Ancient life in three dimensions

July 17, 2015
Ancient life in three dimensions
An infant marine crocodile, Pelagosaurus typus, (BRLSI.M1418), just 23 cm long. Many of the marine reptiles from Strawberry Bank are juveniles. Credit: Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution

Hidden secrets about life in Somerset 190 million years ago have been revealed by researchers at the University of Bristol and the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (BRLSI) in a new study of some remarkable fossils. Thanks to exceptional conditions of preservation, a whole marine ecosystem has been uncovered – and yet it was already known 150 years ago.

The fossils come from Strawberry Bank in Ilminster, Somerset, but the site has now been lost, having been built over. They were discovered by noted Bath-based geologist Charles Moore (1815-1881), who first spotted them when he saw some school boys kicking a rounded boulder about. He cracked it open, and to his amazement, a perfect three-dimensionally preserved fish lay inside. After this first find, Moore collected hundreds more nodules, and the entire collection has lain, almost forgotten, in the museum of the BRLSI in Queen's Square, Bath ever since.

Matt Williams, curator of the collection, said: "It was obvious that these fossils where very special from the first time I saw them on joining the BRLSI. Our stores are full of treasures, but these specimens are truly unique. We secured some funding to clean up the specimens, and curate them, and we even uncovered some unexpected treasures."

Collaborator Professor Michael Benton from Bristol's School of Earth Sciences, said: "When Matt first showed me the fossils I couldn't believe it. There are 100 nodules containing a large fish called Pachycormus, five or six tiny marine crocodiles, and two species of ichthyosaurs. There are also early squid with their ink sacs and other soft tissues preserved, and hundreds of insects that had flown out over the shallow, warm seas of the day."

Work will now begin in earnest on the fossils, thanks to a £250,000 grant from the Leverhulme Trust which will allow for three-dimensional scanning to be carried out and also fund young researchers to work in Bristol and Oxford with fish expert, Dr Matt Friedman.

A review of the fossils is published today in the premier British geological journal, Journal of the Geological Society.

Explore further: Brain of ancient sea creature reconstructed by undergraduate researcher

More information: "The Strawberry Bank Lagerstätte reveals insights into Early Jurassic life." Journal of the Geological Society, first published on July 15, 2015, DOI: 10.1144/jgs2014-144

Related Stories

How good is the fossil record?

September 4, 2014

Methods have been developed to try to identify and correct for bias in the fossil record but new research from the Universities of Bristol and Bath, suggests many of these correction methods may actually be misleading.

Revealing fossil color

July 3, 2013

The high-tech solution to one of the great mysteries of palaeontology will be revealed by University of Bristol scientists when they showcase their latest research at the prestigious Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition.

Recommended for you

Plague likely a Stone Age arrival to central Europe

November 22, 2017

A team of researchers led by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History has sequenced the first six European genomes of the plague-causing bacterium Yersinia pestis dating from the Late Neolithic ...

How to cut your lawn for grasshoppers

November 22, 2017

Picture a grasshopper landing randomly on a lawn of fixed area. If it then jumps a certain distance in a random direction, what shape should the lawn be to maximise the chance that the grasshopper stays on the lawn after ...

Ancient barley took high road to China

November 21, 2017

First domesticated 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, wheat and barley took vastly different routes to China, with barley switching from a winter to both a winter and summer crop during a thousand-year ...

0 comments

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.