Space & Science

Fishing for prehistoric fossils on the farm – Jurassic Marine World discovered in a farmer’s field

Jurassic Fish Skull 3D Model

Jurassic fish called Pachycormus. Credit: Dean Lomax

An exceptional prehistoric site containing the remains of animals that lived in a tropical sea has been discovered in a farmer’s field in Gloucestershire, England.

Discovered under a field grazed by an ancient breed of English Longhorn cattle, the fossils are incredibly well preserved. Although they are around 183 million years old, the fossils appear to have been frozen in time.

Contained in three-dimensionally preserved limestone concretions, remains of fish, ancient marine reptiles, squid, rare insects and many more have been revealed for the first time by a team of paleontologists. The fossils come from an inner layer of rock that was last exposed in the UK over 100 years ago. It represents a unique opportunity to collect fossils from a time when this part of the country was deep underwater.

The newly discovered site is at Court Farm, Kings Stanley, near Stroud, Gloucestershire. It was discovered by Sally and Neville Hollingworth, fossil collectors. They recently discovered the remains of mammoths at the nearby Cotswold Water Park, a find which was featured in the BBC One documentary “Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard” in 2021.

Sally and Neville explained: “These fossils come from the beginning Jurassic, specifically an era called the Toarcian. The layers of clay exposed at this site near Stroud have yielded a significant number of well-preserved marine vertebrate fossils which are comparable to the famously and exquisitely preserved similar fauna of the Strawberry Bank Lagerstätte of Ilminster, Somerset – a prehistoric preservation site exceptional fossil. Excavations at Kings Stanley over the past week have revealed a rich source of fossil material, in particular a layer of rare rock that has not been exposed since the late 19e Century.”

Dr. Dean Lomax, paleontologist and guest researcher at The University of Manchester, who recently led excavations for the Rutland ichthyosaur which also dates to the Toarcian geological age, was part of the team and said: “The site is quite remarkable, with many beautifully preserved fossils from ancient animals that once lived in a Jurassic Sea that covered this part of the UK during the Jurassic. Inland places with fossils like this are rare in the UK. The fossils we have collected will surely form the basis of research projects for years to come. »

“The site is quite remarkable, with many beautifully preserved fossils of ancient animals that once lived in a Jurassic sea that covered this part of the UK during the Jurassic. Inland places with fossils like this are rare in the UK. The fossils we have collected will surely form the basis of research projects for years to come. »

Dr. Dean Lomax

Many specimens collected will be donated to the park’s local museum, Stroud, where they will form an important part of the museum’s paleontology collections. One of the team, Alexia Clark, the Museum’s Documentation and Collections Manager, said: “We are delighted to expand our knowledge of the geology of the Stroud district and look forward to when we will be able to share these astonishing discoveries. with our members and visitors. Being part of the excavation team has been a real privilege and I look forward to sharing the details of this experience through our members newsletter.

Among the best finds were several fossil fish with excellent detail on their scales, fins, and even eyeballs. One of the most impressive finds was a fish head preserved in three dimensions, belonging to a Jurassic type of fish called Pachycormus. The fish appears to “jump off the rock” in which it was contained. A 3D digital model of this fossil has been created by Steven Dey of ThinkSee3D.

Field observations and preparation of the fauna found so far indicate that the Court Farm fossils were quickly buried, as suggested by the lack of encrusting animals or burrows in the sediments. The stratified concretions around the skeletons formed relatively early before the sediments were compacted, as the original stratification of the sediments is preserved. These concretions prevented further compaction and compression of the overlying sediments during burial and thus preserved the fossils in three-dimensional time capsules.

Neville added: “Using the latest fossil preparation and imaging techniques to understand this unique fauna in more detail will create a rich repository. In addition, we will leave a permanent reference section after the excavations have been completed. Given the location and the enthusiasm of the landowner and the local community to get involved, it is hoped to plan and develop a local STEM enrichment program as there will be opportunities for community groups and schools to participate in the research, particularly from the Stroud region with a goal of targeting audiences in areas with low STEM capital.

Landowner Adam Knight said: ‘I am delighted that after the initial work Sally and Nev carried out over three years ago, we now have a full scale dig on the farm involving a range of fossil experts from the Natural History Museum, The University of Manchester, University of Reading and The Open University. On Friday we were also joined by Emily Baldry (16) for a day of work experience before heading off to college to study paleontology – wonderful to see her enthusiasm for her chosen profession . It was a real pleasure to host the digs and I look forward to seeing the results of what has been found. »

The team of paleontologists is very grateful to the Geologists’ Association Curry Fund for funding the excavation phase. Going forward, the team will continue to analyze the specimens and publish their research with the fossils planned for display at the Museum in the Park, Stroud, and the Boho Bakery Café at Court Farm, Kings Stanley, Gloucestershire.

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