Monday, 31 August 2015

Microfossil Month!

This August was the TW:eed Project’s Microfossil Month at the University of Leicester. With the help of volunteers, we examined many samples from our main field site. The aim was to record the microfossils present in sieved samples, and identify differences in the assemblages present in various rock types and stratigraphic levels throughout the Ballagan Formation.

Eight volunteers from A Level to graduate level worked with me: Matthew, Jake, Rebecca, India, Kate, Rimini, Jonathan and Daisy. During the month they learnt how to process and sieve samples, pick for microfossils, identify specimens and image them on the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). We also had time to examine some of the rock samples from our recent excavation site, discovering many fossils such as ostracods, bivalves, fish material and bones.
Some of the volunteers this month, from left to right: Jake, Rebecca, Matthew and Kate.
This was the last summer work experience month of the project for me, and it was really fantastic as usual! With the volunteer help we were able to pick thousands of specimens and find some very rare and important microfossils such as shark scales, fish teeth and bones. This is helping to shed further light on the environments in which the tetrapods lived and which animals and plants they lived alongside. I’m looking forward to discussing our findings at our project meeting next week.

SEM pictures of some of the microfossils from this month, from left to right: an actinopterygian fish scale, a fragment of a rhizodont fish tooth and a megaspore from a Lycopsid-like tree.

Thank you to all the volunteers and staff at the university who supported our research.

Until next time

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Searching for tetrapod fossils in Romer’s back yard

During July 2015, Tim Smithson and Sarah Finney headed to the mountains of West Virginia, USA, with project partner Stephanie Pierce from the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, where Romer was once Director, and New York State University geologist Gordon Baird. They were following in the footsteps of a field party sent out by Romer in the 1950s to find early Carboniferous tetrapods.

During their travels they met a local fossil collector Bob Peck who kindly introduced them to his collecting sites in the Hinton area in the south of the state.  Here the fossils are preserved in limestone and Bob reveals them by preparing the rocks in dilute acetic acid, just like Becky Bennion was doing last summer with material collected from the Scottish Borders. 
As well as benefitting from Bob’s local knowledge, the 2015 team also had access to an excellent field notebook prepared by Romer’s original field party to guide them. 

 The geology of West Virginia is complicated, with the Devonian and Carboniferous rocks thrown into a series of folds during the formation of the Appalachian Mountains.  The exposures are nearly all road cuts and fossils are scarce. 

The 2015 party did have some success and returned to the Museum of Comparative Zoology with some nice fossil plants, a few bivalves and suite of disarticulated vertebrate remains. Time will tell if these include the elusive Romer’s Gap tetrapods. Some interesting fossil preparation lies ahead.

If you want to follow the work in the USA here is a link to Stephanie’s Lab at Harvard University.

Until next time