Tuesday 4 August 2009

Sea Dragons of Avalon

Better late than never, here's my quick synopsis of the goings-on in Somerset and Dorset last week.

On Thursday night in the village of Street, there was a stimulating public lecture on ichthyosaurs by Professor Ryosuke Motani of University of California, Davis. Friday was a day full of talks on, amongst other things, geology, stratigraphy, taphonomy, extinction and palaeobiology of fishes, invertebrates, ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and other tetrapods. Amongst the speakers were Dave Martill of Portsmouth, Mike Benton of Bristol and Peter Forey (formerly) of the Natural History Museum. The day of talks was followed by a visit to the private collections of Alfred Gillett, consisting of more than a dozen ichthyosaurs and a specimen of Thalassiodracon hawkinsi, a plesiosaur from Street.

The original plan to go to a couple of quarries in Somerset was changed as health and safety deemed it unsafe to visit following the torrential rains of the previous week. Instead we were brought to Charmouth, and then Lyme Regis, on the Jurassic coast of Dorset. I'd never been, and had wanted to go for years, so I was happy, even though it meant no actual fossils were to be found.

Me with a (rather fat) model of a Scelidosaurus at Charmouth Heritage Centre

The trip started with a visit to the Charmouth Heritage Centre, where a few nice specimens were on show, such as the following cast of a Scelidosaurus harrisoni.

After a visit to a workshop, where newly exposed and recovered fossils were being prepared, we were on our way to Lyme Regis. After a quick (and delicious) lunch, we explored the Lyme Regis Museum, also called the Philpot Museum, which lies on the site of Mary Anning's birthplace.

Mary Anning, of course, being the first professional fossil collector, and an all-round admirable historical character. I especially liked this touch, a cardboard cutout of the lady herself, declaring the museum to be 'open'.

And this one of the floor outside the museum. Not real ammonites, of course, but quite stunning to see.

Inside the museum was an impressive specimen of Temnodontosaurus platyodon, a very large ichthyosaur, which is almost complete save for most of the skull. I don't have a good photo of it, but see here for Darren Naish's photo... you can see the back of my head underneath it as I try to photograph various Jurassic ammonites. As well as large ichthyosaurs, there were some smaller specimens:

Excalibosaurus costini McGowan, 1986
Leptopterygiidae; Ichthyosauria; Sauropsida; Chordata

Here's the cast of the holotype of Excalibosaurus, the name coming from the extraordinarily sword-like rostrum. Might've been a Mesozoic analogue of swordfish (Xiphias) and their kin.

Other non-marine tetrapod remains were at the museum, including this anterior portion of the upper jaw of a Dimorphodon, a pterosaur.

Dimorphodon macronyx (Buckland, 1829)
Dimorphodontidae; Pterosauria; Sauropsida; Chordata

One of the more unusual specimens at the museum was a table made of coprolites. That's fossilised dung to those who don't know.

There are ammonites a-plenty in Lyme... even on the lamp-posts.

And now for something completely different... well, in a little while.

1 comment:

Daisy Debs said...

Hallo Mo ! Just came across your very interesting blog on Charmouth . We have been visiting this wonderful place for years . We are going this weekend again to see what we can find ,so exciting . I must put a few of our finds pics on my blog for all to see soon . I will pop in again soon .Debs .