Archive for the ‘Fossil Hunting’ Category

A fossil fish: any ideas welcome! What is it? Photo from Louisiana

June 6, 2012

Ancient organisms: Exciting stuff from Namibia

February 8, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog enjoys being informed and surprised and sometimes wonders whether any of us are important. I suspect everybody must feel this way from time to time. We gaze into the night skies. We see stars! And we think “Do we matter?” “Are we important?”

Yeah! That’s my Blog verdict! We all are important! And so is this small slithery thing from a long time ago.

Check it out! Comes courtesy of Ronnie. And it’s a good one! n-namibia-1.1228402

Suspected amber specimen sent to Natural History Museum expert.

January 11, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog Update: Sadly, Luanne Faulknall, Earth Sciences Identification Officer for Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity (AMC)
Natural History Museum, told us that she believes it is a synthetic resin used in mine-workings. Sorry!

In case you’ve been following the series of posts about what I hope is British amber, here is an update. We contacted Carlisle’s Tullie House Museum and their Geologist, Steve Hewitt has forwarded images of the find to Dr. Penney at The University of Manchester.  Dr. David Penney is coauthor (with Dr. David Green) of  a series of fascinating articles on fossils in amber in Deposits Magazine this year (Issues 26 & 27). These back issues are available as digital versions or as physical magazines and I recommend them unreservedly for anybody interested in fossils in amber. They are packed with useful information, including guidance on how to photograph inclusions in amber and methods to help people ascertain whether a specimen is genuine or synthetic. Furthermore a larger body of their work is available as a book Fossils in Amber: Remarkable snapshots of prehistoric forest life by David Penney & David Green, published by Siri Scientific Press (specialists in fossil books) which covers all the arthropod orders likely to be found in amber.  Their images of the fossil inclusions capture the anatomical detail of the creatures with exquisite clarity, revealing structures that yield insights into the lifestyles of the organisms and their paleoecology, and furthermore show unique glimpses of behaviours such as predation, mating and egg-laying frozen in time. I was particularly touched by an image of  a pair of insects, doomed lovers, clasped forever in their final loving embrace, preserved for all time by a golden flow that predates human civilization. Amber is like a time-machine, a golden window into the past.

Yesterday there was an interesting development, Luanne Faulknall, Earth Sciences Identification Officer at the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity (AMC) Natural History Museum, kindly asked us to send the suspected amber to her for inspection. She says that it looks interesting, but needs hands-on inspection and introduced a word of caution that plastics and resins are sometimes used in coal mining and that the Natural History Museum had been sent anachronistic items from coal in the past.

As a child I once proudly brought in to the Natural History Museum what I felt sure was a dinosaur’s tooth, only to learn that it was the fairly recently shed claw of a crab. Once pointed out, I recognised the serrations on the inner curvature. Disappointing, but that is why we need expert eyes to view finds.

On the subject of expert eyes, you may be interested to read that the Centre has a Nature Plus website with Identification Forums and Blog for discussions on natural history specimens.  I include the links below because I know that they’ll be of broad interest to fossil enthusiasts! It’s fascinating to see what others have found (vicarious fossil hunting) and to see the identification.
Nature Plus Forums:

Another Interesting Amber Specimen From The Age Of Coal

January 4, 2012

Chris has very kindly emailed me some images of his amber specimen. It is a spectacular piece with rich colour as you can see from the pictures.

Another piece of amber

Another large piece of amber from the age of coal. Could clues to the identity of the source tree be found in this coal?

Chris’s specimen has a good quantity of the mother-coal attached and is 17.5cm long.

Carboniferous amber thought to be from British coal seam. This has a rich colour somewhere between golden honey and a fine brown ale!

Carboniferous amber thought to be from British coal seam. This has a rich colour somewhere between golden honey and a fine brown ale!

The same piece in close-up

The same piece of amber, end view, in close-up

Some interesting links on the subject of mysterious amber from the Carboniferous period

January 3, 2012

Run a web search on Carboniferous amber and interestingly most of the links refer to a relatively recent and seminal academic study on the molecular composition of amber from the Carboniferous period (354 – 290 million years ago) by P. Sargent Bray and Ken B. Anderson “Identification of Carboniferous (320 Million Years Old) Class Ic Amber”. Bray’s research into ambers found in coal dating from 320 mya is something of a bombshell! The molecular composition is similar to that known to be produced by flowering plants (Angiosperms) but the identity of the source is still veiled in mystery.  I’m glad that you didn’t sand off the coal matrix from your specimen, Chris.

You can access this paper via Science Magazine website run by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, see the abstract at they offer free membership that allows registered users to access articles published a year or more ago – this research paper is accessible. There is also a good article on the research titled “Unexpected amber find rewrites botanical history” at

There are a lot of references to this research on other sites including interest from The British Geological Society and Creation theorists at Creation Ministries International.

Readers interested in this mystery may want to read and the Wikipedia entry on Gymnosperms Apparently the late Carboniferous epoch witnessed an important genetic mutation in plants about 318 MYA. I was stunned to learn via the above-linked article in Wikipedia that Cycads and Ginko trees have motile sperm!

There’s a nice image of some amber found in Selby, Yorkshire this year at

I think it’s interesting that so far, as far as I am aware, no large animals – only micro-fossil inclusions have been found in amber from the Carboniferous period, unlike the later ambers so our specimen is not contradictory with previous finds.


Fossil Hunting: The Golden Hand

December 29, 2011

Fossil hunting may seem an unlikely activity for your living room, but you never know quite what you might find in your coal bucket. Christmas came early in Maulds Meaburn this year when my wife was adding coals to our fire and held what looked very much like a piece of melted plastic in the tongs. Though black as anthracite from the coal dust, its strange shape and relative lightness encouraged us to wash it off in the bath tub.

Our excitement intensified as more of the surface came into view. We could clearly see flow lines and solidified drips reminiscent of the resin that oozes from wounds in the Lob Lolly pines of Northern Louisiana. Too hard to mark with your finger nail though, this fossil resin had hardened over about 300 million years in British Coal measures. We’d never heard of British amber before, nor had we heard of amber coming from such early deposits.  Baltic amber and the softer Copal of The Dominican Republic , we knew, these Eocene ambers are famous for insect and other, rarer inclusions, such as spiders, feathers and even a frog. Recently I’d read a good series on the subject of fossil inclusions in ambers in Deposits Magazine, (it’s a superb fossil magazine).

The Golden Hand of amber

Anyway, we heated a very small piece and the smoke gave off no identifying odour, resiny or plasticy. Very odd! There are gas bubble inclusions, but no signs of insect remains, there are coal fragments on the underside, presumably from the mother tree itself. Which may be some ancestor of the conifers. I have contacted The Editor of Deposits magazine and also experts at London’s Natural History Museum.

A bit of research on the net revealed that there were reports of Carboniferous amber finds from Illinois, the average size of the blebs measuring 5mm, so we got even more excited. Our chunk is clearly part of a larger flow too, so there may be something interesting in your coal bucket. If you find something light-weight that resembles melted plastic in your coal, wash it off and have a good look at it. You never know, it may be something precious from the age of coal!

We are going to put a sliver under the microscope next. More anon.

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