Scientists Use Squid Ink to Draw its Jurassic Period Owner

August 28, 2009 by Lin Edwards, weblog

Scientists Use Squid Ink to Draw its Jurassic Period Owner
Drawing: British Geological Survey (BGS), (c)NERC
( -- Scientists digging in Trowbridge, Wiltshire in England have uncovered the fossilized remains of a prehistoric squid-like creature that lived in the Jurassic period around 150 million years ago. Among their finds was a rock, which they broke open to reveal the intact one-inch long fossilized ink sac.

The ink sac was found to be similar to modern-day ink, and as an experiment, the researchers extracted a sample of the black ink and dissolved the ground specimen in an ammonia solution. To their amazement they were able to use the black, inky solution to write with and even to draw a picture of the animal.

The leader of the paleontological dig, Dr Phil Wilby said it is usually only hard parts such as bone and shell that become fossilized, and soft tissue fossils have only been found in a few dozen sites around the world. Dr Wilby explained that sometimes soft-bodied creatures could be turned to stone within a matter of days after death in an effect paleontologists call the Medusa effect, or instantaneous fossilization. The result is a that can be dissected to show even cells and cell nuclei in 3D images when viewed with powerful microscopes.

One of the sites where soft tissue fossils had been discovered in the past was in Trowbridge, where thousands of fossils of Jurassic period fossils were found in the 1840s during the construction of the Great Western Railway. Two years ago, Wilby and his team decided to try and find the almost forgotten site. After locating the site through a series of trial drills, they received funding from the Curry Fund and the British Geological Survey, and were able to carry out a ten-day dig to look for fossils.

During their excavations the team exposed several thousand fossils of the squid-like creature, Belemnotheutis Antiques, in the 265 tons of rock they examined. Dr Wilby explained that it seems likely the area was a breeding site and the thousands of congregated animals were poisoned by . In total the team found a couple of dozen specimens with soft parts such as eyes and muscles perfectly preserved. But the ink sac was the most exciting find.

Part of the fossilized sac has been sent to a Yale University laboratory in the US for detailed chemical analysis. The rest of the specimen is now in Nottingham in the British Geological Survey collection.

More information: Geology Today, Volume 24 Issue 3, Pages 95 - 98. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2451.2008.00666.x

© 2009

Explore further: An X-ray Time Machine?

Related Stories

An X-ray Time Machine?

April 5, 2007

There's nothing new about using x-rays to look at bones. But using them on bones a hundred million years old is another story. This week, a team of researchers visiting SSRL is finding that when it comes to ancient fossils ...

Deep heat solution to 500-million year mystery

November 12, 2008

Scientists from the universities of Leicester and Cambridge and from the British Geological Survey have published new research in the journal Geology this month (November) shedding new light on a 500-million year old mystery.

Dino Team Returns to SSRL

January 11, 2008

The experimental hutches at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory are well familiar with a macabre tide of materials brought in for close investigation. A recent tally includes ancient parchment texts, human brain ...

Recommended for you


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.