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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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:

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:

– (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.

Chalking With Dinosaurs, part 4

I don’t even work on dinosaurs, and here I am, yet again, writing about the crunching great lizard monsters and their footprints. It’s all a very elaborate ruse to get you hooked on ichnology, such that I can then start making videos such as Crawling With Ragworms and Irrigating With Thalassinids.

This is the good stuff! Dr Richard Callow admires the Jurassic fossil crustacean burrows of Filey Brigg.

Hey ho, it’s all good fun, and here we are with part 4 of Chalking With Dinosaurs, where we try to work out what kind of dinosaur made the big Burniston Bay footprint described by Martin Whyte and colleagues in 2006, and which hopefully you’ve chalked onto your yard/alley/driveway by now.

As I mentioned last time, there are plenty of Jurassic dinosaur footprints to be found on the Yorkshire Coast, but there are remarkably few dinosaur body fossils. Martin Whyte, Mike Romano and Will Watts summarized this in their 2010 paper, for which the key phrases are ‘scarce’ and ‘largely indeterminate’. In the splendid ‘Yorkshire’s Jurassic World‘ exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum there is a single sauropod vertebra, which can’t be assigned to a species, and is therefore known as Alan.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t speculate reasonably about what might have made the big Burniston footprint. The evidence presented by Whyte et al. (2006) suggests strongly that the footprint is that of a large theropod, and Middle Jurassic rocks in Oxfordshire have yielded fossils of exactly that:

Megalosaurus! (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Might Megalosaurus, the original dinosaur, have made the big Burniston fossil footprint?

It seems a very good candidate, being of the right age and right dinosaur group. Interestingly, though, the calculated leg length we obtained from the Burniston footprint (2.2 metres, after Whyte et al‘s (2006) estimate of the foot having been 0.55m long, and Alexander’s (1976) equation of dinosaur hip height being four times its foot length) is longer than that known from fossils of Megalosaurus.

Megalosaurus was big, but its legs don’t appear to have been 2.2 metres long, even in the largest specimen (image from Wikimedia Commons).

So, is Megalosaurus not big enough? Did Yorkshire have a mega-Megalosaurus, or is there a possibility our calculations might be awry? Could the foot length obtained from the big Burniston footprint be an over-estimate?

To investigate this further, we need to stay in Oxfordshire, and combine the body fossils of Megalosaurus with the trace fossils of Ardley Quarry, and the research of Julia Day and colleagues, published in 2002 and 2004. And to really annoy you all, I’m going to save that for Chalking With Dinosaurs, part 5, when we can also work out how fast a large Middle Jurassic theropod dinosaur might have been able to run…


Chalking With Dinosaurs, part 3

On Saturday May 9th 2020, as promised, I chalked a load of dinosaur footprints onto my driveway.

Two cardboard cut-outs of Yorkshire dinosaur footprints, and some chalk.

My video below explains what I did, and what a single footprint can tell us about the tracemaker. WARNING: this video features some low-quality singing.

If you want to go chalking with dinosaurs, here’s my checklist:

1. Choose a footprint you want to chalk. I decided to start with the big Burniston footprint described by Martin Whyte and colleagues in 2006. However, you might want to chalk a completely different dinosaur footprint, or your own footprint, or invent the footprint of a creature even more fantastical than a dinosaur.

2. Draw the footprint onto a piece of card and cut it out, to keep your footprint chalk drawings consistent.

My cardboard version of the big Burniston footprint (Whyte et al. 2006), with the interpreted size of the dinosaur foot highlighted, and my left foot shown for scale.

3. Get your chalks, work out where you want your footprint to go, and start drawing. If you don’t have a driveway, an alleyway or a yard will do just as well. If you don’t have outdoor space for chalking, draw the footprints onto paper indoors.

4. Measure the footprint. Is it the same size as the tracemaker’s foot? This can be quite hard to determine from a trace fossil, but the answer is often no. Martin Whyte and colleagues decided that, although the large Burniston footprint was 0.61m long by 0.49m wide, the squidgification* around the edges of the footprint suggested that the dinosaur foot itself was probably 0.55m long by 0.40m wide (hence my annnotation in the figure above).

*technical term

5. From the size of the tracemaker’s foot, you can then estimate the size of its leg. How? Well, take some measurements of your own leg. My foot is 0.265m long, and my hip height is 0.91m, so that gives a ratio of hip height (h) to FL (Foot Length) as follows:

h = 3.43FL

If that ratio was true for the Burniston dinosaur, its foot length of 0.55m would yield a hip height of 1.89m (which is taller than me!).

A Tyrannosaurus rex and a 1.8m tall human (image from Wikimedia Commons). I am 1.8m tall.

6. However, I am not a dinosaur. It is much better to use measurements made from dinosaur skeletons. R. McNeill Alexander did exactly this in the 1970s and came up with a slightly different equation for dinosaurs:

h = 4FL

That would make the hip height of the big Burniston tracemaker 2.2 metres, which is taller than most humans.

7. Unsurprisingly, then, the big Burniston footprint was made by a big beast, but what kind of beast exactly? The three-toed (tridactyl) print with a V-shaped heel and distinct claw marks strongly suggests it was a theropod (hence the title of Whyte and colleagues’ 2006 paper). However, there are no Burniston bones to confirm this, and no skeletons of Middle Jurassic theropods are known from Yorkshire. So what kind of theropod was it?

Examples of some of the largest theropod dinosaurs (image from Wikimedia Commons).

For that, you’ll have to wait for Chalking With Dinosaurs, part 4!

Chalking With Dinosaurs

The Yorkshire Coast is one of the best places in the world to walk with dinosaurs. The Jurassic rocks exposed between Staithes and Scarborough have yielded huge numbers of fossil dinosaur footprints, and scientists from all over the world come to North Yorkshire to better understand how dinosaurs lived and behaved.

My left foot, standing on a Middle Jurassic dinosaur footprint on the North Yorkshire Coast.

In the absence of being able to go and look at the rocks ourselves, I will be leading an online activity called “Chalking with Dinosaurs” during GeoWeek 2020, which runs from Saturday May 9th to Sunday May 17th 2020.

The activity will begin at 1530 BST on Saturday May 9th, and aims to tell people more about the rocks and fossils of Jurassic North Yorkshire, describe a few of the fossil footprints that have been found there, and – using some pavement chalk on my own driveway – explain how to make your own dinosaur trackways, and then interpret them. That way, when we’re finally able to get back out onto the coast, you’ll be able to give those Jurassic beasts a run for their money.

Oh yes, and if you have a go at #ChalkingWithDinosaurs yourselves, I have some prizes for the best entries received during GeoWeek 2020!

How to map volcanoes!

This Thursday, March 5th, Professor Kathy Cashman FRS of the University of Bristol will give the 4th annual John & Anne Phillips Lecture at the University of Hull. Professor Cashman’s talk will focus on “Mapping lava flows from the ground, air and space” and introduce the audience to her ground-breaking research into how volcanoes work.

Mauna Loa from the air (image from WIkimedia Commons).

Maps of lava flow age, extent and morphology have long been an important source of information for anticipating future flow hazards. Recent advances in technology, however, are providing new ways to image and map lava flows in real time. Professor Cashman will review some of these techniques and demonstrate ways in which these new data aid interpretation of past events, management of ongoing eruptions and forecasts of future lava flow hazards.
Professor Cashman is Professor Volcanology in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol: Her talk is a free public lecture, and will be held in Lecture Theatre A of the Robert Blackburn Building, University of Hull, from 3pm.


About the John and Anne Phillips Lecture
Kindly supported by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, the John & Anne Phillips Prize is awarded each summer to the final-year Geology Hull student producing the best geological mapping dissertation. Alongside this, the annual John & Anne Phillips Lecture sees an invited speaker come to Hull to talk about their research on a geological mapping topic. Previous speakers have included Professor Sanjeev Gupta (Imperial) on mapping the geology of Mars, and Dr Kathryn Goodenough (British Geological Survey) on mapping mineral resources in Africa.
John and Anne Phillips were the nephew and niece of William ‘Strata’ Smith, pioneer of geological mapping. Both John and Anne built on their uncle’s legacy, with significant contributions to geology of their own. John is quite well-known, as the first Keeper of Geology at the Yorkshire Museum, later Professor of Geology at the University of Oxford, and as the person who formalized the concept of the Palaeozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras. Anne is much less-celebrated, but was integral to her brother’s successes, and carried out fieldwork of her own in the Malvern Hills, proving that the then Director of the British Geological Survey’s interpretation of the geology was wrong. Her work has been celebrated as part of the Trowelblazers project:

‘GEMS of North Yorkshire’ project launches in Scarborough

North Yorkshire’s rocks, fossils, and changing environments will be the stars of a newly formed science project based in Scarborough. ‘GEMS of North Yorkshire’ brings together the University of Hull’s Geology Hull and North Yorkshire Partnership Hub teams, and Scarborough-based education and outreach specialist, Hidden Horizons. The project will use school activities and public events to promote geological, environmental, and marine science (GEMS), with the aim of widening participation in these fields.

Dr Liam Herringshaw, Geology Hull lecturer, said “the ‘GEMS of North Yorkshire’ project offers a terrific opportunity to engage North Yorkshire schools and residents with the amazing landscapes on their doorstep. It’s really exciting to be working with Hidden Horizons and the University of Hull’s North Yorkshire Partnership Hub to deliver the activities.  We will also team up with Scarborough & North Yorkshire Children’s University to provide learning opportunities for primary-aged children.”

Starting in 2020, the project will offer a series of school activities and public events, delivered alongside educational web resources uncovering some of the GEMS of North Yorkshire.

For further details, contact Rich Adams (North Yorkshire Partnership Hub) on 01723 383884 (Twitter: @UniofHull_NYPH); Liam Herringshaw (Geology Hull) on 01482 465349 (Twitter: @GeologyHull), or Will Watts (Hidden Horizons) on 01723 817017 (Twitter: @H_Horizons).

About Geology Hull

Geology Hull is the geology teaching and research team in the Department of Geography, Geology and Environment at the University of Hull. We won the university Faculty of Science and Engineering’s Outstanding Team award in 2018, and our degree programmes were ranked 7th in the UK in the 2020 Guardian University Guide.

About the North Yorkshire Partnership Hub

The University of Hull’s North Yorkshire Partnership Hub is based in Scarborough. Our team is dedicated to building active partnerships to shape a brighter future for North Yorkshire. Our programmes in primary and secondary schools help to raise aspirations through our Scarborough & North Yorkshire Children’s University and the North Yorkshire Coast Higher Education Collaboration (NYCHEC). Our post-16 work helps to provide students with information, advice and guidance to help them make the best decisions for their future. Alongside a range of partners from business, the public and charity sectors, we’re helping our region fulfil its potential.

About Hidden Horizons

Established in 2013 by Will Watts, Hidden Horizons offer an exciting range of public and school events based on the outstanding geology and natural history of North Yorkshire. With sessions covering fossil hunting, stargazing, Forest School, Beach School, Bushcraft and more there really is something for everyone, with each session led by passionate experts in their field including three University of Hull graduates. In addition to the public and school sessions the company provides consultancy services to museums and heritage organisations including exhibition and interpretation support.  Hidden Horizons also operates a sister company, GeoEd Ltd, one of the world leaders in the creation of replica fossils for education and museum settings. 

A brief history of Scarborough landslides

In the summer of 2018, I was filmed in Scarborough by a TV production company making a series for Channel 5 about Sinkholes. As the episode has never been broadcast, I can only assume my performance was so dreadful, or so controversial, that it cannot be permitted to see the light of day, but I thought I’d blog about it anyway.

Warning! Non-landslide expert alert!

It all began when a Hull colleague of mine was contacted by the production company, who were trying to find a geologist who could tell them about coastal landslides in Scarborough. The 25th anniversary having just passed, I assumed the company was interested in the Holbeck Hall Hotel landslide. However, when I talked with them on the phone, this wasn’t the case. They’d heard only about a landslide in the spring of 2018, which I had to confess I knew nothing about.

From such inauspicious beginnings, our conversation piqued their interest in the Holbeck landslide, and mine in what was going on now. Both parties went away to do a bit more research, and when we spoke again a day or two later, it seemed there was enough of a story for them to want to do some filming, with me, in the South Bay.

Pretty much the best view in the world.

The following week, I found myself in the legendary Clock Café, holding a plastic box containing a miniature reconstruction* of the local geology. After nearly 40 years of yomping up and down the South Cliff on family holidays, suddenly I was there to explain its geological structure to the world. Well, to the viewers of Channel 5 at least.

(*comprising two beach cobbles, builders’ sand, some Plasticine and a Lego hotel. Sadly it will not make the cut.)

Now, I am definitely not a proper expert on coastal landslides, so – if the show is ever shown – writing this is perhaps a pre-emptive strike against looking like a dingbat on national telly**.


Nonetheless, I found the research really interesting, and turned up a history of landslides in Scarborough and the Yorkshire Coast that people might want to know about, So, rather than have it all go to waste, here are my findings.

A Brief History of Scarborough Landslides

Although the East Yorkshire coast is eroding much more rapidly, landslides are common in North Yorkshire, as summarized by E. Mark Lee in Chapter 6 of his co-authored book Geomorphological Processes and Landscape Change: Britain in the Last 1000 Years (Higgett and Lee 2008).

In 1682, he notes, at Runswick Bay, “the entire village slipped into the sea”. On Christmas Eve, 1787, there was then a “great landslide” at Haggerlythe, Whitby, and in 1829, at Kettleness, “the whole village slid into the sea”.

For Scarborough’s South Bay, the landslide story begins in 1737, when buildings in the Spa area, which had only recently been rebuilt, were destroyed. No major events seem to have occurred for the next 250-odd years, until by far the most dramatic landslide in Scarborough’s 20th Century history – the collapse of the cliff beneath the Holbeck Hall Hotel in June 1993.

The landscaped site of the 1993 Holbeck Hall Hotel landslide (from Wikimedia Commons)

A detailed webpage on the Holbeck Hall Landslide is provided by the British Geological Survey, so there’s no sense in me rehashing their expert information. However, it is worth pointing out that the rotational landslide occurred because soft Ice Age sediments, into which rainwater can seep and pond quite readily, sit on top of well-lithified Middle Jurassic bedrock. The Scarborough Spa marks a spring line, where the waters can seep out, but if – as in 1993 – the volumes of water are large, and they accumulate rapidly, their escape can be catastrophic.

I found this photograph of the hotel (from a BGS blogpost marking the 25th anniversary of the landslide), taken by the British Geological Survey immediately post-landslide, particularly amazing, though the classic footage is this video, starring Richard Whiteley:

Countdown to collapse

And so we move to 2018, and the South Cliff landslip.

It appears that the incident the production team had been alerted to had occurred over the weekend of March 17th/18th 2018, following the wild weather of late February and early March. A retaining wall below the Clock Café was pushed onto the chalets beneath, leaving cracked pavements above it, the wall leaning towards the sea, and the listed chalets listing. It attracted a bit of press coverage:

20th March 2018 (Scarborough News) “Landslip warning in Scarborough

21st March 2018 (BBC) – large crack appears in Scarborough cliff path.

19th April 2018 (BBC) South Cliff cracks ‘could take a year to repair

25th May 2018 (Daily Mail) – Scarborough beach chalets in danger of crumbling into the sea.

South Cliff chalets, Scarborough, summer 2018.

In June 2018, with rumours abounding that the Clock Cafe would have to be demolished, a series of new announcements were made. Firstly, the Clock Café demolition rumours were quashed. Then the Scarborough Borough Council announced that the incident was an “isolated wall movement that occurred in the spring behind the South Bay chalets”. It wasn’t a landslide, or a landslip. Overlooking my uncertainty over whether landslides and landslips are one and the same, perhaps it should simply be called a slope failure.

Either way, in late November 2018, a new movement of soil behind the wall caused further collapse of the chalets, and the borough council decided to demolish them as a matter of urgency. In February 2019, it was reported that they would be coming down imminently, but I’ve not been down to check.

Cordoned off South Cliff chalets (photo credit: me)

At the same time that the South Cliff chalets slope failure occurred, remediation works were about to begin, to try and stabilize the cliffs above the Spa Complex, a short distance to the north. This South Cliff Slope Stabilization Scheme was not set to include the Clock Café area, but instead try to secure the long-term stability of the gardens above the economically and historically important Spa area. As explained in an October 2016 consultancy report:

“The South Cliff upon which the proposed works area lies is inherently unstable…Ground modelling and stability analyses undertaken previously have found that the slopes are close to failure, with potential for both shallow and deep-seated failure. Such failure could result in the loss of parts of the Spa Gardens, damage to the Esplanade and damage to or complete loss of The Spa Complex. There is also clear potential for injury and loss of life.”

The contract was awarded to Balfour Beatty, and work began at the end of May 2018. The most recent update from the contractor reports that all is ‘going well‘. Presumably it has to be finished by March 2020, as a £7m South Cliff gardens regeneration scheme is due to begin then.

Are you putting any money on these gardens lasting a century? (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Given the predictions of warmer, wetter weather, higher sea-levels, and increased storm frequency, one can only wonder how this coastline will cope with Anthropocene climate change. It was only just over a decade that a fairly large landslide occurred at Knipe Point, at the northern end of Cayton Bay, and the last couple of years have seen numerous small to moderate collapses. Whether it ever makes it onto screen, one of my conclusions for the TV company was that, when it comes to landslides on this stretch of coastline, geologically it’s not a matter of if, but when.

Still, should you want to keep an eye on things, the National Landslide Database is probably the place to go.