Friday, April 18, 2014

Fossil Hunting in England's Jurassic - Whitby Museum

Whitby Crest (with Snakestones)

Today it was off to my favorite museum in the world.  On a hill overlooking beds of spring flowers and benches waiting in the sun is a museum straight out of the 1800's - the Whitby Museum.
Known for its fossil collections, particularly Lower and Middle Jurassic ammonites and marine reptiles mounted on the walls, I felt like William Smith or William Buckland could appear around the next display cabinet at any moment, though in actuality it might instead be Roger Osborne, author of "The Floating Egg: Episodes in the Making of Geology" who just happens to be the Curator of Geology at the museum.

Marine reptiles mounted on the wall; an Ichthyosaurus platyodon at top

The 12th century Whitby Abbey, which inspired Bram Stoker's
Dracula and present day gothic weekends and B&B's
Ammonites abound in Whitby and have done so for centuries (note ammonites gracing the Whitby crest above).  The great legend explaining the coiled fossil shape of ammonites relates to St. Hilda and the abbey, now a stunning ruin of the 12th century Benedictine structure.  Prior to that, in the late 600's AD, founding Abbess Hilda tired of all the snakes about the abbey and threw them off the cliff, thus explaining 'snakestones', as ammonites are called locally.

St. Hilda's Namesake

The first marine reptile fossils found on the Yorkshire shore were discovered in the 1800's when workers moved shale in their search for alum.  A 15' Plesiosaurus propinquus (now designated Rhomaleosaurus zetlandicus) was found in Kettleness in 1844.  Here are some photos of some of the exhibits:
Bivalves and Ammonites

Ammonite display;  many are holotypes


An exhibit of contents from Kirkdale Cave, our British Porcupine Cave counterpart, displays ice age fossils from an ice age hyena den, as explained by William Buckland, who upset the church by rejecting the Noah's flood explanation for hippos, etc., being found in Britain. 

The museum also has a fascinating display of polished jet including Victorian jewelry, chess boards, and a wide variety of decorative items.  The Jurassic sidewalk leading to the museum guides visitors through the biostratigraphy with embedded fossils, marine reptiles lurking, and living fossils planted at the appropriate time frame. 

This museum is a treat.

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