Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Fossil Hunting in England's Jurassic - ENCHANTING WALES

April 25 - Helo, a chroeso i Gymru!  Rydym yn cael pél.   We have arrived in southwest Wales (where, to our delight, they speak Welsh) in a tiny village called Castle Martin, and we're immediately enchanted.  From our converted barn at Pen y Holt Farm (the Granary), we find the unexpected in every direction - literally.

Pen y Holt Farm (the Granary)

One mile to the west is a wild and wooly coastline which was voted one of Wales' best surfing beaches - Freshwater West.  Here Robin Hood (with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchette) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were filmed in 2009.  If that isn't enough, there's also a thatched seaweed-drying hut and an Iron Age burial chamber.

View from the bedroom (hay loft) to the east
Immediately to the south is an MOD (Ministry of Defence) army tank training range, complete with targets and shooting -  commencing Tuesday.  The roads will be closed, the cows and sheep moved to safety, and we will be treated to ordinance - right out our window!  Prior to WWII local farmers and villagers for several square miles were summarily moved, leaving a landscape of empty homes and a couple of villages.

And to the north is the 13th century St. Michael and All Angel's medieval church and an oil refinery a few miles away that lights up like Disneyland at night and is actually very pretty.  And to boot  . . . the Queen is coming Tuesday.

St. Michael and All Angel's Church

We're brushing up on our Welsh and all its double consonants, and none of our Latin or Germanic-based languages are helping.  Tomorrow we head to the beaches for Ordovician-Silurian aged fossils.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Fossil Hunting in England's Jurassic - Ammonite Graveyard at Monmouth Beach in Lyme Regis

April 24 - A 10 minute walk heading west from Lyme Regis along shore shingle is a ledge of limestone called the Ammonite Graveyard, packed with the internal molds of embedded Coroniceras in the Blue Lias layer

Ammonite Graveyard


Barry doing extremely complex calculations in his brain
regarding the various ammonites

Wendy from Hampshire came up to us on the beach and offered us some
of her finds!  She was traveling by bus and couldn't manage the weight.
Back at Charmouth, we found the teeniest ammonites you ever saw!

Fossil Hunting in England's Jurassic - Philosophy, a Buddy, and a Gravestone

Barry found another pub he couldn't pass up - The Three Horseshoes

April 23 - We've slowed down a bit due to rain and wind. I've been studying the local strat column and guide books, and wrestling with philosophy.

How do I feel about collecting fossils? Many we collect will be used in Fremont County schools, at farmers markets and at our Cañon City Geology Club to reinvigorate our community with the understanding and appreciation for what lies beneath our feet. I asked two geologists at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre about collection of fossils. They agree with the following, taken from a local guide written by Dr. Colin Dawes:

"Is it all right to collect fossils from the beaches around Lyme Regis? The simple answer is that if you don't pick up the loose fossils derived from the shale, then the seas will, crushing them beyond recognition. Some of the best names in fossil hunting live in or near Lyme Regis and they face a constant battle in rescuing specimens that would otherwise be pounded into oblivion. Rest assured that you are doing something of a service by keeping your fossils, especially if they are subsequently shown at a school for the benefit of general education.

The cliffs are a very different story.  They are land and it is understood that anything in them belongs to the owner of that land."

I'm learning a lot apart from geology and fossils.  Barry found a cuttlefish bone (neither fish nor bone) which I find has ammonite and belemnite qualities.  The white porous 'bone' is actually an inner shell that provides buoyancy, and it shoots out ink.  Mary Anning found an ink sack in a belemnite.  She took it to an artist friend who applied water and wrote letters with it.  Fossil ink!

We have a Buddy who knocks at our front door if we aren't up early enough to please him.  He's a demanding ravenous sea gull with what seems a huge wing span when he's flapping about in the garden chasing off other gulls.  He loves day-old bread, but his curved keratinous beak is no match for two-day-old bread crust.  Thanks to Sue Ware and Todd Green's Osteology class at DMNS, I'm now much more aware of bird skeleton structure, and I've enjoyed watching the dexterity he has with his hooked beak, but also the lack of cutting power it provides.  Makes for a great door knocker, though!

We found the Anning family gravesite, with only a slight mention Mary:

"Sacred in the Memory of
Joseph Anning
Who died July the 5th 1849
Aged 53 Years
Also three Children who died in their Infancy
Also of Mary Anning sister of the above
Who died March the 9th 1847
Aged 47 Years"

Barry and I have been disappointed in the amount of fossils we've found on the beaches.  Based on our past travels in the winter to Whitby and this year to both Whitby and the south coast in the spring, I wouldn't recommend a fossil hunting trip to England's Jurassic Coast outside of the winter months.  Winter storms bash the cliffs and replenish fossils on the beach.  It's too calm this time of year, there are too many people like us out and about, and the 'flat' seas cover the beach/fossils with sand.  I prefer the bracing weather and a richer fossil find.

Around the base of the Anning grave, people have placed ammonites in a ring

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fossil Hunting in England's Jurassic - Charmouth and Seatown

Some quality time with the sea
April 21 - Charmouth and Seatown
Today's low tide:  4:30 am and 4:50 pm - giving us time to play a bit.  We've been so immersed in fossils that we're seeing them everywhere, even in our leek and potato soup.  This morning we sat on the Charmouth beach for an hour just watching the waves come and go; a couple of sea kayaks went past, one sailboat, and that was it. 

Then we drove to Seatown, had a walk up Ridge Cliff to the east, past sheep muddy from last night's rains, and found a bench at the top where we took a nap next to several badger setts.  The cliff was sheer, and with so many landslide warnings about, we only looked over a couple of times.  The sheep, however, had no hesitation about grazing absolutely on the edge, which drove Barry crazy.

Sheep without fear
View from Ridge Cliff east of Seatown, which is at center right with Golden Cap in the distance.  It gets its name from the Cretaceous sands at the top=>

Refreshed, we walked once again west of Seatown to the Green Ammonite Beds and the Belemnite layer, and for the first time in our travels we found many fossils.  The Belemnite layer is the same bed we discovered two days ago, but this time we approached from the east and the bed lay at the foot of the cliff instead of in the water. 

Close up of Golden Cap with Green Ammonite Bed along bottom half.  Belemnite Bed is located where cliff meets the sand.

Another bloke found some much larger robust belemnites, probably at the foot of Golden Cap.  I'm not certain we will venture there, considering multiple landslide warnings for that area.

Our best find of the day from the Green Ammonite Bed
The Green Ammonite layer (Lower Jurassic, Lower Lias) is named for the greenish crystals of calcite that fill the ammonites found there, and judging by the impressions in rocks left behind, someone had found some very nice fossils. The Brittle Star from the Starfish Bed eluded us; they are difficult to locate as they tend to fall Brittle Star side down on the beach.

Exposed Belemnite Beds Today's catch - ammonites and belemnites

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fossil Hunting in England's Jurassic -- West side of Charmouth

April 20 - Barry's waterproof jacket and my waterproof pants weren't.  A little bracing wind and rain made for an experience, though not the best fossil collecting.  This is the famous Black Ven area, known for massive mudslides and pyritized ammonites.  We had neither.  Barry noted that, if he'd married Claire, he could be sipping mint julip's in the Caribbean now.

Our Charmouth Heritage Coast guided fossil tour headed up by 3 geologists included many enthusiastic and knowledgeable youngsters with good eyes for belemnites among the rocks.

Fossil tour west of Charmouth
A very wet Barry in a very wet English Channel.

Today's treasures and one crab claw.

Catherine of Aragon (1501) and King Charles II (1651) slept nearby.

Fossil Hunting in England's Jurassic - East side of Charmouth Bay, Dorset

Faux shark tooth
April 19 - Today it wasn't quantity that made the day; it was the piece of wood impersonating a shark tooth found in the Belemnite Marls Beds at low tide. 'Twas exciting until the geologist smirked.

We walked 5 minutes to the beach from our Hideaway, a very sweet 2 bedroom cottage decorated with nautical flavor in Charmouth, a delightfully tiny 2-pub village a few miles from Lyme Regis.  Normally we would be able to take the cliff walk between villages, but recent land slides have closed several portions of the hike.  Heading east from Charmouth Bay, we walked the beach perhaps a mile along the base of the 450' Stonebarrow cliff toward Seatown, where we were yesterday.

Barry in foreground at foot of Stonebarrow; Charmouth village in right center of photo under green hill;  Lyme Regis is just out of view around the bay to the left.  Black Ven area behind Charmouth is home of the largest landslide area in Europe.
Many amateur fossil hunters were spread out along the cliff, including children who were more interested in their new hammers than the rocks. 

[courtesy http://www.discoveringfossils.co.uk/]
Note the steep dip of the Belemnite Marl Member until it reaches the shore (dark area in the sea at right center), accessible at low tide where belemnites protrude from the surface.
Famous Golden Cap, the 650' hill in the far distance with the Cretaceous golden sand top is currently highly unstable, so most avoid that area.

This area is known for its pyritized ammonites, belemnites, brittle stars, gryphea, nautilus, and more rarely marine reptile and fish fossils such as Pholidophous and Dapedium.

Belemnite Marl Beds with Stonebarrow behind.

But we found slim pickings until reaching the belemnite beds, where said shark tooth waited for me in a shallow pool next to modern sea urchins (not found on Iowa farms).  The belemnite beds were worth the walk.

Two belemnites, each perhaps 3" long.

Typical belemnite guard size.

Something moved when I lifted a loose slab of limestone - note live worm ??
embedded in his burrow.

I am finding the various geologic layers difficult to distinguish; they all look like mud, mud, and more mud with some shale interwoven.  These layers are older than the Whitby Mudstones I'm more familiar with.

[courtesy http://www.discoveringfossils.co.uk/]

Our not-museum-quality cache for the day - pieces of ammonites, belemnites, and crab:

Charmouth ammonite embedded in cottage wall.

Fossil Hunting in England's Jurassic - the Jurassic Coast

April 18 - Lyme Regis, Seatown, and Charmouth, Dorset

We have arrived on the Jurassic Coast, England's only natural World Heritage Site, a total of 95 miles along the southern coast on the English Channel.

Our first stop - Lyme Regis, home of Mary Anning.

The entire town pays homage to her and to ammonites - they're everywhere: decorative street lights, embedded in the pavement, in stained glass and jewelry, stuffed animals, and for sale.

Mary Anning's home, now a museum

First on the agenda was to visit the museum built on the site of her humble home where her father and mother had a shop selling fish and fossils.  It is a stunning museum filled with fossils and historical documents:

Mary Anning's museum with portraits of relatives
and Lyme Regis dignitaries.

Mary Anning's book in which she wrote
poems, hymns, and extracts from writers
 such as Byron, giving insight into her
personal feelings.

Barry, deep in thought.
A letter from Mary Anning to
William Buckland telling him she
had found another Plesiosaurus
superior to the one purchased by
the Duke of Buckingham.

William Buckland's table top made from coprolites!  His son Francis
writes, "It was often much admired by persons who had not the least
idea of what they were looking at."

Two fossil shops in town were chock full of ammonites, belemnites, brittle stars, and ichthyosaurs.

How about this one?
I think this one would look good in our house...

We then drove to Seatown, a small hamlet perhaps 6 miles east where we will do some scouting during the week, and then we backtracked a few miles west to Charmouth, another major Jurassic beach where we found our cottage ready for us a few hundred yards from the cliff edge and beach.  It's steak and potato pasty for tea, and then we'll check the tide times for tomorrow's first day of scouting the southern coast.