Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Mystery fossil solution — an oyster from the Middle Jurassic of southern England

August 30th, 2016

Mystery fossils 081916 585Last week I gave my students in Wooster’s Invertebrate Paleontology course a fossil to identify (shown above), using any techniques they want. This was their first task in the course, so it was difficult for most of them. I hope it was a good introduction to practical paleontology and the mysteries of taxonomy. One student, Josh Charlton, nailed it all the way to the species. Several other students got close.

These are Middle Jurassic oysters properly identified as Praeexogyra hebridica (Forbes, 1851). I collected them many years ago from the Frome Clay (Bathonian) at Langton Herring along the coast of Dorset, southern England. They are extremely common fossils there, crunching underfoot as they erode out into the surf. These oysters lived in estuaries, where there was a mix of fresh and marine waters. In 1976, John Hudson and our friend Tim Palmer sorted out the systematics and  evolution of this oyster species, moving it from Ostrea and Liostrea to the genus Praeexogyra.
Forbes diagramThis oyster species was originally described in 1851 as Ostrea hebridica by Edward Forbes (1815-1854) from Jurassic sediments on the Scottish Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides (hence the name). As was typical of many nineteenth century fossil descriptions, the illustrations (above) and diagnoses are not particularly helpful. Forbes (1851) wrote, “Being very familiar with the oysters of the Wealden and Purbeck I cannot admit this identification, nor can I refer the Loch Staffin shell to any known fossil, although, as usual in this variable genus, it is difficult to express in words its marked distinctions.” We wouldn’t get away with such a conclusion for a new species today, but to be fair, oysters are notoriously difficult to describe. Forbes knew that this species “inhabited brackish water” in the Jurassic.

Forbes bust to useEdward Forbes FRS, FGS (above) was born on the Isle of Man in 1815, the year of Waterloo. He was, as they said then, a sickly child unable to attend a regular school for long. He traveled to London when he was 16, though, to study art. That didn’t work out, so he became a medical student at the University of Edinburgh. Forbes was intrigued more with natural history than medicine (a common story!), so he dropped his medical plans and set out to become a naturalist skilled in paleontology, mineralogy, zoology, anatomy and botany. His younger brother David became a well-known mineralogist. Edward Forbes caught on quickly. In 1838 he published a summary of the mollusks found on the Isle of Man. He was 23 years old. Forbes traveled widely, accumulating more observations, experiences and colleagues. He had many publications and advocated numerous hypotheses about the distribution of life forms. Some had lasting value (like the distribution of flora before and after glaciation intervals) and others were a bit naive (such as his idea that there is no marine life below 300 fathoms). He was a president of the Geological Society of London (1853), and in 1854 became the Professor of Natural History at Edinburgh, his driving ambition. Unfortunately his health problems caught up with him and he died that year at age 39.

Edward Forbes played a critical role in the history of science by being a mentor of Thomas Henry Huxley. Forbes advised Huxley as a young man and helped him publish his earliest works. Forbes introduced Huxley to his circle of colleagues, which eventually led to the latter’s election to the Royal Society while only 26 years old. Huxley wrote a touching obituary for his young friend Edward Forbes.


Anderson, F.W. and Cox, L.R. 1948. The “Loch Staffin Beds” of Skye; with notes on the molluscan fauna of the Great Estuarine Series. Proceedings of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh 23: 103-122.

Anderson, T.R. and Rice, T. 2006. Deserts on the sea floor: Edward Forbes and his azoic hypothesis for a lifeless deep ocean. Endeavour 30: 131-137.

Forbes, E. 1851. On the Estuary Beds and the Oxford Clay at Loch Staffin, in Skye. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 7(1-2): 104-113; plate 5, figs. 4a-4c.

Hudson, J.D. and Palmer, T.J. 1976. A euryhaline oyster from the Middle Jurassic and the origin of the true oysters. Palaeontology 19: 79-93.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A mytilid bivalve from the Middle Jurassic of southern Israel

August 5th, 2016

1 Mytilus (Falcimytilus) jurensis 585This week’s specimen comes from one of my favorite fossiliferous units: the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic, Callovian) of Makhtesh Gadol in southern Israel. I’ve been delighted by the fossils and lithologies of the Matmor since 2003. This particular fossil is exposed in a bedding plane of the very rich subunit 65, which I’ve mentioned before in this blog. It is a mytilid bivalve identified as Mytilus (Falcimytilus) jurensis It has the classic wing shape of its order.
2 Mytilus (Falcimytilus) jurensisM. jurensis is very common in the Matmor Formation, especially in the upper third where it can be seen protruding from limestones at a variety of angles. The species was widespread throughout the Tethys Ocean, now recorded by sediments in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions.
3 mytilids090809Mytilid bivalves are very common today as well, and they have the same life mode as they did at least 150 million years ago. They attach to hard substrates in shallow waters with strong fibers they secrete called byssal threads. Above we see our M. jurensis shell with several others clustered around a gastropod shell to which they were attached. The organic byssal threads are long gone, of course, but the shells remain in their living positions.

I like to use these Fossils of the Week to explore their taxonomic histories. The specimens, after all, are usually not exceptionally well preserved or rare, but they all have stories. Mytilus (Falcimytilus) jurensis proved to be a challenge when it came to identifying the author of the species.
4 MNHN figFirst I went to the online catalogue of the Muséum National D’Histoire Naturelle in Paris — an excellent resource. There I found the above image and information. Someone named Roemer named the species in 1836. So who was this Roemer and what was the publication?
5 Friedrich Adolph RoemerAfter considerable searching, I learned our taxonomist was Friedrich Adolph Roemer (1809-1869), a German geologist born in Hildesheim, part of the Kingdom of Westphalia. He had a younger brother, Carl Ferdinand von Roemer, who was also a geologist, creating some confusion.
6 Oolithen-GebrigesFriedrich Roemer has an 1836 book (above) that roughly translates as The Fossils of the North German Oolitic Mountains, “oolitic” referring to a kind of limestone common in the European Jurassic; for awhile it was essentially synonymous with “Jurassic”.
7 Plate IV, fig 10On Plate IV, fig. 10, of this 1836 book is a pair of drawings of Mytilus jurensis. So far all is on track for sorting out the taxonomic history of the species.
8 p 89Surprise! When we look at the description in the text on page 89, we see that Roemer gives an undated credit for the species to “Merain”. Who is Merain?
9 Thurmann p 13I thought I’d never find the identity of this “Merain”, but through the extraordinary resource of Google Books, I uncovered the earliest record of Mytilus jurensis. It is on page 13 of Thurmann (1833). Note that following the species (fourth line above) is “Mèr.” and then “n. sp.”, meaning “new species”. (I have no idea what the intervening “M. Bas.” indicates. [Update: See comment by Christopher Taylor below.]) There is no description of the species, and no illustration, but there’s the first mention of it.

So is “Mèr.” short for Roemer’s “Merain”? Turns out Roemer misspelled the last three letters — it is “Merian”.
10 Peter_MerianPeter Merian (1795-1883) was a Swiss geologist and paleontologist who was born in Basel. He studied scientific topics at the University of Basel, the Academy of Geneva, and the University of Gottingen. After two years in Paris, Merian returned to Baasel and began to specialize in the geology and fossils of the Jura Mountains. He was appointed a professor of physics and chemistry at the University of Basel, and later an honorary professor of geology and paleontology. He was also Director of the Natural History Museum in Basel. Along with his work on Triassic and Jurassic fossils, he also made contributions to glaciology and meteorology. Peter Merian died in Basel in 1883 after a long, notable career. He certainly looked the part of a dashing 19th Century Swiss geologist. Kevin McNally could play him in the movie! And now we know that he was the man who named Mytilus jurensis in 1833. Roemer (1836) was probably credited with the species at one point because he had the first description and figures. Merian, apparently, just provided the name in someone else’s book.
11 Merian map JuraHere is an 1829 geological map by Peter Merian of a portion of the Jura Mountains, one of the first of the region.


Cox, L.R. 1937. Notes on Jurassic Lamelibranchia V. On a new subgenus of Mytilus and a new Mytilus-like genus. Journal of Molluscan Studies 22: 339-348.

Freneix, S. 1965 – Les Bivalves du Jurassique moyen et supérieur du Sahara tunisien (Arcacea, Pteriacea, Pectinacea, Ostreacea, Mytilacea). Annales de Paléontologie, t. 51, vol. 1, p. 51-113.

Liu, C. 1995. Jurassic bivalve palaeobiogeography of the Proto-Atlantic and application of multivariate analysis method to palaeobiogeography. Beringeria 16: 31123.

Liu, C., Heinze, M. and Fürsich, F.T. 1998. Bivalve provinces in the Proto-Atlantic and along the southern margin of the Tethys in the Jurassic. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 137: 127-151.

Merian, P. 1829. Geognostischer Durchschnitt durch das Jura-Gebirge von Basel bis Kestenholz bey Aarwangen, mit Bemerkungen über den Schichtenbau des Jura im Allgemeinen. Zürich.

Roemer, F.A. 1836. Die Versteinerungen des Nordeutschen Oolithen-Gebirges. Hahn. 218 pages.

Thurmann, J. 1833. Essai sur les soulèvemens Jurassiques du Porrentruy, avec une description géognostique des terrains secondaires de ce pays, et des considérations générales sur les chaines du Jura. Mém. Soc. Hist. Nat. Strasbourg 1: l-84.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A bored rhynchonellid brachiopod from the Middle Jurassic of France

July 22nd, 2016

1 Kutchi dorsal 585Another beautiful brachiopod this week from our friend Mr. Clive Champion in England. His donations to our collections have considerably enriched our teaching program, especially for brachiopods! This specimen is the rhynchonellid Kutchirhynchia morieri (Davidson, 1852) from the Middle Jurassic (Upper Bathonian) of Luc-sur-Mer, France. This is a view of the dorsal side with the dorsal valve on top with the ventral valve (containing the round opening from which the stalk-like pedicle extended) seen below it. Like most rhynchonellids, the valves have distinct plicae (thick ridges) where the shell is tightly folded.
2 Kutchi ventral 585This is the ventral view showing only the exterior of the ventral valve. Note the curved serpulid worm tube attached near the center, and the squiggly borings. These were likely sclerobionts (hard substrate dwellers) that occupied the brachiopod shell when the animal was still alive, since the dorsal and ventral valves are still articulated. The borings are probably of the ichnogenus Talpina, but I would have to grind down the shell to know for certain.
SSBuckmanThe genus Kutchirhynchia was named by Sydney Savory Buckman (1860-1929) in 1917. We met Buckman earlier in this blog when looking at another of his Jurassic rhynchonellid genera, Burmirhynchia. We learned a lot more about Buckman this summer during our expedition to the Jurassic of Dorset, where he did much of his work. He is best known there as an ammonite worker and stratigrapher (and massive taxonomic splitter).
3 Thomas DavidsonThe species Kutchirhynchia morieri was named by the Scottish paleontologist Thomas Davidson (1817-1885), who originally placed it in the large genus Rhynchonella. Buckman acknowledges Davidson in an ammonite monographs as one of his “earliest geological friends”. (Davidson was 43 years older than Buckman.) Davidson was born in Edinburgh to wealthy parents. He studied at the University of Edinburgh and then in France, Italy and Switzerland, where he made many long geological tours. He was convinced by the German paleontologist Christian Leopold von Buch (1774-1853) to work on fossil brachiopods. (Von Buch was 43 years older than Davidson. Nice to see the older generation having an effect on those kids!) Davidson stayed with brachiopods his entire career, producing massive monographs on both fossil and recent forms. He engraved his own plates on stone, and there are more than 200 of them. Davidson was elected a fellow of the Geological Society of London in 1852, awarded the Wollaston medal in 1865. In 1857 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, receiving their Royal medal in 1870. Upon his death in Brighton, England, in 1885, his entire collection of fossil and recent brachiopods went to the British Museum.
4 Elizabeth GrayThis is a good place to mention Elizabeth Anderson Gray (1831-1924), an important fossil collector in Scotland who supplied Thomas Davidson and many other paleontologists with critical specimens for their work. She is one of the many unnoticed heroes of paleontology, being rarely acknowledged publicly and then overshadowed by her husband. She worked primarily in the Ordovician and Silurian and so did not give Davidson Jurassic rhynchonellids, but she provided hundreds of brachiopods from the early Paleozoic. I love this image of her knocking out fossils with a hammer, just like we do today. Trowelblazers has an excellent biographical page on Elizabeth Anderson Gray.


Buckman, S.S. 1917. The Brachiopoda of the Namyau Beds, Northern Shan States, Burma. Palaeontologia lndica 3(2): 1-254.

Gilman, D.C., Thurston, H.T. and Colby, F.M., eds. 1905. Davidson, Thomas (paleontologist). New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.

Shi, X. and Grant, R.E. 1993. Jurassic rhynchonellids: internal structures and taxonomic revisions. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology, Number 73, 190 pages.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: An ammonite from the Middle Jurassic of southern England

July 8th, 2016

Leptosphinctes microconch Jurassic Dorset 585We’re featuring just a workaday fossil this week because of other summer activities. This is the ammonite Leptosphinctes Buckman 1929 from the Inferior Oolite (Middle Jurassic) at Coombe Quarry, Mapperton, Dorset, southern England. Cassidy Jester (’17) and I collected it last month during our 2016 England research expedition. Our friend Bob Chandler generously identified it. It popped out of a rock we were pounding into submission, providing a direct application of ammonite biostratigraphy to our work. As with many ammonites, the group is well known but the names are still a bit dodgy.

This specimen is a microconch, meaning it is the smaller version of a species pair, the larger being the macroconch. It is presumed that this is sexual dimorphism and that the microconch is the male because it didn’t need to carry resources for egg-laying. This is one reason why the taxonomy of these ammonites is in perpetual revision.


Buckman, S.S. 1909–1930. Yorkshire Type Ammonites & Type Ammonites. Wesley & Son, Wheldon & Wesley, London, 790 pl.

Chandler, R B., Whicher, J., Dodge, M. and Dietze, V. 2014. Revision of the stratigraphy of the Inferior Oolite at Frogden Quarry, Oborne, Dorset, UK. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie-Abhandlungen 274: 133-148.

Galácz, A. 2012. Early perisphinctid ammonites from the early/late Bajocian boundary interval (Middle Jurassic) from Lókút, Hungary. Geobios 45: 285-295.

Pavia, G. and Zunino, M. 2012. Ammonite assemblages and biostratigraphy at the Lower to Upper Bajocian boundary in the Digne area (SE France). Implications for the definition of the Late Bajocian GSSP. Revue de Paléobiologie, Vol. spéc, 11: 205-227.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Iron-oxide oncoids (“snuff-boxes”) from the Middle Jurassic of southern England

July 1st, 2016

1 Snuffbox colection BBThese fossils (in the broad sense!) are inevitable for our weekly feature considering how much time we spent studying and collecting them during last month’s fieldwork in Dorset, southern England. “Snuff-boxes” are the subject of Cassidy Jester’s (’17) Senior Independent Study project, so here we’ll just broadly cover what we think we know about them.

These discoidal objects are called “snuff-boxes” because their carbonate centers (usually a bit of limestone or shell) often erode faster than their iron-oxide exteriors, making them weather a bit like boxes with lids.
2 Quote from Buckman 1910 67This quote from Buckman (1910, p. 67) is the earliest reference I can find to the snuff-box term. Snuff-boxes were sometimes works of art in the 18th and 19th centuries, although quarrymen probably had more homespun varieties in mind.
1 Snuffbox serpulidssWe’re counting these snuff-boxes as fossils here because they formed through biotic and physical processes. The cortex of a snuff-box has layers of serpulid worm tubes, as shown above.
4 Palmer Wilson Fig 3There are also cyclostome bryozoans embedded within the iron-oxide layers, as shown in this image from Palmer and Wilson (1990, fig. 3).
3 Snuff-box horn 061716We believe the snuff-boxes grew by accretion of microbially-induced layers of iron-oxide formed on their undersides, which would have been gloomy caverns on the seafloor. They then would have occasionally turned over and grew layers on the other side. Many snuff-boxes have extensions on their peripheries that look in cross-sections like horns, as seen above. The layers are separate from those that formed around the nucleus. They may have grown after the snuff-box became too big to be overturned by currents or animals.
6 Platy minerals pdt19573Paul Taylor and I looked at the cortex of a snuff-box with Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and had the above surprising view. The odd platy materials may be limonite, an iron-oxide that is amorphous (non-crystalline).
7 Hebrew letters pdt19572Sometimes the plates look like they’ve partially evaporated, leaving remnants that resemble Hebrew letters!
8 iron ooid pdt19576Associated with the snuff-boxes are small “iron ooids” that are about sand-size. They too have the platy materials, and so their origin may be similar to that of the snuff-boxes.

Cassidy has an interesting project ahead of her testing various origin hypotheses and sorting out the paleontology, mineralogy and geochemistry.


Buckman, S.S. 1910. Certain Jurassic (Lias-Oolite) strata of south Dorset and their correlation. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 66: 52-89.

Burkhalter, R.M. 1995. Ooidal ironstones and ferruginous microbialites: origin and relation to sequence stratigraphy (Aalenian and Bajocian, Swiss Jura mountains). Sedimentology 42: 57-74.

Gatrall, M., Jenkyns, H.C. and Parsons, C.F. 1972. Limonitic concretions from the European Jurassic, with particular reference to the “snuff-boxes” of southern England. Sedimentology 18: 79-103.

Palmer, T.J. and Wilson, M.A. 1990. Growth of ferruginous oncoliths in the Bajocian (Middle Jurassic) of Europe. Terra Nova 2: 142-147.

Final day at The Natural History Museum … and one more Jurassic snuff-box

June 17th, 2016

1 Chandler snuff-box cutLondon, England — My last day in London was spent working on GSA abstracts and examining one last ferruginous oncoid (“snuff-box”) from the Jurassic (Bajocian) of southern England. Bob Chandler donated to the cause a large discoidal snuff-box. We cut it (cross-section through the center shown above) and revealed its intricate internal structure.

2 Chandler snuff-box nucleusThe typical limestone nucleus is smaller than I expected, but it still shows typical features such as bioerosion.

3 Snuff-box horn 061716This specimen has beautifully-developed “horns” around the periphery. They are made of laminae not connected to the central cortex. Paul Taylor suggested that they form when the snuff-box is no long being moved about. Nice specimen. Cassidy Jester (’17) will have much to figure out in her Independent Study focused on these objects.

I’ve had a great and productive time on this expedition to England. Thank you again to my amigos Tim Palmer and Paul Taylor, as well as John Whicher, Bob Chandler and Consuelo Sendino. Science marches on.

Addendum: This is the way I like my Tube stations — empty! Take me home, District Line to Paddington. Saturday, June 18, 5:08 a.m.

Fulham Broadway tube station at 0508

Research in a paleontological paradise

June 16th, 2016

1 NHM front 061616London, England — If any center of scientific research can be sacred, the Natural History Museum of London is a holy of holies for paleontology. Its deep history, highly skilled researchers and staff, and magnificent architecture makes it a very special place. As I wrote before, it is a secular cathedral of science, particularly life science.

2 NHM cathedral of scienceIt is no accident the design of this building reflects a place of worship. Who do you think the white figure on the raised platform in the center is? He might as well be sitting on the altar.

3 Darwin presidingOf course! A portrait on Darwin’s upper left, not visible here and probably rarely noticed, is of his colleague Alfred Russel Wallace.

4 Darwin's NHM viewThis is Darwin’s view of the main hall and entrance of the museum. Six million visitors per year pass under his gaze.

5 Paul and SEM 061616This morning Paul and I worked with a scanning electron microscope to study particular fossils we had set aside for closer examination. Paul is the best scanning electron microscopist I have met.

6 SEM stageThis is the open stage and chamber of the SEM, with a brachiopod fixed in place by Paul for scanning. It is a complicated apparatus that can move the specimen in almost all directions in a vacuum under the electron beam.

7 Cortex pdt19574The first specimen we worked with was one of the Jurassic snuff-boxes. This is part of Cassidy Jester’s Independent Study project and her continuing research with Tim Palmer and me. Paul and I are mystified by the pattern we see here in the cortex of the snuff-box.

8 Ooid pdt19575These are two ferruginous ooids embedded in the cortex of the snuff-box. They show exactly the same mysterious irregular platy objects. Tim Palmer suggests they may be limonite, which is amorphous (without crystals). We’ll test that idea later with mineralogical and elemental analysis.

9 Jeffrey Thompson at NHM 061616I was delighted to see my friend Jeffrey Thompson in the palaeontology section doing research for his dissertation at the University of Southern California. He made an earlier appearance in this blog when he was just a kid.

10 Oscar Mmari and Jubilate Lema in LondonFor lunch I met my former student and veteran of an Independent Study field trip to Israel Oscar Mmari (on the left) and fellow Wooster graduate Jubilate Lema on the right. Both of these young Tanzanians are now making their way in the world. Oscar starts this fall at Imperial College, and Jubilate is an economist working with an investment firm in Johannesburg, South Africa. We had a delightful meal and walk around the museum neighborhood.

11 Dinner view 061616My long day ended with an excellent dinner with Paul and Patricia Taylor at the Swan Restaurant along the Thames River. This was our view from the table. This will all seem a dream in just two days time.


Team Dorset finishes its fieldwork

June 10th, 2016

1 Snuffbox serpulidssSherborne, England — Cassidy Jester (’17), Tim Palmer and I today finished our fieldwork. Cassidy is now set for her Senior Independent Study project with plenty of specimens, observations, photographs and ideas to last the next 10 months. This morning we visited the Burton Bradstock beach exposure of the snuffboxes, meeting our great colleague Caroline Buttler (Department of Natural Sciences, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, Cardiff) and her husband Simon for lunch on the outcrop. It was great fun, and Caroline had additional discoveries for us, including the exfoliated snuffbox layer shown above with serpulid worm tubes.

2 Ammonite gastropod snuffboxesWe had time to look for more fossils associated with the snuffboxes. Above you see a gastropod on the left and an ammonite on the right, with snuffbox bits scattered about.

3 Burton Bradstock pendentWe also found many examples of burrow systems with cryptic pendent iron-rich layers, including those shown above. (I rotated the image 180° because the block we studied on the beach is upside-down.)

4 Maiden Castle rampartsOn the way back to our lodgings near Sherborne we stopped by the Iron Age hill fort Maiden Castle, a portion of the massive earthen ramparts of which are shown above.

Our collecting, measuring and describing is done. Most of the work for this project, of course, will be in the Wooster geology labs. We will have delightful memories of our sunny days in Dorset, and the invaluable assistance of our colleagues Bob Chandler and John Whicher. I am personally most grateful for the geological and navigational skills of Tim Palmer, our wonderful companion and astute advisor. Without him none of this could be done.

Crew in Whicher MuseumThe Dorset crew in the Whicher Museum. From the left, Bob Chandler, Mark Wilson, Tim Palmer, John Whicher, and Cassidy Jester (’17).

Team Dorset makes a cryptic discovery

June 9th, 2016

1 Cassidy Mapperton 060916Sherborne, England — It was a good day for Team Dorset. Cassidy Jester (’17) is shown above in Coombe Quarry near Mapperton, Dorset. She is standing on an erosion surface between the Comptocostosum Bed (Aalenian) below and Horn Park Ironshot (Bajocian) above. These are beds 2d and 3a in the local stratigraphic system, and ammonite zones Scissum and Discites. There is a considerable disconformity here, meaning a significant hiatus of unrecorded time, several ammonite zones worth. The snuffboxes we’re interested in are found jut above this boundary.

2 Pendent layers 060916Tim Palmer picked up the above rock as we started our measurements and descriptions. He deduced right away that he was looking at a cross-section of a burrow now filled with light brown sediment. The darker layers above are ferruginous (iron-rich), serpulid-bearing laminae like those that make up the snuffbox cortices, and they are hanging pendently from the roof of this burrow into the original cavity beneath. At one time this burrow was an open tunnel with cemented walls and the iron-rich layers grew from the ceiling like stalactites. Tim demonstrated with this single specimen that the iron-rich layers grew in dark, cryptic spaces, strongly supporting the hypothesis of Palmer and Wilson (1990) that the equivalent snuffbox layers accumulated on the undersides in gloomy darkness

3 Infilled Thalassinoides MappertonCassidy and I then recognized that the iron-rich “stromatolites” we had seen on our earlier visit to the quarry were actually these iron-rich layers filling Thalassinoides burrow systems that are truncated by the erosion surface. In the above image you are looking down on the erosion surface at a branching burrow filled with iron-rich layers. These are not stromatolites but cryptic burrow fills.

5 Sherborne Thalassinoides 2 585Later in the afternoon we returned to the Sherborne Stone quarry yard and looked at Thalassinoides burrow systems in the Sherborne Building Stone cut by giant saws. We see here a view parallel to bedding showing a box work of tunnels filled with a darker sediment. This matches the pattern seen in the Coombe Quarry erosion surface.

6 Sherborne Thalassinoides section 585This is a cross-section of the same kind of Thalassinoides burrow in the Sherborne Building Stone. We see the vertical connections to the surface and the lateral tubes. These burrows formed the cryptic spaces for iron-rich layer deposition as seen at Coombe Quarry. Or at least that is our hypothesis! Tomorrow we will test it by examining the burrow systems associated with the snuffboxes at Burton Bradstock.

7 Sherborne Castle 585As usual, we ended our day with more historical architecture and stonework, this time at nearby Sherborne Castle, a 16th century Tudor mansion sitting on magnificent estate grounds. Much of our work is on land owned by this estate.

The format below is a bit messy, but here is a download of our GPS data for the localities on this expedition:

GPS# Latitude Longitude Location
138 50.96268903 -2.503268039 Frogden Quarry
139 50.96319797 -2.501848983 Frogden Quarry older
140 50.93710503 -2.601833018 Babylon Hill
141 50.94292902 -2.556813983 Louse Hill
142 50.79496597 -2.71623401 Coombe Quarry, Mapperton
143 50.70015801 -2.734380998 Hive Beach, Burton Bradstock
145 50.81626003 -2.771674013 Horn Park
146 50.70154396 -2.737065973 Burton Bradstock snuffboxes

Snuffboxes! Team Dorset has a project

June 8th, 2016

1 Snuffbox colection BBSherborne, England — Cassidy Jester (’17) now has a Senior Independent Study project: Origin and paleoecology of ferruginous oncoids (“snuffboxes”) from the Middle Jurassic (Bajocian) of southern England and northern France. (We’re not going to France; I have specimens I collected 20 years ago there.) Pictured above is a nice collection of these snuffboxes on the Dorset coast near Burton Bradstock. More on them below. Today Tim Palmer, Cassidy and I had a great time starting our data collection.

2 Whicher museumThe first thing we did this morning, though, was visit the astounding fossil collection of John Whicher, one of our new citizen scientist friends. He has a spectacular collection of exquisite fossils, most from the Inferior Oolite and all meticulously curated. His preparations are amazing, especially when you know what a fossil looks like when first collected.

3 Tim Cassidy Whicher museumTim and Cassidy are here admiring some of the Inferior Oolite ammonites in John’s display cases. Each specimen is numbered and has full locality and stratigraphic context.

4 Whicher workshopJohn has a workshop that would be the envy of any university, along with storage for those specimens awaiting his patient preservation. Here we see our other new friend Bob Chandler cutting a rock for us. Bob has his own equal collection. These indefatigable amateurs are making extraordinary contributions to science.

5 Burton cliff fallAt noon we started our own work along the coast at Burton Bradstock, Dorset. We depended upon cliff falls like this one where the rocks of the Inferior Oolite at the top of the cliff crashed to the beach below.

6 Burton Bradstock large block 060816This gorgeous block is an example of the snuffbox bed fallen into our hands on the Burton Bradstock beach. The long part of the measuring stick is one meter. We are looking at the base of the snuffbox-bearing unit, so the block is upside-down.

7 Cassidy working 060816Cassidy is here studying that above block, with the English Channel in the background and brilliant sunlight.

8 Snuffbox bored shell nucleusThis is one of the snuffboxes with a shell fragment as a nucleus. The shell has many borings that were excavated before it started accumulating the layers of iron oxides.

9 snuffboxes horns ooidsThe snuffboxes have all sorts of details, from the compositions of the nuclei, the structure of the cortices, the fossils found encrusting them, and their overall shapes. Many have “horns” in cross-section like the two above. Note also the iron ooids (rusty red dots) between the snuffboxes. Their origin is another mystery.

10 Cerne Abbey 585We ended the day with a visit to the ruins of Cerne Abbey in Cerne Abbas, which was founded in 987. The remaining buildings are considerably later but still incorporate remnants of the old. This is now a romantic ruin on a small estate.

11 Cerne Abbey signTomorrow we continue to study the snuffboxes in other localities. We hope again to avoid the rains that have affected much of the country this week.


Palmer, T.J. & Wilson, M.A. 1990. Growth of ferruginous oncoliths in the Bajocian (Middle Jurassic) of Europe. Terra Nova 2: 142-147.



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