardingly Sandstone Member which outcrops across the Weald in West Sussex and elsewhere in south-east England. Fossils deposited in this strata have been dated to the Valanginian faunal stage of the Early Cretaceous (approximately 140 million to around 135 million years ago). During this part of the Cretaceous the area of land that we now know as the bedrock of West Sussex was formed in a riverine/estuarine environment.
The land was relatively flat and criss-crossed by many slow moving rivers which were making their way down to the shrinking Tethys Ocean, either entering the sea via large bays to the north of West Sussex, land that was to become East Anglia or further to the south, land that is now part of France.
Early Cretaceous Environment
The Ardingly sandstones were deposited across a wide area of these braided river channels and in amongst the sandstones were the remains of animals and vegetation washed downstream. At the same time, other areas were receiving deposits of much finer grained silts and mudstones, as a result of material being washed into much quieter bays and lagoons.
A team of scientists from the Natural History Museum and Imperial College (London) are currently assessing the fossil material and supervising the mapping of the site.
An Embryonic Atlantic Ocean
A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:
“During the Early Cretaceous, the embryonic Atlantic Ocean was beginning to divide up the landmasses of Eurasia, Africa and the Americas and the terrestrial fauna was dominated by the Dinosauria. Due to the amount of urban development in this part of the world today, it is rare for this amount of fossiliferous strata to be exposed and hopefully this location will add to our knowledge regarding the environment and the animals and plants that lived within it during the Early Cretaceous, an important time in Earth’s history in terms of the diversity and radiation of vertebrates such as pterosaurs and dinosaurs.”
This is not the first time fossils have been found in school grounds (nor will it be the last), however back in 2010, team members from Everything Dinosaur reported on the discovery of ichthyosaur fossilised bones (a marine reptile), in a school’s vegetable patch (Richmond State School in western Queensland, Australia).
To read more about this discovery: Marine Reptile Fossils Amongst the Vegetables.