Yorkshire Coast Fossils

Sutures in a Jurassic ammonite fossil (cast) from Ravenscar, North Yorkshire.

What books should you buy if you’re interested in Yorkshire Coast fossils? Well, I recommend these ones:

The Geology of the Yorkshire Coast (Pete Rawson & John Wright) – Geologists Association field guide.

Trilobites, Dinosaurs & Mammoths (James McKay) – beautifully illustrated introduction to Britain’s prehistoric life.

Yorkshire Rock (Richard Bell) – another splendidly illustrated introduction, this time to the geology of Yorkshire.

The Missing Lynx (Ross Barnett) – lots of fascinating insights into Ice Age Britain.


The third class in Yorkshire Coast Fossils looks at the Cretaceous and Quaternary.

A website providing a nice introduction to the fossils of the East Yorkshire coast, and where to find them, can be found here.

Fossils of the Speeton Clay (Hull Geological Society)

Belemnites of the Speeton Clay (Northern Fells Science & Art)


The second class in Yorkshire Coast Fossils looks at the Middle and Upper Jurassic.

Hans Steur’s webpages on the Jurassic flora of North Yorkshire can be found here.

Mike Romano & Martin Whyte’s 2003 paper on the Jurassic dinosaur footprints of the Yorkshire Coast can be read here.

The 2018 paper by Sam Slater and colleagues on dinosaur-plant interactions in the Middle Jurassic of Yorkshire can be read here.

John Wright & Pete Rawson’s 2014 paper on the development of the Betton Farm coral bed can be downloaded here. There’s also a nice article here about exploring the Upper Jurassic localities of North Yorkshire by Prof Mark Wilson of Wooster College.


The slides for my first class of the Hidden Horizons course ‘Yorkshire Coast Fossils’ can be downloaded below:

The British Geological Survey‘s online Geology of Britain viewer is here, whilst the app can be downloaded here.

The Natural History Museum‘s Fossil Explorer app can be downloaded here.

The UK Fossils Network has a pretty good list of Yorkshire Coast locations where you can go fossil-hunting.

Read about Will Watts (founder of Hidden Horizons) taking Guardian writer Kevin Rushby fossil-hunting on the Yorkshire Coast in this article from 2017.

The Fossil Hunter

Trilobites: an introduction

This page provides resources for the Hidden University class ‘Trilobites: an introduction’ run by Dr Liam Herringshaw of Hidden Horizons.

Trilobites – well-worth a closer look (handmade replica of Asaphus cornutus, Ordovician, Russia, made by GeoEd Ltd at The Fossil Shop, Scarborough, UK)

The trilobites handout (including the specimen list) can be downloaded here

Online examples of some of the specimens can be found below:

Acaste downingiae (Lapworth Museum of Geology)

Asaphus cornutus (Virtual Fossil Museum)

Calymene blumenbachii (Lapworth Museum of Geology)

Cybantyx anaglyptos (GB-3D Type Fossils)

Cybeloides girvanensis (Scottish Journal of Geology)

Cyphaspis ceratophthalma (trilowelt.de)

Geragnostus callavei (GB-3D Type Fossils)

The slides for the second online class can be downloaded as a PowerPoint file here:

And as a pdf here:

The slides for the first online class can be downloaded as a PowerPoint file here:

And as a pdf here:

An Introduction To Fossils

The materials used/mentioned in my Hidden Horizons online palaeontology course, An Introduction To Fossils, can be found below.

The specimens in the GeoEdDiversity of Life‘ set are as follows:

Fossil nameFossil typeHigher groupAgeWhere from?
Acervularia luxurans CoralCnidariansSilurianUK
Albertosaurus sp.Dinosaur toothReptilesLate CretaceousCanada
Calymene blumenbachiiTrilobiteArthropodsSilurianDudley, UK
CheirotheriumReptile footprintTrace fossilsTriassicGermany/UK
DiplomystusFishRay-finned fishEoceneWyoming, USA
Echioceras quenstedtiAmmoniteMolluscsEarly JurassicDorset, UK
Gissocrinus typusCrinoid (sea lily)EchinodermsSilurianUK
Hefriga serrataShrimpArthropodsLate JurassicGermany
Ichthyosaurus sp.Ichthyosaur toothMarine reptilesEarly JurassicUK
Neuropteris scheuchzeriPlantPteridospermsCarboniferousIllinois, USA
Otodus obliquusShark toothCartilaginous fishEoceneKent, UK
Phymosoma koenigiEchinoid (sea urchin)EchinodermsCretaceousKent, UK
Basic classification of fossil specimens in GeoEd ‘Diversity of Life’ set.

Slides for class 3 (PowerPoint)

Slides for class 3 (pdf)

Did sharks evolve from a bony fish? (Guardian article, based on this scientific paper by Martin Brazeau and colleagues)

Fossil fish of Caithness – if you’re ever in north-east Scotland, go fishing!

Fossil Focus: Ichthyosaurs

Why are birds the only surviving dinosaurs? (NHM article)

Steno‘s 1667 diagram interpreting glossopetrae as fossil shark teeth.

Slides for class 2 (PowerPoint)

Slides for class 2 (pdf)

I talked about ammonite shells having distinctive sutures. Here is a nice example from the Middle Jurassic of Ravenscar, North Yorkshire:

If the tremendous trilobites caught your fancy, meanwhile, you can sign up for our “Trilobites: An Introduction” online class (December 2020) here!

GeoEd Trilobite Collection (13 handmade replica trilobite fossils)

Slides from class 1 (PowerPoint)

Slides from class 1 (pdf)

Geological timescale (from the International Commission on Stratigraphy)

Diversity of life (biology introduction)

Animal evolution (paper by Telford and colleague, 2015)

If you’re out and about hunting fossils in the UK, the Natural History Museum’s Fossil Explorer app is very useful. The NHM also have plenty of fantastic fossil information more generally, too.

For all the latest information on activities online or in the Fossil Shop, please keep an eye on the Hidden Horizons website!

And to find other fossily teaching resources here on fossilhub, please click on the fossils hashtag.

Chalking With Dinosaurs, part 5

After an interval of many months, I’ve been prompted to finally produce a fifth part of Chalking With Dinosaurs, featuring me making footprints in the sands of Scarborough’s South Bay, and then hunting dinosaur footprints in the rocks of the South Cliff:

The video features as part of my live ‘Chalking With Dinosaurs’ talks at the Lyme Regis Virtual Fossil Festival and the Geologists Association’s Virtual Festival of Geology.

Should you wish to print out a copy of the CWD handout that features at the end of the video, you can download it here:

A Geological History of Yorkshire

Middle Jurassic trace fossils from the Yorkshire coast

Below are materials and links for my course ‘A Geological History of Yorkshire’

PowerPoint slideshow:

PDF handout of slideshow:

Geological timescale (International Commission on Stratigraphy): https://stratigraphy.org/chart

The rock cycle: http://geologycafe.com/erosion/rock_cycle_illustrated.html

John Phillips’ 1855 geological map of Yorkshire: http://www.geology.19thcenturyscience.org/books/1855-Phillips-Yorkshire/figures/1855-Phillips-Yorkshire-p0030.jpg

Yorkshire Geological Society introduction to the geological history of Yorkshire: http://earthwise.bgs.ac.uk/index.php/Geological_history_of_Yorkshire

For a broader overview of the geology of Northern England, this page from the British Geological Survey is very helpful: http://earthwise.bgs.ac.uk/index.php/Northern_England_%E2%80%93_introduction_to_geology

Fossilympics20 Medal Table & Results

Held from Saturday August 1st to Friday August 14th 2020, Fossilympics20 was run by Liam Herringshaw on Twitter under the auspices of the Yorkshire Fossil Festival. Here are the final results and medal table.

Fossilympics20 Final Medal Table

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Carbon Group0101
Medal table of the 2020 Fossilympics.


1. Acritarchery (Sunday August 2nd) – Gold: Tasmanites (Australia) – 10 votes, Silver: Leiosphaeridia (Baltica) – 8 votes (with 2690 Google Scholar hits on countback); Bronze: Actinotodissus (Belgium) – 8 votes (with 98 Google Scholar hits on countback); 4th place: Shuiyousphaeridium (China) – 4 votes.

Please stand for the national anthem of Tasmanites acritarchery:

Tasmin Archer – Sleeping Satellite

2. Javelingula (Sunday August 2nd) – Gold: Linguliforms (Brachiopoda) – 6 votes; Silver: Terebratulids (Brachiopoda) – 5 votes; Bronze: Rhynchonelliforms (Brachiopoda) – 4 votes. 4th place: Craniiforms (Brachiopoda) – 2 votes.

Please stand for the notional anthem of linguliform brachiopods:

Cranberries – Linger

3. Cycling: Road Race (Monday August 3rd) – Gold: Wensley Dale (YOR) – 12 votes; Silver: Milutin Milankovic (SER) – 10 votes; Bronze: James Croll (SCO) – 4 votes; 4th place: Joseph Aldhemar (FRA) – 2 votes.

Please stand for the national anthem of Wensleydale:

Wallace & Gromit – A Grand Day Out

4. Swimming: 200 Ma (Monday August 3rd) – Gold: Ichthyosaurus anningae (GBR) – 21 votes; Silver: Gryphaea arcuata (FRA) – 9 votes (with 953 Google Scholar hits on countback); Bronze: Psiloceras planorbis (GBR) – 9 votes (with 765 Google Scholar hits on countback); 4th place – Sphenosuchus acutus (RSA) – 2 votes.

Please stand for the fossil anthem of Mary Anning’s ichthyosaur:

Billy Murray – She Sells Sea Shells.

5. Gymnostics (Tuesday August 4th) – Gold: Ginkgo (GKG) – 9 votes; Silver: Cycas (CYC) – 3 votes (with 21400 Google Scholar hits on countback); Bronze: Wollemia (PIN) – 3 votes (with 1820 Google Scholar hits on countback); 4th place: Araucaria (PIN) – 2 votes.

Please stand for the maiden-hair raising anthem of the clade Ginkgophyta:

Iron Maiden – Run To The Hills

6. Charniodiscus (Tuesday August 4th) – Gold: Mistaken Point (CAN) – 34 votes; Silver: Ediacara Hills (AUS) – 22 votes; Bronze: Charnwood (GBR) – 21 votes; 4th place: White Sea (RUS) – 5 votes.

Please stand for the anthem of Mistaken Point:

Great Big Sea – End of the World

7. Stable Tennis (Wed August 5th) – Gold: Oxygen-18 (CHL) – 11 votes; Silver: Carbon-13 (CRB) – 5 votes; Bronze: Nitrogen-15 (PNI) and Sulfur-34 (CHL) – 2 votes each.

Please stand for the periodic anthem of oxygen:

Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygene, part IV

8. Rowing: Single Skulls (Wed August 5th) – Gold: Elginia mirabilis (SCO) – 14 votes; Silver: Homo floresiensis (INA) – 7 votes; Bronze: Nedoceratops hatcheri (USA) and Nemegtosaurus mongoliensis (MON) – 2 votes each.

Please stand for the rocking anthem of a man from Elgin who wanted to be an archaeologist:

Lord Rockingham’s XI – Hoots Mon

9. Noderm Pentathlon (Thu August 6th) – Gold: Edriasteroids (ECH) – 14 votes; Silver: Ctenocystoids (ECH) – 10 votes; Bronze: Stylophorans (ECH) – 9 votes; 4th place: Diploporitans (ECH) – 4 votes.

Please stand for the star-stuck anthem of edrioasteroids:

Elvis Presley – Stuck On You

10. Wavelifting (Thus August 6th) – Gold: Rudist bivalves (MOL) – 14 votes; Silver: Archaeocyathids (PRF) – 11 votes; Bronze: Tabulate corals (CNI) – 7 votes; 4th place: Stromatoporoids (PRF) – 1 vote.

Please stand for the reefal anthem of the rudists:

The Specials – A Message To You Rudy

11. Cycling (Track) (Fri August 7th) – Gold: Cruziana (ICH) – 13 votes; Silver: Psammichnites (ICH) – 3 votes; Bronze: Climactichnites (ICH) – 2 votes; 4th place: Plagiogmus (ICH) – 1 vote.

Please stand for the ichnological anthem of Cruziana:

Laura Veirs – I Can See Your Tracks

12. Decapodathlon (Fri August 7th) – Gold: Thalassinoides (ICH) – 9 votes; Silver: Rhizocorallium (ICH) – 4 votes (with 3240 Google Scholar hits on countback); Bronze: Gyrolithes (ICH) – 4 votes (with 1210 Google Scholar hits on countback); 4th place: Ophiomorpha (ICH) – 1 vote.

Please stand for the ichnological anthem of Thalassinoides:

B-52s – Rock Lobster

13. Taxonomic Wastebasketball (Sat August 8th) – Gold: Acritarcha (PRB) – 5 votes; Silver: Thecodontia (REP) – 4 votes; Bronze: Tullimonstrum (BIL) – 3 votes. Did not finish: Gluteus minimus (PRB) – 0 votes.

Please stand for the anthem of unknown origin:

Patti Smith – Fire of Unknown Origin

14. 444 Ma Hurdles (Sat August 8th) – Gold: Hirnantia (BRC) – 5 votes (with 1280 Google Scholar hits on countback); Silver: Normalograptus (HEM) – 5 votes (with 806 Google Scholar hits on countback). No bronze medal awarded as neither Spinachitina nor Natiscotecella received any votes.

Please stand for the dancing anthem of some kinkish brachiopods from a cwm:

Kinks – Come Dancing

15. Swimming – 100 Ma Freestyle (Sun August 9th) – Gold: Plesiopleurodon (REP) – 10 votes; Silver: Hibolites (MOL) – 6 votes; Bronze: Mantelliceras (MOL) – 5 votes; 4th place: Elosuchus (REP) – 4 votes.

Please stand for the anthem of pleasing discoveries made by Carpenters:

Carpenters – Please Mr Postman

16. 100 Ma (Sun August 9th) – Gold: Spinosaurus (EGY) – 6 votes; Silver: Argentinosaurus (ARG) – 5 votes; Bronze: Giganotosaurus (ARG) and Muttaburrasaurus (AUS) – 2 votes each.

Please stand for the semi-aquatic anthem of Egypt:

Madness – Night Boat to Cairo

17. Swimming – 375 Ma Front Crawl (Mon August 10th) – Gold: Tiktaalik (CAN) – 12 votes; Silver: Acanthostega (GRN) – 10 votes; Bronze: Ichthyostega (GRN) and Panderichthys (LAT) – 5 votes each.

Please stand (if you can) for the anthem of Tiktaalik:

The Indoorfins – Tiktaalik (Your Inner Fish)

18. 1500 Ma (Mon August 10th) – Gold: Calcified cyanobacteria (BAC) – 7 votes; Silver: Sphaeromorph acritarchs (PRB) – 4 votes; Bronze: Bangiaceans (RHO) and Horodyskia (PRB) – 2 votes each.

Please stand for the calcified anthem of some-are-in-cyan-obacteria:

Pogues – Summer in Siam

19. Beach molleyball (Tues August 11th) – Gold: Cephalopoda (MOL) – 9 votes; Silver: Bivalvia (MOL) – 5 votes; Bronze: Gastropoda (MOL) – 4 votes; 4th place: Polyplacophora (MOL) – 2 votes.

Please stand for the submarine anthem of cephalopods:

Beatles – Octopus’s Garden

20. Polar Vault (Tues August 11th) – Gold: Diplomoceras maximum (MOL) – 17 votes; Silver: Singhisporites hystrix (PLA) – 3 votes; Bronze: Calyptocephalella sp. (AMP) and Palaeeudyptes klekowskii (AVE) – 2 votes each.

Please stand for the golden, sea-is-your-sunshine anthem from a maximum high:

Shed Seven – Going For Gold

21. Triarthlon (Wed August 12th) – Gold: Calymene blumenbachii (AVA) – 19 votes; Silver: Paradoxides davidis (AVA) – 5 votes; Bronze: Olenellus thompsoni (LAU) – 4 votes; 4th place: Agnostus pisiformis (BAL) – 2 votes.

Please stand for the rocksy anthem of Avalonia:

Roxy Music – Avalon

22. 800 Ma (Wed August 12th) – Gold: Quadrireticulum (CAN) – 8 votes; Silver: Longfengshania (CHN) – 5 votes; Bronze: Sinosabellidites (CHN) – 3 votes; 4th place: Cycliocyrillium (USA) – 1 vote.

Please stand for the quadri-phonic anthem of marine who-dunnits:

The Who – Sea and Sand

23. 50 Ma Butterfly (Thurs August 13th) – Gold: Archaeolepis (GBR) – 5 votes; Silver: Prodryas (USA) – 2 votes (plus 69 Google Scholar hits on countback); Bronze: Protocoeliades (DEN) – 2 votes (plus 10 Google Scholar hits on countback). DNF: Praepapilio (USA).

Please stand for the anthem of little wings:

Jimi Hendrix – Little Wing

24. Marellathon (Thurs August 13th) – Gold: Burgess Shale (CAN) – 20 votes; Silver: Chengjiang (CHN) – 17 votes; Bronze: Sirius Passet (GRN) – 10 votes; 4th place: Wheeler Shale (USA) – 5 votes.

Please stand for the Burgessian anthem of palaeontological oddity:

Charlatans – Weirdo

25. Synchronized Swimming (Fri August 14th) – Gold: Dinoflagellates (ALV) – 8 votes (plus 104,000 Google Scholar hits on countback); Silver: Ammonites (MOL) – 8 votes (plus 65,000 Google Scholar hits on countback); Bronze: Graptolites (HEM) – 6 votes; 4th place: Foraminifera (RHZ) – 5 votes.

Please stand for the evo-devo anthem of the whirling whip creatures:

26. 4 x 10 Ma Relay (Fri August 14th) – Gold: Team Gryphaea (FRA/GBR) – 8 votes; Silver: Team Dino-bird (GER/CHN) – 6 votes; Bronze: Team Cetacea (PAK) – 3 votes. Did not finish: Team Equid (USA) – 0 votes.

Please stand for the devilish anthem of fossil bivalves that often end up as rolling stones:

Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil

Congratulations to all our Fossilympic medallists, and thanks to everyone who took part in #Fossilympics20. I very much hope you can join us for #Fossilympics21 next summer!

And if you’ve not yet listened to The Fossil Song, now would be a very good time to do so!

The Fossil Song (commissioned by the Great North Museum: Hancock)


Events & competitors

Fossilympics 2020 Schedule

This year’s inaugural Fossilympics is unsurprisingly experimental. The details of the dates, events, and competitors can be found below (subject to final ratification from the Intentional Obrution Committee).

The medal table will be a load of old nonsense, lumping together modern political entities, palaeocontinents, and taxonomic groups, but what the heck. It’s no worse than any of the metrics used by the UK Government to assess higher education. Abbreviations used are explained at the end of this post.

Saturday August 1st

– (AM) Acritarchery. Archery is one of the oldest sports, and commonly one of the earliest events at an Olympic Games. Acritarchery is an even older, earlier pursuit, requiring an equally steady hand (and even higher-powered eyesight) to challenge for the medals. 2020 competitors: Leiosphaeridia (BAL), Shuiyousphaeridium/Dictyosphaera plexus (CHN), Tasmanites (AUS), Actinotodissus (BEL).

(Form guide: Heda Agić’s introduction to acritarchs).

–(PM) Javelingula. This exciting field event pits four of the finest brachiopod clades in a pedicle-to-pedicle battle. For those brachiopods not having pedicles, winning the event is even tougher. 2020 competitors: Lingulids (BRC), Craniids (BRC), Rhynchonellids (BRC), Terebratulids (BRC).

(Form guide: Sandra Carlson’s paper on the evolution of Brachiopoda: https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-earth-060115-012348)

Sunday August 2nd

– (AM) Cycling (road race). At the Fossilympics, the cycling road race is always held on an orbital route, over a distance of either 23k, 41k or 100k. Milankovitch of Serbia is the hot/cold favourite, but Croll and Adhémar should not be overlooked, and Yorkshire’s own Yoredale offers a measure of coal-powered competition. 2020 competitors: Milankovitch (SER), Croll (SCO), Yoredale (YOR), Adhémar (FRA).

(Form guide: https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2948/milankovitch-orbital-cycles-and-their-role-in-earths-climate/)

– (PM) Swimming: 200 Ma. Having made it through a tough qualifying event in the late Triassic extinction, the swimmers in the Fossilympics 200 Ma must combine speed and stamina if they want to claim an Early Jurassic GSSP, let alone their place on the podium. 2020 competitors: Psiloceras planorbis (GBR) – watch it! This summer, set a biozone record that will be tough to beat! Sphenosuchus acutus (RSA) – just because it’s a crocodylomorph doesn’t mean it can swim! Ichthyosaurus anningae (GBR) – sweet Mary, this one’s got a chance! Gryphaea arcuata (FRA) – ok, the adults are pretty disinclined to swimming, but marvel at their larval dispersal!

Monday August 3rd

– (AM) Gymnostics. Which of these gymnosperms are living fossils? Spoiler: none of them, as there’s no such thing! Which of them is in with a chance of a medal? Well, that depends on you… 2020 Competitors: Ginkgo (GKG), Wollemia (PIN), Araucaria (PIN), Cycas (CYC).

– (PM) Charniodiscus. What’s the world’s most frondosous Ediacaran field site? 2020 Competitors: Mistaken Point (CAN), Ediacara Hills (AUS), Charnwood (GBR), White Sea (RUS).

Tuesday August 4th

– (AM) Stable tennis. Best stable isotope used in palaeontological analysis? 2020 Competitors: δ15N (PNI), δ13Corg (CRB), δ18O (CHL), δ34S (CHL).

– (PM) Rowing – single skulls. Best controversial fossil with only one cranial specimen? 2020 Competitors: Elginia mirabilis (SCO), Nedoceratops hatcheri (USA), Homo floresiensis (INA), Nemegtosaurus mongoliensis (MON).

Wednesday August 5th

– (AM) Noderm Pentathlon. There aren’t five events here. There aren’t even five competitors. However, recent work by Deline et al. (2020) has shown there are four basic echinoderm bodyplans, so you just need to decide which of these extinct examples is your favourite. 2020 Competitors: Ctenocystoid homalozoans (ECH), diploporitans (ECH), stylophorans (ECH), edrioasteroids (ECH).

– (PM) Wavelifting. Which extinct reef-building group best bore the weight of the world on its shoulders? Cnidarians and molluscs are always tough competitors; let’s hope the putative sponges soak up the pressure and don’t end up on the porifery. 2020 Competitors: Archaeocyathids (PRF), tabulate corals (CNI), rudist bivalves (MOL), stromatoporoids (PRF). Oh, and whilst we’re at it, isn’t the Digital Atlas of Ancient Life a wonderful thing? And the PalaeoReefs Database too!

Thursday August 6th

– (AM) Cycling (track). Best trace fossil that looks like it was made by a bike? 2020 Competitors: Cruziana (ICH), Climactichnites (ICH), Plagiogmus (ICH), Psammichnites (ICH).

– (PM) Decapodathlon. Best trace fossil that might have been made by a decapod crustacean? 2020 Competitors: Thalassinoides (ICH), Ophiomorpha (ICH), Rhizocorallium (ICH), Gyrolithes (ICH).

Friday August 7th

– (AM) Taxonomic Wastebasketball. Judging sporting events is always tricky, but this one is the most problematical of all. 2020 Competitors: Tullimonstrum gregarium (BIL) State fossil of Illinois, and I’ll annoy various people if I assess its medal chances, Acritarcha (PRB) surely the greatest taxonomic wastebasket of the fossil record? Thecodontia (REP) – socket to us, basal paraphyletic archosaurs! Gluteus minimus (PRB) it’s an arse to classify, but can this small but perfectly formed taxon muscle in on the big-hitters?

– (PM) 444 Ma Hurdles. The toughest event of them all, surviving the first of the Big Five mass extinctions, in conditions very cold, very hot, both, or neither. 2020 Competitors: Hirnantia (BRC, reigning champion); Normalograptus (HEM, a graptolite in the zone); Spinachitina (PRB, we don’t know what chitinozoans are, but this one’s surely a winner); Natiscotecella (BRY, sessile lophophorate it may be, but there are no loafers in this four).

Saturday August 8th

– (AM) Swimming – 100 Ma freestyle. The Cenomanian challengers (two vertebrate, two invertebrate) looking to chalk up a victory. 2020 Competitors: The Tethyan-derived belemnite Hibolites (MOL), The fast-moving ammonite Mantelliceras (MOL), The North African crocodilian Elosuchus (REP), The North American plesiosaur Plesiopleurodon (REP), which could win it by a short neck.

– (PM) 100 Ma. The Cenomanian is a prime time for these behemoths to battle for a Cretaceous crown. Which one will chalk up a victory? 2020 Competitors: Argentinosaurus (ARG), Spinosaurus (EGY), Giganotosaurus (ARG), Muttaburrasaurus (AUS).

Sunday August 9th

– (AM) Swimming – 375 Ma front crawl. Who can make it out onto land by the end of the event? And will they be disqualified if they do? 2020 Competitors: Ichthyostega (GRN), Panderichthys (LAT), Tiktaalik (CAN, has been training at high latitude), Acanthostega (GRN).

– (PM) 1500 Ma. Who’s going to grab the Mesoproterozoic medals? Eukaryotes, prokaryotes, Problematica? Only time will tell! 2020 Competitors: Sphaeromorph acritarchs (PRB); Horodyskia (PRB); Calcified cyanobacteria (BAC); Bangiacean red algae (RHO).

Monday August 10th

– (AM) Beach molleyball. It’s #MolluscMonday, and we need to know your most arenaceous shallow marine taxon of the Phylum Mollusca! 2020 Competitors: Polyplacophora (MOL), Gastropoda (MOL), Cephalopoda (MOL), Bivalvia (MOL).

– (PM) Polar vault. The fossil record of Antarctica has yielded some fabulous finds. But which one springs a surprise and gets your vote? And which one leaps to the top of the podium? 2020 competitors: the giant penguin Palaeeudyptes klekowskii (AVE); the giant paperclip ammonite Diplomoceras maximum (MOL); the helmeted frog Calyptocephalella sp. (AMP); the Permian porcupine megaspore Singhisporites hystrix (PLA).

Tuesday August 11th

– (AM) Triarthlon. Whether burrowing, crawling, or swimming is your strength, as long as you’ve got three lobes you’re in the medal hunt. 2020 Competitors: Paradoxides davidis (AVA), Agnostus pisiformis (BAL, could be disqualified taxonomically by the judges), Calymene blumenbachii (AVA), Olenellus thompsoni (LAU).

– (PM) 800 Ma. If you’ve not grabbed gold in the 1500 Ma, perhaps the 800 Ma is your time instead? 2020 Competitors: Longfengshania (CHN), Sinosabellidites (CHN), Cycliocyrillium (USA), Quadrireticulum (CAN).

Wednesday August 12th

– (AM) 50 Ma Butterfly. A pretty small Eocene pool, and one of the competitors has already been dead 100 million years, but the fossil record of butterflies (and moths) is always sensitively dependent on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. 2020 Competitors: Protocoeliades kristenseni (DEN: late Palaeocene, Fur Formation); Praepapilio colorado (USA: middle Eocene, Colorado); Prodryas persephone (USA: late Eocene, Colorado); Archaeolepis mane (GBR: Jurassic, Dorset). Might be quite hard for A. mane to win the butterfly, as it is very old, only has one wing, and is a moth, but one thing the Fossilympics can guarantee is surprises.

– (PM) Marellathon. More than 26 Ma of explosive competition in the Middle Cambrian, and the fieldwork looks very strong indeed. 2020 Competitors: Chengjiang (CHN), Burgess Shale (CAN), Wheeler Shale (USA), Sirius Passet (GRN).

Thursday August 13th

– (AM) Synchronized swimming. The final event in the pool, and things are bound to heat up as biostratigraphic usefulness gets put to the test, and synchronicity scrutinized. Sure to be fiercely contested by these most widespread of taxa. 2020 Competitors: Ammonites (MOL), Foraminifera (RHZ), Graptolites (HEM), Dinoflagellates (ALV).

– (PM) 4 x 10 Ma relay. The final event in the Fossilympics, and speed doesn’t matter here; it’s teamwork and survival that’s the key. Can your quartet pass on the evolutionary baton successfully enough to win the vote? 2020 Competitors: The gryphaeids (FRA/GBR: Gryphaea arcuata [first 2 legs, even though it doesn’t have any], G. maccullochi, G. gigantea); The equids HyracotheriumMesohippusMerychippusEquus (USA, galloping across the line); the dino-birds (Archaeopteryx and friends (GER/CHN), flying round the bend); the cetaceans Pakicetus-Ambulocetus-Kutchicetus-Rodhocetus (PAK, making a swim for it).

Friday August 14th

– Final medal table and Closing ceremony.

NOTE. Normally, morning events begin at 0900 BST and run for 24 hours, and evening events begin at 1700 BST and run for 24 hours. However, these are subject to change.

ABBREVIATIONS: ALV – Alveolata, AMP – Amphibia; ARG – Argentina; ART – Arthropoda; AUS – Australia; AVA – Avalonia; AVE – Aves; BAL – Baltica; BEL – Belgium; BIL – Bilateria; BRC – Brachiopoda; BRY – Bryozoa; CAN – Canada; CHL – Chalcogens; CHN – China; CNI – Cnidaria; CRB – Carbon Group; CYA – Cyanobacteria; CYC – Cycadophyta; ECH – Echinodermata; EGY – Egypt; FRA – France; GBR – Great Britain & Northern Ireland; GER – Germany; GKG – Ginkgophyta; GRN – Greenland; HEM – Hemichordata; ICH – Ichnotaxa; INA – Indonesia; LAT – Latvia; LAU – Laurentia; MOL – Mollusca; MON – Mongolia; PAK – Pakistan; PIN – Pinophyta; PLA – Plantae; PNI – Pnictogens; PRB – Problematica; PRF – Porifera; PRT – Protista; REP – Reptilia; RHO – Rhodophyta; RHZ – Rhizaria; RSA – Republic of South Africa; RUS – Russia; SCO – Scotland; SER – Serbia; USA – United States of America; YOR – Yorkshire.

The Fossilympics

With neither the Yorkshire Fossil Festival nor the Olympic Games able to happen this year, and with my academic career coming to an end this month, I’ve decided I might as well do something daft to while away the summer weeks, and have created…the Fossilympics!

Starting on Saturday August 1st 2020, the Fossilympics will run on Twitter, through the Yorkshire Fossil Festival account (@yorksfossilfest). It will feature 13 days of top-strat competition, pitting Ginkgo against Wollemia, stable isotope against stable isotope, and Mesoproterozoic Problematicum against Mesoproterozoic Problematicum.

Ginkgo for gold?
Wollemia for the win?

Over the duration of competition, there will be separate events each day, one in the morning and one in the evening, from Acritarch-ery and Gymno-stics to the Charnio-discus and Decapod-athlon, giving extinct critters more than 20 chances for gold. Far more importantly, though, the #Fossilympics aims to promote as wide a variety of fossils as possible, from right across the biological spectrum, and from throughout geological time. It’s the taking part that counts, after all.

Each event will be run as a 24-hour Twitter poll. As these only allow 4 options, each event only has four competitors, meaning the lucky quartet have a 75% chance of getting a medal. What medal that is, though, will depend on how people decide to vote. And this is where the fossil knowledge of palaeo-Twitter comes into full force, as people – hopefully! – serve up support to enable the crowd to get behind their favourite fossil and cheer it on to gold!


The full Fossilympic schedule can be found below, and I’ll be using the hashtag #Fossilympics20 to provide all the latest updates on Twitter. There might even be a medal table. And we’ll start with the Opening Ceremony, live from Yorkshire, next #FossilFriday, July 31st.

So, for the first vote, what should the #Fossilympics motto be? I’ve come up with two candidate slogans, and am abrogating responsibility to a public vote. Will it be “Tardius, durius, diutius” or “Animale, vegetabile, mineralis”?

Fossilympics 2020 schedule

Saturday August 1st – (AM) Acritarchery; (PM) Javelingula

Sunday August 2nd – (AM) Cycling (road race); (PM) Swimming – 200 Ma

Monday August 3rd – (AM) Gymnostics; (PM) Charniodiscus

Tuesday August 4th – (AM) Stable tennis; (PM) Rowing – single skulls

Wednesday August 5th – (AM) Noderm Pentathlon; (PM) Weightlifting

Thursday August 6th – (AM) Cycliing (track); (PM) Decapodathlon

Friday August 7th – (AM) Taxonomic Wastebasketball; (PM) 444 Ma Hurdles

Saturday August 8th – (AM) Swimming – 100 Ma freestyle; (PM) 100 Ma

Sunday August 9th – (AM) Swimming – 375 Ma front crawl; (PM) 1500 Ma

Monday August 10th – (AM) Beach molluscball; (PM) Pole vault

Tuesday August 11th – (AM) Triathlon; (PM) 800 Ma

Wednesday August 12th – (AM) 50 Ma Butterfly; (PM) Marellathon

Thursday August 13th – (AM) Synchronized swimming; (PM) 4 x 10 Ma relay

Friday August 14th – Final medal table and Closing ceremony.

Trapped Wind

The Fascinatingly Fortuitous Fossilization of Farts

There are people out there who don’t think palaeontology is astonishing, and they are quite wrong. To prove this, here is a 20 million-year-old cockroach fart, fossilized in amber:

Image from Poinar in Boucot & Poinar (2011) – (C) Routledge / CRC Press / Taylor & Francis.

The late lamented Dr WHO once told me “serendipity is looking for a needle in a haystack and finding the famer’s daughter.” I think my version is now “looking for an expert on fungal nodules and finding the world’s oldest fossilized fart.”

It began on Twitter, where Stuart Petch sent myself and Paolo Viscardi an Instagram image of his friend Harry’s lump of amber, wondering if the white blobs in it might be fungus nodules. It meant nothing to me, but my dear friend Dr Leyla Seyfullah at the University of Vienna is an expert on fossil plants, fungi, and amber, so I Facebooked her for her thoughts.

Meanwhile, Paolo asked his friend Lee Davies, a mycologist at Kew, if he had any advice. After a bit of searching, Lee said that the oldest example of a fungal farm he could find was about 25 million years old, which was quite exciting, as this piece of Baltic amber was up to* 20 million years older!

A beetle in Baltic amber (image by Anders L. Damgaard, from Wikimedia Commons)

Over on Facebook, though, Leyla was swift to reply, and this cranked my excitement levels up to 11. “Termites eat dead plants,” she said. “To be able to digest dead plants, you need masses of gut microbiota. As the dead plants are digested by the gut microbiota, gases are produced. What you are seeing are lots of termites with clear fossilized farts…”

Sorry, hold your fossilized termites one moment, Dr Seyfullah. Did you just say FOSSILIZED FARTS?

“…as their gut microbiota kept breaking down food after the termites got stuck in the resin. Sometimes the termites ripped themselves a bit as they struggled in the sticky resin, so the gases escaped through any exit out of the termite.”

She added that, despite termites being ‘notoriously gassy’ not *all* the bubbles were of digestive origin (plenty could just be trapped air bubbles), but by that point I was miles away, in paroxysms of resinated guffery, searching for ‘fossilized farts‘ on Google.

Reader, I found some, in a chapter by George Poinar in the Fossil Behavior Compendium he wrote with Art Boucot in 2011. They are from the amber deposits of the Dominican Republic, which Poinar has studied in great detail and which Seyfullah et al. (2018) describe as being 16 to 18 million years old.

An ant (or maybe a termite?) in Dominican amber (image from Wikimedia Commons, taken by Brocken Inaglory)

Melissa Stewart’s Blasts of Gas then mentioned that Lynn Margulis had analysed the chemistry of fossil termite farts in 2002, so I had to dig out that scientific paper. ‘Spirochete and protist symbionts of a termite (Mastotermes electrodominicus) in Miocene amber’ by Wier et al. (2002) focusses primarily on the micro-organisms preserved in the termite’s gut. The Dominican amber fossilization is exceptional, extraordinary.

The authors do, however, mention that the amber termites are ‘invariably preserved with bubbles that emanate from thoracic or abdominal spiracles’ and that the bubbles contain ethylene, methane, and carbon dioxide.

“We propose that these gases were generated in large quantity by the unique hindgut microbial community, and exuded as the insect was immersed in the viscous resin” (Wier et al., 2002). I never doubted Leyla for a moment, of course, but it’s always handy to have a precedent: fossil farts from a 16-18 million year-old termite!

But yes, it’s only 16 to 18 million years old. The Baltic amber termites are at least 7 million years older, and more likely at least 16 million years older. The oldest fossil fungal farm? The oldest termite ? The oldest fossil fart? The possibilities are effervescent.

In conclusion, a Facebook reply to a Twitter post about an Instagram photo confirms that palaeontologists should definitely use social media, because the most amazing things can bubble up as a consequence. I just wish I’d know about fossil farts when I wrote this article for the Conversation.

Startlingly, this isn’t the Lego version of me.

*according to Kettunen et al. (2018), Baltic amber can be between 25 and 43 million years old, whilst Seyfullah et al. (2018) state that it is 34-48 million years old, so there’s quite a lot of potential variation in this figure. Such are the joys of biostratigraphy.

Rolling with dinosaurs

After Chalking With Dinosaurs with Burnsy on BBC Radio Humberside this week, I intended my next post to be on the Megalosaurus trackways of Oxfordshire. However, my better half then showed me this video:

We immediately found ourselves thinking: “That would be cool with dinosaur feet!”

Then we thought “Actually, it would be cooler with correctly sized dinosaur feet that could produce some sort of trackway…”

So this is what we did…

1) Get together all the kit you might possibly need (different sized tubes for rolling, cardboard for making feet with, pens and pencils, tape measures, scissors, cocktail sticks/kebab skewers to attach the feet to the rolling tube).

All the kit you need to make a rolling dinosaur foot trackmaker!

2) Decide that the smallest tube needs to be an ornithopod, the medium-sized tube a theropod, and the largest tube a sauropod. Measure the diameters of the tubes to work out the ‘hip height’ of the dinosaur (the fully extended length of the leg when the foot hits the ground), and divide that number by 4 to come up with a proportional size for the foot.

Tube diameter (leg length) = 45 mm, so foot length = 11.25 mm

Tube diameter (leg length) = 94 mm, so foot length = 23.5 mm

2b) Then remember that sauropods aren’t quite the same as ornithopods or theropods, and consult a paper by Bernardo J. Gonzalez Riga to come up with some better-looking numbers. Decide to save the sauropod rolling trackway making for next time.

3) For a bit of ancestral accuracy, use the feather of an extant theropod to colour in the tiny feet of your rolling theropod trackmaker.

4) Cut out the feet, tape each of them onto a short bit of cocktail stick, then tape them to the inside of the rolling tube. Then realize they’re not thick enough to touch the ground when the tube rolls, so take them off again and add more card until they are. We did this for the ‘ornithopod’ on the small tube, though the challenge of cutting out small cardboard feet accurately means they are best described simply as tridactyl.

5) Find a reasonably large tray and cover with some kind of soft sediment. In this case, I used gardeners’ silver sand, but I’m sure flour or salt or sugar could work.

6) Roll the foot-bearing tube across the sand to see if it works, and – hey presto! – a dinosaur trackway. Yes, ok, it’s a one-legged dinosaur with an implausibly wide gait, but this is a work in progress!

A dinosaur trackway made in fine-grained sand by a rolling tube on my kitchen table. Fossilization potential: low.

7) To work out how fast the dinosaur was moving, measure the stride length. Here it was 150mm, give or take:

Trackway stride length, measured from heel to heel.

8) Divide stride length by leg length to get the relative stride length (RSL). If the RSL ratio is 2 or less, it is walking. If it is 2.0 to 2.9, it is trotting, and if it is 2.9 or more, it is running. The measured stride length here (150 mm) divided by the leg length (45 mm) yields an RSL value of 3.33, which means…

(I’m not aware of any evidence from the trace fossil record of tiny, wide dinosaurs hopping at high speed, but at least now we know what kind of trackway we’re looking for.)

Another – probably more genuinely ichnologically useful – thing is that, even with just two footprints made by the same cardboard foot in uniform dry sand, we can see that there is variation in track morphology. The second footprint is a much more accurate representation of the cardboard foot than the first one.

Footprint 1 of the tiny rolling dinosaur trackway.

Footprint 2 of the tiny rolling dinosaur trackway.

I will write this up as an activity sheet in due course, and get back on with chalking those dinosaur trackways, like I promised.