All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
/Geology

Articles, features and stories with an emphasis on geology.

29 07, 2022

Finding Fossil Fish Down on the Farm

By | July 29th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A farmer’s field in rural Gloucestershire (England), has provided palaeontologists with a remarkable glimpse into an Early Jurassic marine ecosystem.

Underneath a grassy bank, normally grazed by cattle at Court Farm, Kings Stanley near Stroud, lies an exceptional fossil site that contains the remains of fish, ammonites, squid, marine reptiles and other creatures, with many of the specimens preserved in three dimensions.

Fossil fish skull
A three-dimensional fish skull (Pachycormus spp.) from a limestone concretion found at Court Farm. Note the small ammonite located in association with the skull. Picture credit: Dean Lomax.

A Toarcian Ecosystem

The clays and hard limestone nodules, many of which contain fossils, were deposited around 183 million years ago (Toarcian stage of the Early Jurassic).

The site was discovered by Sally and Neville Hollingworth, avid fossil collectors who recently uncovered the remains of mammoths in the nearby Cotswold Water Park which was featured in the BBC One documentary “Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard” in 2021.

Fossil Hunters Neville and Sally Hollingworth
Neville and Sally Hollingworth at the dig site. Picture credit: Nigel Larkin.

Commenting on the significance of this location, enthusiastic fossil hunters Neville and Sally stated:

“These fossils come from the Early Jurassic, specifically a time called the Toarcian. The clay layers exposed at this site near Stroud have yielded a significant number of well-preserved marine vertebrate fossils that are comparable to the famous and exquisitely preserved similar fauna of the Strawberry Bank Lagerstätte from Ilminster, Somerset – a prehistoric site of exceptional fossil preservation. Excavations at Kings Stanley over the last week have revealed a rich source of fossil material, particularly from a rare layer of rock that has not been exposed since the late 19th Century.”

Early Jurassic Fossil Fish
A stunning Early Jurassic Fossil fish from the dig site. Picture credit: Dean Lomax.

Limestone Concretions

A team of eight scientists spent a total of four days working to clear an area of the bank approximately eighty metres in length. An excavator proved invaluable, but the field team still had to endure record breaking temperatures as they laboured to find and crack open three-dimensionally preserved limestone concretions, many of which contained fossils.

Team members working at the Court Farm dig site.
Field team members busy examining and splitting limestone concretions checking for fossils. Picture credit: Nigel Larkin.

Each specimen was carefully logged onto a database and approximately 200 kilograms of clay from around the concretions was also collected and carefully sieved using a state-of-the-art sediment processing machine to help locate microvertebrate fossils such as fish teeth and small bones.

Sediment processing machine
The sediment processing machine used to help retrieve small fossils from the Lower Jurassic strata exposed at Court Farm (Gloucestershire). Note the novel use of two water troughs. Picture credit: Dr David Ward.

Fossils Donated to Local Museum

Many of the fossils found at the site will be donated to the palaeontology collection of a local museum (The Museum in the Park, Stratford Park, Stroud).

Team member and world-renowned, palaeontological conservator Nigel Larkin (Visiting Research Fellow at Reading University) commented:

“Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Give a palaeontologist a fossil fish and they will tell you the species, the age of the rock, the climate of the time when the fish was alive plus the water depth and salinity and plenty of other information. This site – already an interesting farm in a beautiful setting – is one big outdoor classroom and the lessons now include geology, palaeontology, evolution and climate change. They tell farmers to diversify but this goes one step beyond!”

Exceptional Fossil Fish Finds

Some of the best finds include fossil fish, so well-preserved that details of the scales, fins and even their eyeballs can be made out. One of the most impressive discoveries was a three-dimensionally preserved fish skull, a Pachycormus, (see first image), a genus of ray-finned fish known from the Toarcian of Europe.

The lack of any signs of scavenging of the corpses and the absence of encrusting animals or burrows in the sediment suggest that the fauna which was frozen in time under a farmer’s field was rapidly buried.

A fossil fish (slab and counter slab)
A limestone nodule spilt open reveals the fossilised remains of an Early Jurassic fish (slab and counter slab). Picture credit: Dean Lomax.

The layered concretions around the organisms formed relatively early before the sediments were compacted, as the original sediment layering is preserved. These concretions prevented further compaction, compression and distortion from the overlying sediments during burial and thus preserved the fossils as three-dimensional time capsules.

Dr Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist and a Visiting Scientist at the University of Manchester, who recently led the excavation of the Rutland ichthyosaur that also dates to the Toarcian geological age, was part of the team he explained:

“The site is quite remarkable, with numerous beautifully preserved fossils of ancient animals that once lived in a Jurassic sea that covered this part of the UK during the Jurassic. Inland locations with fossils like this are rare in the UK. The fossils we have collected will surely form the basis of research projects for years to come.”

Court Farm dig team.
The dig team take a well-earned break, time for a group photograph. Picture credit: Nigel Larkin.

Landowner, Adam Knight, who has seen part of his farm temporarily converted into a real life “Jurassic Park” added:

“I’m delighted that after the initial work that Sally and Nev did over three years ago we now have a full-scale dig on the farm involving a range of fossil experts from The Natural History Museum, University of Manchester, University of Reading and The Open University. On Friday we were also joined by Emily Baldry on a day’s work experience before she goes to university to study palaeontology – it’s wonderful to see her enthusiasm for her chosen profession. It has been a real pleasure to host the dig and I’m excited to see the results of what has been found.”

Important Microvertebrates and Fossil Insects

Dr David Ward (research scientist at the Natural History Museum, London), outlined his contribution to the fieldwork explaining that his role was to collect evidence of all the small creatures that lived alongside the larger vertebrates and invertebrates in the ancient marine ecosystem.

The silty clay found in association with the limestone concretions was carefully washed and pushed through a fine sieve. Dr Ward’s wife Alison played a vital role in the collection process, and she added:

“My specialism is surface picking. This involves finding areas where fossils, particularly small bones and teeth, are naturally concentrated on the surface. Here, once I had collected them, I dug up the surrounding clay and fed it into David’s clay washing machine. The result is a fine concentrate of tiny fish bones and shells which we sort under a microscope.”

For Open University PhD student Emily Swaby, this fossil site has very special significance. Her PhD research is focused on how insects were affected by dramatic environmental changes that took place during the Toarcian. Fossil insects are extremely rare and although the Court Farm site represents marine deposition, insect fossils are known from such locations.

Emily commented:

“Further research at this site and surrounding Gloucestershire localities might help us to work out the abundance and diversity of insects during this time and help us to understand how this environmental change influenced insects.”

A view of the Court Farm dig site
A view of the exposed strata at the Court Farm dig site. Picture credit: Steve Dey.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Manchester and additional information supplied by Dr Dean Lomax in the compilation of this article.

17 07, 2022

A Consequence of Extreme Heat – Landslides

By | July 17th, 2022|Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos, Press Releases|0 Comments

Hot weather can increase the risk of landslides and rockfalls, visitors to the seaside trying to avoid the extreme heat are advised to stay away from the cliffs.

For many parts of England, Monday and Tuesday (18th and 19th of July 2022), red extreme heat warnings have been issued. Such alerts have never been issued for the UK before. Temperatures could reach as high as 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), although this system of alerts was only introduced last year (2021). The risk of a landslide can increase in hot weather, visitors to the beach should take care to avoid areas where there are cliffs.

Rock fall at Stonebarrow Hill (Dorset).
A significant rock fall at Stonebarrow Hill (Dorset). Extreme heat can cause cliffs to become unstable and collapse. Visitors to the seaside in search of relief from the hot weather are advised to avoid cliffs due to the increased risk of landslides and rock falls. Picture credit: Brandon Lennon.

Rock Fall and Landslide Risk

In very hot weather, the risk of landslides and rock falls increases. The heating up and then cooling of rocks can increase the instability of the rock face and this can lead to a collapse. The risk of landslides after heavy rain has been widely documented. Saturated, unstable ground can collapse, however, extreme daytime temperatures can also increase the risk of landslides and rock falls.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“We do advise visitors to places such as the “Jurassic Coast” and the north coast of Yorkshire to heed the warnings about unstable cliffs. The very hot weather is likely to lead to packed beaches and we urge everyone to stay away from dangerous areas.”

Landslides are common around some parts of the British coastline. Tragically, some incidents cause fatalities. In 2012, a woman was killed when she was caught in a massive landslide at Bridport (Dorset).

We urge seaside visitors to follow local advice and to avoid straying too close to the cliffs and the cliff edge when walking above the beach area.

6 07, 2022

Cold Climate Allowed the Dinosaurs and Pterosaurs to Thrive

By | July 6th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Scientists propose that cold snaps killed off the competitors of the dinosaurs and pterosaurs at the end of the Triassic opening the door for a dinosaur dominated Jurassic. The researchers propose that dinosaurs and pterosaurs with their integumentary coverings including primitive feathers, were insulated from the cold, whereas many other types of reptile co-existing with them just had scales. It was the body coverings that permitted the Dinosauria and the Pterosauria to thrive in cold conditions, whereas many of the other reptiles became extinct.

Compsognathus illustration by Chuang Zhao.
A beautiful feathered Compsognathus catches its lunch (artwork by Chuang Zhao). Fossil evidence suggests that many types of dinosaur were feathered, there is also growing evidence to suggest that pterosaurs too had insulating coats. A new theory proposes that these insulating coverings helped the Dinosauria and the Pterosauria to endure cold climates the onset of which led to a mass extinction event.

Ice-rafted Debris Discovered in Lakebed Deposits

The research team which included Paul Olsen, lead author of the study (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University), examined sandstone and siltstone formations formed in lakebeds in China’s Junggar Basin. These deposits are Upper Triassic in age and at this time this part of China had a palaeolatitude of around 71 degrees north. It was well above the Arctic Circle. Footprints found by the researchers indicate the presence of dinosaurs. In addition, the lake sediments contained abundant small pebbles, and it was concluded that these pebbles represent ice-rafted debris deposits.

Late Triassic Pangaea and location of known dinosaur fossils.
Map of Pangaea in the Late Triassic. The Junggar Basin is highlighted in red. Silhouettes show location and type of dinosaur known. Most dinosaurs were confined to higher latitudes and f signifies the presence of dinosaur tracks indicating their presence in the palaeoenvironment of the Junggar Basin. Picture credit: Olsen et al.

The Small Pebbles are Significant

The numerous small pebbles found amongst the fine siltstones and sandstones were probably deposited by melting blocks of ice. The research team, who included scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, suggest that in the winter when the lake waters froze over, pebbles were picked up by the ice from the rocky lake shores. As the warm weather returned, the ice sheets would melt and chunks of ice would float away over the lake, gradually melting and as they did, they would drop the pebbles and other material.

Survival of the Fluffiest

The ice-rafted debris suggest freezing winters endured by dinosaurs. Around 201.6 million years ago, extensive volcanism which ejected millions of tonnes of debris into the Earth’s atmosphere lowered light levels and led to global climate change. Our planet endured a prolonged period of cold.

The cold decimated all medium-to large-sized non-dinosaurian, non-insulated continental reptiles. As they were adapted to cold climates, the Dinosauria and their cousins the Pterosauria were well placed to dominate terrestrial habitats as world temperatures plummeted.

Dinosaurs and pterosaurs had an advantage in the End-Triassic extinction event.
The scientists concluded that many large reptiles that lacked thermal insulation that would have been provided by an integumentary covering died out during the End-Triassic extinction event. In contrast, pterosaurs and dinosaurs with their insulating coats were able to cope much better and survived this extinction event. The unoccupied niches in the ecosystem were soon filled as these archosaurs diversified in the Early Jurassic. Picture credit: Olsen et al.

Lead author of the study Paul Olsen commented:

They were [dinosaurs and pterosaurs] fundamentally cold-adapted animals. When it got cold everywhere, they were ready, and other animals were not.”

To read an article about integumentary coverings in the Pterosauria: Branching Feathers and Melanosomes Identified in a Pterosaur Fossil.

The scientific paper: “Arctic ice and the ecological rise of the dinosaurs” by Paul Olsen, Jingeng Sha, Yanan Fang, Clara Chang, Jessica H. Whiteside, Sean Kinney, Hans-Dieter Sues, Dennis Kent, Morgan Schaller and Vivi Vajda published in Science Advances.

15 06, 2022

Searching for Evidence of Ice Age Settlements Under the Sea

By | June 15th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Geology, Main Page, Photos|0 Comments

A study published in the journal Ocean and Coastal Management predicts that rising sea levels threaten 200,000 properties in England. Sea levels have changed before and a new research programme instigated by scientists at the University of Bradford is setting out to map Stone Age settlements that have been swallowed by the sea.

The extent of the palaeolandscape prior to sea level changes.
Approximate maximum extent of marine palaeolandscapes off the Irish and British coasts. Scientists plan to map Stone Age settlements that once existed on landmasses that are now submerged. Picture credit: University of Bradford.

Searching for Human Settlements

The archaeological study, the first of its kind in the world, is being led by Dr Simon Fitch, a geoarchaeologist at the University of Bradford. It will entail the use of unmanned underwater drones and advanced three-dimensional seismic sensors to map coastlines as they looked between 20,000 BCE and 10,000 BCE (BCE – Before the Common Era).

During the later stages of the Palaeolithic, sea levels were between 120 metres to 40 metres lower than they are today, the British Isles was still connected to the European mainland and much of the area we now refer to as the North Sea was land (Doggerland). This project aims to find evidence of human occupation in areas which are now underwater.

Geoarchaeologist Dr Simon Fitch
Dr Simon Fitch is a geoarchaeologist who has a long interest in the study of all aspects of submerged landscapes. Dr Fitch will lead the project to find evidence of Stone Age occupation in areas that are now under the sea. Picture credit: University of Bradford.

The “Life on the Edge” Project

The five-year project entitled “Life on the Edge” has received funding from several sources including the use of a vessel provided by the Flanders Marine Institute.

Commenting on the significance of this study, Dr Fitch stated:

“Our knowledge of the submerged coastal zones of the Late Palaeolithic is essentially non-existent and we have little to no knowledge on the settlement of these areas. This project will represent the first serious attempt to record these landscapes and understand the communities who lived on the edge of the continents.”

Ice Age Settlements

During the last glacial period, humans occupied the extensive plains that linked the British Isles to the European mainland. It is likely that there were many settlements and this project sets out to map the unexplored record of coastal occupation with the focus on three locations the coast of Scotland, Belgium and the continental shelf of Croatia.

Whilst looking backwards into human history, this research also has important implications for the future of humanity. The study will examine how people adapted to the challenges of sea levels and climate change – issues that threaten humanity today.

Brown Bank Stone Age artefacts.
Brown Bank artefacts – A selection of prehistoric artefacts from Brown Bank (southern North Sea) collected by Dr Dick Mol polished stone axe mace head; b) perforated deer antler socketed adze axe head; c) human mandible, without scale from (Peeters 2011). Picture credit: University of Bradford.

Dr Fitch added:

“It is not hyperbole to say this is ground-breaking. This survey will provide significant advances in scientific understanding and the results will be of global importance, as it will vastly improve the methodologies available to investigate the vast inundated prehistoric landscapes that can be found around the world.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the University of Bradford in the compilation of this article.

16 05, 2022

A Knitted Geological Time Scale

By | May 16th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, General Teaching, Geology, Main Page, Photos, Teaching|0 Comments

It can be difficult to visualise the immensely long geological time scale and to demonstrate what lifeforms developed along the way, so, why not knit one and use prehistoric animal models to illustrate key moments in the history of life on Earth.

That’s exactly what Sue Mallender, Learning Programmes Science Officer, (Nottingham City Museums) and the Learning and Engagement team did – creating a colourful and striking depiction of the evolution of life on Earth.

Knitted geological time scale.
Sue Mallender, Learning Programmes Science Officer, Nottingham City Museums (UK) has found a novel way of demonstrating deep time. The geological time scale has been knitted and prehistoric animal models placed on it at the appropriate point to demonstrate the evolution of life on Earth. Picture credit: Sue Mallender.

Visualising Geological Time

In order to study the history of life, scientists need to locate important evolutionary events such as the development of animals with exoskeletons and the evolution of vertebrates within the geological time scale. Planet Earth was formed around 4.57 billion years ago. Geologists have divided the history of our planet into time intervals of varying duration. This time scale was devised in the 19th century, (although amendments to it and revisions continue to be made). The boundaries between the time intervals mark notable events such as dramatic changes in the type of fossils found in strata.

Knitted geological time scale.
Demonstrating deep geological time in knitted form. The geological time scale knitted by Helen Crowfoot. Picture credit: Sue Mallender.

It is difficult to understand geological time and a knitted time scale, with each boundary carefully produced in a contrasting-coloured wool provides a novel and very innovative way of demonstrating this fundamental aspect of geology.

This colourful visualisation of the age of our planet was created by dedicated knitter Helen Crowfoot.

The “Slow Burning Fuse” to Complex Life

The long interval of time from the origin of the Earth to the start of the Cambrian is referred to as the Cryptozoic Eon (meaning hidden life). This enormous time interval is also referred to as the Precambrian. Its length in comparison to the Phanerozoic Eon (visible life) – the time interval to the present day, is dramatically demonstrated in the knitted time scale by the burgundy-coloured strip.

Some palaeontologists have described the Cryptozoic Eon as the “slow burning fuse to complex life.”

Demonstrating the Cryptozoic Eon in knitted form.
A novel way of demonstrating the Cryptozoic Eon, informally known as the Precambrian – the immensely long period of time before complex life evolved on Earth. It is depicted in the time scale in burgundy. Picture credit: Sue Mallender.

Cambrian Creatures

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented that they had been contacted about this innovative project and ask to recommend prehistoric animal models that could be placed along the time scale to depict the sort of creatures that evolved during the main geological periods.

The Everything Dinosaur spokesperson explained:

“We started with the Cambrian, suggesting some figures that could represent some of the first, large complex animals and then worked forwards from there recommending various models that could be used to populate the knitted time scale.”

Cambrian animal models on knitted time line.
The Safari Ltd Cambrian Toob models placed on the knitted timeline. Picture credit: Sue Mallender.

The spokesperson added:

“What a super idea! This is a fantastic way to visualise geological time and we congratulate Sue and the Learning and Engagement team for such an innovative and creative way of demonstrating how life on our planet has changed over millions of years.”

11 05, 2022

Unexpected Patterns of Prehistoric Activity Detected at Stonehenge

By | May 11th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Geology, Main Page, Photos|0 Comments

Researchers from the University of Birmingham and Ghent University (Belgium), have identified hundreds of possible large prehistoric pits and thousands of smaller ones at the heart of the ancient Stonehenge landscape. This discovery challenges our understanding of land use through time at this famous UNESCO World Heritage site, the most intensively investigated prehistoric monument in the world.

Detected and excavated map of pits at Stonehenge.
Hundreds of possible prehistoric pits detected in the landscape, indicating those that have been validated and excavated, plotted on a magnetic soil map from Stonehenge. Picture credit: De Smedt et al.

The Oldest Evidence of Land Use at Stonehenge

Writing in the academic “Journal of Archaeological Science”, the researchers report the discovery of a substantial pit, more than four metres wide and two metres deep excavated into chalk bedrock. Estimated to have been constructed over 10,000 years ago it stands out as the most ancient trace of land use yet discovered at Stonehenge. This prehistoric pit bears witness to hunter-gatherers roaming the landscape during the early Mesolithic, when Britain was re-inhabited after the last Ice Age. This is only one of many new sites and unexpected patterns of prehistoric activity detected at Stonehenge by the Ghent-Birmingham study team.

Overview of the excavation work.
An overview of the excavation work. Picture credit: University of Ghent/University of Birmingham.

Unique Research

In a unique piece of research, extensive, electromagnetic induction surveying was combined with borehole analysis and twenty exploratory archaeological excavations. These revealed the extensive sub-surface pits.

Philippe De Smedt, Associate Professor at Ghent University and co-author of the scientific paper commented:

“Geophysical survey allows us to visualise what’s buried below the surface of entire landscapes. The maps we create offer a high-resolution view of subsurface soil variation that can be targeted with unprecedented precision. Using this as a guide to sample the landscape, taking archaeological ‘biopsies’ of subsurface deposits, we were able to add archaeological meaning to the complex variations discovered in the landscape.”

Four Hundred Large Pits

The project team identified over four hundred potential large pits (each over 2.5 metres in diameter), of which six were excavated in the course of the project, ranging in date from the Early Mesolithic (c.8000 BCE) to the Middle Bronze Age (c.1300 BCE).

While each of these sites adds to our knowledge of prehistoric activity in the Stonehenge landscape, the Mesolithic pit stands out as exceptional. The size and shape of the pit suggest it was probably dug as a hunting trap for large game such as aurochs, red deer and wild boar. Dating to 8200-7800 BCE, it is not only one of the earliest of the very few Mesolithic sites near Stonehenge (predating, for instance, the Blick Mead occupation site 1.5 kms away), it is also the largest known Early Mesolithic pit feature in north-western Europe.

Collecting samples in the Mesolithic pit.
Collecting environmental samples in the Mesolithic pit. Picture credit: University of Ghent/University of Birmingham.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Birmingham in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Novel Insights into Prehistoric Land Use at Stonehenge by Combining Electromagnetic and Invasive Methods with a Semi-Automated Interpretation Scheme” by De Smedt, Philippe, Paul Garwood, Henry Chapman, Koen Deforce, Johan De Grave, Daan Hanssens and Dimitri Vandenberghe published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

27 02, 2022

A Time Traveller’s Guide to Fossil Hunting on the West Dorset Coast

By | February 27th, 2022|Adobe CS5, Book Reviews, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

When visiting Lyme Regis and other parts of the Jurassic Coast we are often aghast at the huge numbers of fossil hunters to be seen on the beach. We tend to avoid the late summer months as this beautiful part of the Dorset coast will have been virtually picked clean of all the fossil material. The tide might continue to wash out the remains of creatures from an Early Jurassic sea, but the enthusiastic holidaymakers and tourists soon make short work of whatever has been deposited on the beach.

Sitting on some large rock, comfortably away from the dangerous cliffs, with a flask of tea and a local pastie to sustain us, we are often approached by beachcombers curious to ask our advice or to receive assistance in identifying their finds. Diligently and politely, we offer what assistance we can, but amongst the hubbub we often think what it would have been like to have explored the foreshore in earlier times, before this stunning coastline became a haven for tourists.

Thanks to a new, delightful book by Steve Snowball and Craig Chivers, we have the opportunity to do so.

Front cover of "Jurassic Fossils of the West Dorset Coast"
A time traveller’s guide to fossil hunting on the west Dorset coast. A fantastic collector’s guide in the form of an Edwardian diary with wonderful illustrations and photographs. Written by renowned fossil hunters and preparators Steve Snowball and Craig Chivers and available from Siri Scientific Press.

“Jurassic Fossils of the West Dorset Coast – A Time Traveller’s Journal”

The fourth collaboration between devoted fossil hunters Steve Snowball and Craig Chivers takes the form of an Edwardian diary. Imagine finding on the beach at Charmouth an old journal that catalogues the visit of two Edwardian gentlemen to the west Dorset coast at the beginning of the 20th Century. Starting at Seatown and Golden Cap, the two explorers record the geology, the fossil discoveries and the Dorset landscape over a period of eight days, culminating with a trip to Pinhay Bay where the strata records the boundary between the Triassic and the Jurassic.

"Jurassic Fossils of the West Dorset Coast" contents
Photographs of fossil finds plus lots of helpful notes – a time traveller’s guide to the west Dorset coast.

Illustrations by Andreas Kurpisz

Produced by Siri Scientific Press and with illustrations by Berlin-based artist Andreas Kurpisz, this is a novel and quirky guide to fossil hunting on the west Dorset coast. There is a copious amount of helpful information provided on each location, with notes and lots of photographs of fossils associated with the site. Talented artist Andreas Kurpisz provides colourful illustrations depicting prehistoric scenes – there are even one or two dinosaurs featured.

At around 160 pages long, this is a most informative guide, we particularly enjoyed examining the biostratigraphical maps provided and the accompanying images of strata – all helpfully labelled. Priced as we write at £19.99 plus postage and available from the Siri Scientific Press website this is a welcome and imaginative addition to the plethora of fossil hunting guidebooks that address the amazing geology of the Dorset coast.

"Jurassic Fossils of the West Dorset Coast"
Written in the form of an Edwardian gentleman’s journal, the book is packed with helpful information, fossil hunting tips and wonderful photographs of fossil discoveries.

Bringing the Past to Life

“Jurassic Fossils of the West Dorset Coast – A Time Traveller’s Journal” helps to bring the past to life and provides an echo of a time when the beaches around Lyme Regis were less busy and undoubtedly more productive. However, armed with this guide your chances of finding an incredibly special fossil are greatly enhanced.

The book concludes with our courageous Edwardian explorers coming across evidence of another visitor to the “Jurassic Coast”, this time from the 21st century. The gentlemen have been left notes on how to prepare ammonites for display from a kind-hearted collector from our own time. This device permits the authors to segue into a section of the book that provides helpful tips and advice on modern tools such as air scribes that will assist collectors with fossil preparation.

Visit Siri Scientific Press and use the search word “Jurassic” to find the books about Dorset written by Steve Snowball and Craig Chivers including the excellent “Jurassic Fossils of the West Dorset Coast – A Time Traveller’s Journal”: Siri Scientific Website.

17 12, 2021

The Big Herbivores of the Nemegt Formation

By | December 17th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

In a recently published scientific paper describing a new species of armoured dinosaur from the Nemegt Formation, it was postulated that some Late Cretaceous ankylosaurs evolved a selective feeding habit in order to avoid competition from other herbivorous dinosaurs.

The ankylosaurs Tarchia teresae and the recently described Tarchia tumanovae had relatively narrow muzzles, compared to earlier ankylosaurids known from the Bayanshiree, Djadokhta and Baruungoyot Formations. Although these ankylosaurs were around five metres in length and perhaps weighed as much as two thousand kilograms, there were several much larger types of herbivorous dinosaur that co-existed with them.

Mega herbivores of the Nemegt Formation
A diagram showing the major, large herbivores that have been scientifically described from the Upper Cretaceous Nemegt Formation of Mongolia. The relatively small size of the Tarchia spp. in comparison with the other large herbivorous dinosaurs may have led to selective pressure on these ankylosaurs to evolve a different feeding habit to reduce interspecific competition for food resources.

Evolving a Selective Feeding Strategy to Avoid Excessive Competition

Writing in the academic journal “Scientific Reports”, the researchers postulate that Tarchia species became more selective feeders as a result of competition from other larger herbivorous dinosaurs such as titanosaurs, therizinosaurs and ornithomimosaurs such as the giant Deinocheirus (D. mirificus).

The shift in feeding strategy may have coincided with the arrival of more bulk feeders such as saurolophine hadrosaurids, that may have entered Asia from North America. The invasion of new, highly efficient, bulk-feeding hadrosaurs, may have caused even greater interspecific competition for limited resources, possibly driving selection pressure on the diets of ankylosaurs.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s earlier article on the scientific description of Tarchia tumanovae: Tarchia tumanovae a New Ankylosaur Species.

9 11, 2021

Triceratops Skeleton on Display

By | November 9th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Triceratops might be one of the most recognisable of all the dinosaur genera, but we still have a lot to learn about this Late Cretaceous ornithischian and perennial favourite amongst dinosaur fans. It might be a famous resident of the Hell Creek Formation, but Triceratops remains have also been reported from other North American geological formations too, all of which date from the very last faunal stage of the Cretaceous – the Maastrichtian.

Triceratops on Display
A cast of a Triceratops skeleton on display at the Naturmuseum Senckenberg (Natural History Museum – Frankfurt). On the left, a wall mounted example of a Plateosaurus can be seen.

Where Have Triceratops Fossils Been Reported From?

Team members at Everything Dinosaur have tried to compile a list of the geological formations, other than the famous Hell Creek Formation, from which Triceratops fossil material has been excavated.

Here is our list:

  • Scollard Formation (south-western Alberta, Canada).
  • Frenchman Formation (Saskatchewan, Canada).
  • Evanston Formation (Wyoming, USA).
  • Lance Formation (Wyoming, USA).
  • Laramie Formation (Colorado, USA).
  • Denver Formation (Colorado, USA).
Triceratops fossil mount.
“Three-horned face” Part of an exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (USA).

Two Formally Recognised Species

Scientifically described and named back in 1889 (T. horridus – Marsh), several species have been assigned to the Triceratops genus over the years, many of which were based on highly fragmentary and poorly preserved fossil remains. Today, only two species are formally recognised, Triceratops horridus and the geologically younger Triceratops prorsus.

Intriguingly, fossils from the Hell Creek Formation suggest that there are probably other species of Triceratops awaiting formal recognition. Triceratops horridus is known from the lower portion of the Hell Creek Formation and T. prorsus from the upper portion, there is a distinct, transitional, intermediate form of Triceratops reported form the middle portion of this geological formation. The fossils associated with these strata probably represent an as yet, unnamed and undescribed new species of “three-horned face”.

Stratigraphic placement of Hell Creek Formation Triceratops.
Stratigraphic placement of Hell Creek Formation Triceratops reveals trends in cranial morphology, helping to confirm species. Picture credit: Scannella et al.

For an article that looks at the evolutionary relationship between the two, formally recognised species of Triceratops: How Triceratops Got its Horns and Beak.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s blog post from 2018, that examines the ceratopsian family tree and looks at the taxonomic relationship between the Triceratops genus and other Late Cretaceous horned dinosaurs: A Horned Dinosaur Family Tree.

20 09, 2021

Plotting the Fauna of Late Cretaceous Patagonia

By | September 20th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Scientists now know that during the Late Cretaceous (Campanian to Maastrichtian), southern Patagonia was home to ankylosaurs and that predatory abelisaurids competed with terrestrial crocodyliforms when it came to scavenging the carcases of giant Titanosaurs.

Researcher have examined fossilised teeth and osteoderms (bony plates and scales embedded in skin) collected from a small area of Upper Cretaceous deposits from the Cerro Fortaleza Formation in Santa Cruz province and used these fossils to piece together an archosaur dominated palaeocommunity.

Cerra Fortaleza Formation dinosaurs and peirosaurids.
The peirosaurid and dinosaur dominated ecosystem as indicated by fossils from the Cerro Fortaleza Formation (Late Cretaceous of Patagonia). Picture credit: J. González.

Teeth from Abelisaurids, Titanosaurs and Ankylosaurs

The dinosaur fauna of the Cerro Fortaleza Formation is very poorly known with only a few dinosaurs named and described, such as the giant titanosaur Dreadnoughtus schrani. However, researchers who included scientists affiliated to CONICET as well as a researcher from Seoul National University (South Korea), have published a paper in the on-line, open access journal PLOS One reporting on the discovery of several very worn and broken teeth that along with fossil osteoderms have enabled the research team to reconstruct the fauna that once roamed this ancient landscape.

Location map showing the provenance of the teeth and osteoderms (Cerro Fortaleza Formation).
Location map (A) showing the provenance of the teeth and osteoderms (Cerro Fortaleza Formation). Region between Viedma and Argentino lakes showing the Cerro Fortaleza Formation (red colour) outcropping at both sides of La Leona river. The dinosaur-fossil-bearing Chorrillo Formation is indicated in green (B). Photograph of the dig site (C) the red arrow marks the level from where the osteoderms and teeth were collected. Picture credit: Paulina-Carabajal.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s blog post about the discovery of the huge titanosaur Dreadnoughtus: A Little Detail on a Big Dinosaur – Dreadnoughtus.

The Cerro Fortaleza and Chorrillo Formations

Lying some 100 miles (160 kilometres) to the south of the Cerro Fortaleza Formation exposures that yielded the teeth and osteoderm fossils, the Chorrillo Formation is also regarded as an important source of dinosaur fossils. Palaeontologists are not sure of the temporal relationship between these dinosaur-fossil-bearing units, although it has been postulated that the Chorrillo Formation is slightly older. Both units have provided evidence of titanosaurs, theropods and ornithopods, but up to now only the Chorrillo Formation had provided evidence of ankylosaurs. Whilst working at the Cerro Fortaleza locality in December 2016, field team members discovered several isolated osteoderms and a single, very worn tooth thus confirming the presence of armoured dinosaurs in the Cerro Fortaleza Formation too.

Whilst it is difficult to identify a specific type of ankylosaur from just skin scales and a single tooth, the researchers postulate that these fossils represent a nodosaurid.

Ankylosaur osteoderms from the Cerro Fortaleza Formation
Views of various ankylosaur osteoderms collected from the Cerro Fortaleza Formation. These bony scales along with an ankylosaur tooth confirm the presence of armoured dinosaurs in this locality. Note scale bars equal 1 mm. Picture credit: Paulina-Carabajal et al.

The Dinosaurs of the Cerro Fortaleza Formation

The researchers were able to confirm the presence of a large abelisaurid theropod and an ankylosaur based on the fossil teeth. Very worn and broken titanosaur spp. teeth were also recorded. The types of dinosaurs that lived in the area represented by the Cerro Fortaleza Formation were similar to those reported from the Chorrillo Formation, although the two populations were very probably made up of different genera.

Intriguingly, evidence of hadrosaurs has been reported from the Chorrillo Formation, as yet no fossils that could be assigned to the Hadrosauridae have been reported from the Cerro Fortaleza Formation.

Dinosaur teeth from the Cerro Fortaleza Formation (Argentina)
Dinosaur teeth from the Cerro Fortaleza Formation. Partial tooth assigned to an abelisaurid theropod (A-C). Partial tooth of an unidentified archosaur (D). Titanosauria partial tooth (E-F) and tooth assigned to an Ankylosaur (G-I). Note scale bars equal 1 mm (except A-B equals 5 mm). Picture credit: Paulina-Carabajal et al.

Crocodyliforms Competing with Carnivorous Dinosaurs

In addition to the dinosaur fossils, the researchers found a total of 9 broken teeth which they assigned to the Peirosauridae family. Peirosaurids are an extinct group of terrestrial crocodyliforms, not closely related to modern crocodilians and seemingly confined to Gondwana. Their upright gait and different shaped teeth (heterodont teeth) indicate that these archosaurs may have had a more varied diet than the carnivorous dinosaurs. Most of the fossils found represent peirosaurid teeth (75%) and this suggests that there were more crocodyliforms present in the area than dinosaurs. The peirosaurid teeth represent the most southerly distribution of this type of archosaur recorded to date and since the teeth do not match those of Colhuehuapisuchus lunai which is known from Chubut Province to the north, this suggests at least two taxa of peirosaurids present in southern Patagonia during the Late Cretaceous.

Peirosaurid teeth from the Cerro Fortaleza Formation.
Examples of peirosaurid teeth from the Cerro Fortaleza Formation. Small fossils such as teeth and dermal armour have enabled palaeontologists to piece together the faunal composition of southern Argentina during the Late Cretaceous. Theropod dinosaurs (abelisaurids) would have competed with peirosaurid mesoeucrocodylians over food, but little can be deduced about food chain roles with regards to apex and secondary predators. Picture credit: Paulina-Carabajal et al.

The ankylosaur fossils from Cerro Fortaleza and Chorrillo formations, indicate that armoured dinosaurs lived in the region of southern South America during the Late Cretaceous. These fossils although fragmentary help to fill a gap in the fossil record between Antarctica and central-northern Patagonia. Thanks to this research the Late Cretaceous dinosaur record in southern South America has been improved.

The scientific paper: “A Late Cretaceous dinosaur and crocodyliform faunal association–based on isolate teeth and osteoderms–at Cerro Fortaleza Formation (Campanian-Maastrichtian) type locality, Santa Cruz, Argentina” by Ariana Paulina-Carabajal, Francisco T. Barrios, Ariel H. Méndez, Ignacio A. Cerda and Yuong-Nam Lee published in PLOS One.

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