Archive for the ‘Fossils’ Category

New post from Anilbalan on hs Ghost Cities Blog: Megalodon, Terror of the Deep

August 24, 2013

Great! says Hugh Paxton’s Blog. Another post from Anilbalan’s Ghosts Cities Blog and this one on a truly giant shark! If you want to pursue the subject and learn more I strongly recommend Hugh Edwards’ book Shark, the Shadow Below. All his books are good, based on experience, and involve high adventure and things marine, pirate, diving. One of Australia’s finest sons!

If you are in a second hand book shop and see a novel called ‘Meg’ give the thing a miss. It’s crap! Trust me, believe me, I know. I had it for company on a long haul flight and as there wasn’t anything else to read, read it twice.

Over to Anilbalan and megaladon!

anilbalan posted: "Megalodon, an extinct species of shark that lived approximately 1.5 million years ago, is regarded as one of the largest and most powerful predators in history. If you have a thing about sharks, then I’d suggest that you don’t read any further – Megalodon"

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New post on Ghost Cities


Megalodon, Terror of the Deep

by anilbalan

Megalodon, an extinct species of shark that lived approximately 1.5 million years ago, is regarded as one of the largest and most powerful predators in history. If you have a thing about sharks, then I’d suggest that you don’t read any further – Megalodon really is the stuff of nightmares. This prehistoric marine predator may have grown to a length of up to 100 feet and, with teeth the size of Olympic javelins, it possessed by far the most powerful bite of any creature that ever lived. Today, it is generally accepted that Megalodon’s descendant, the Great White Shark, is nature’s ultimate hunter. To put things into perspective, then, imagine a creature capable of swallowing a Great White whole in a single bite! With such fearsome natural weaponry at its disposal, it is hardly surprising to hear that, back in the Cenozoic Era Megalodon wasn’t too picky about its diet and in fact ate pretty much whatever it wanted. If imagining a shark the size of a battleship makes you shudder, then you might find the thought that Megalodon is now extinct fairly reassuring. Until, that is, you hear about the persistent, bloodcurdling reports that this super-shark still exists and continues to hunt at the depths of the oceans of the 21st century. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…

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anilbalan | August 24, 2013 at 2:00 am | Tags: Great White Shark, Megalodon, Sea Monster | Categories: Mystery, Sightings, Tall Tale, Unexplained Mystery, Urban Legend | URL:

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

June 6, 2012

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:

British Fossils: Microphotography Carboniferous Amber and Jurassic Clams

January 8, 2012

I gave my brother and his wife a Veho digital microscope and they sent through some pictures.
With thanks Charles said “… this is a fantastic present. It works off USB so we could use it in the field with a lap-top. Once you get the details you want into the plane of focus, it’s fantastic! Additional oblique side-lighting brings out the textures.”

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The above pictures of British Carboniferous amber and Jurassic clams and ammonites from Port Mulgrave, are just the beginning.

There’ll be more images to come.

Amber In British Coal

January 2, 2012

I promised an update about the recent find of amber in our coal bucket. The experts that I contacted are still enjoying their holidays, but I have done some ferreting on the internet and found some intriguing information on the subject.

Which I shall add in the next post.

A tiny sliver from our specimen placed under a microscope yielded this tiny inclusion.

Inclusion viewed at 50X magnification

I’m pleased to learn that there has been another find in British coal recently, this particular one with a considerable amount of the “mother-coal” attached. Could this give a clue to the identity of the producing tree? That would be fascinating.

Breaking Rocks In The Hot Sun: Earthwatch and Elderhostel

May 17, 2010

My first encounter with “hot trowel” Al took place at the bottom of a gravel pit full of mammoth bones, just outside Oxford. It was blisteringly hot. The BBC was talking about the highest temperatures since 1745 when records began. It had even stopped raining in Scotland. Really, it was that bad.

Al, 70 years old, had earned the moniker “hot trowel” not because of the weather but because of his uncanny and new-found ability to locate valuable fossil remains  – horse teeth, wolf bones,  and mammoth skulls. Hot Trowel was just one of several American retirees working to unearth the treasures of Britain’s largest elephant graveyard. And he was there beneath the searing sun in a landscape that resembled a particularly ravaged part of Somalia because of an outfit called Elderhostel.

“Al,” I asked tactfully after a few minutes of watching him chisel away at the dry shale, “Are you…um…enjoying yourself ? That’s to say, any regrets? You wouldn’t rather be somewhere else taking it easy?”

Al, sweat running down his sunburned nose looked up at me from the trench he was excavating. Arid wasn’t the word, but he did seem to have found himself one heck of a mammoth tusk.

“You mean would I rather be stuck back home in front of a TV wondering what to do with myself? ”


“No,” he said. And he flashed me a fairly convincing smile and got back to his work.

Frankly, I wasn’t in the searing hell that was Dix Pit to cover Elderhostel. I hadn’t even heard of the organisation. I was there to write about a different outfit altogether called Earthwatch. But the sight of Al doggedly slogging away in the “Jurassic Junkyard” and a brief chat with retiree Carol from North Carolina – “I chose England because I hate the heat. But I’m still having a great time!” – aroused both my respect and my interest.

So this column is in the way of a double header. Earthwatch first, then Elderhostel. Earthwatch is a non profit organisation that teams paying volunteers with well over 100 scientific projects world-wide. Earthwatch projects have resulted in the creation of 12 new national parks and reserves, the building and stocking of 9 new museums and the discovery of more than 2,000 new species.

No particular skills are required of volunteers, just appropriate levels of physical fitness and a willingness to work in a team.  A robust bank account doesn’t hurt either. The sometimes hefty fees paid by a volunteer cover bed, board, and training and also maintain the scientist’s research.

In the case of the Dix Pit mammoth dig, the researcher was Dr Kate Scott, a South African palaeontologist attached to Oxford University. Mammoths, as you and I know were woolly. Big, hairy,  bulge-headed behemoths that strode ponderously through the ice age impaling cavemen on large curved tusks.

Au contraire, according to Scott’s research. The 200,000 year old bones that were being unearthed by Earthwatch volunteers at Dix were indelibly mixed with warm weather species. Not only does this yield data that assists climate change research. It also presents the world with a different sort of southern mammoth. Short haired. Swift. Svelte. That’s palaeontology for you. A rapidly changing view of a rock. Dinosaurs? Slow moving, grey dull-witted lizards one year, high speed, parrot-hued, warm blooded (perhaps even hairy) saurians the next. No doubt an Earthwatch volunteer will soon unearth evidence showing dinosaurs had an advanced civilisation until a brash stegosaurus invented hedge funds and they all became suddenly extinct.

But enough of Earthwatch.

Elderhostel. This is one of those good ideas made flesh that just keeps going and growing. Founded in Boston in 1975 with the rather uninteresting motto “adventures in lifelong learning” Elderhostel caters expressly to men and women over 55. The founder, Marty Knowlton, then a teacher in his mid-fifties had walked around Europe for four years (as one does).  Impressed by European community colleges and the safe, cheap accommodations offered (to all ages) by the Youth Hostel Association,  he decided to combine both concepts for American retirees. Learning” is central to all Elderhostel programmes as is “hostelling” defined in Elderhostel literature as “informal modest lodgings.

220 elderhostellers “elderhostelled” in the non profit organisation’s first year. This year will see close to quarter of a million elderhostellers engaged in everything from studying tropical rainforest in Belize to restoring Mississippi plantation houses.

“ Informal modest lodgings” in the case of both Earthwatch and Elderhostel mammoth hunters entailed shared rooms in a nearby pub. The Court Inn was a friendly enough place but frills it had not. The landlord to give him his due had made some effort to provide entertainment – a melancholy little man with a euphonium in the otherwise deserted lounge – but chandeliers, tinkling pianos, and Jacuzzis and were as rare as a cool breeze in Dix Pit.  The cooking was English of the old school. Actually very fortifying if you have work to do. Plenty of lard.

If the elderhostellers missed room service and coq au vin they did not show it. Indeed a sense of loyalty to the organisation and the current project was palpable. Even while enduring a euphonium recital and breaking rocks in the hot sun, either manually or with the aid of a small digger (whose previous assignment was unearthing corpses from multiple murderer Fred West’s back garden on Cromwell Road).

Although none of the team could match the record of 300 elderhostellings currently held by the dauntless Jim Quinn, several of the mammoth diggers were repeaters. Others were going on to join other programs after their two weeks in the pit was over.

My next encounter with hot trowel Al has yet to occur although I’ve bumped into other elderhostellers in some fairly extraordinary places doing some fairly extraordinary things. But I am sure we’ll meet again. Don’t know where – Elderhostel has 8,000 programs in 90 countries. Don’t know when – Elderhostel programs run year round. But when we do, hopefully it will be on a slightly less sunny day!



Let’s Go Fossil Hunting!

March 18, 2010

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