Fossil of the Month
Fossil des Monats
Fossile du mois
July 2020: Our first competition. What do you think this is?
Sometimes even well-established palaeontologists find certain fossils difficult to identify. In general, humans interpret the fossil record on the basis of what we observe in the world around them. If no living organism looks like a particular fossil, classification can be very difficult.
The above marine fossils became extinct some 40 million years ago. During their acme in the late Mesozoic, they were found living in low-energy, mid-shelf settings in what is now Antarctica, Australia, New Caledonia, New Zealand and South America. They are true citizens of Gondwana, the ancient supercontinent that existed in the Mesozoic.
These fossils have been interpreted by some as plants, by others as molluscs, worms, crustaceans and corals. Some have even considered them to have been formed by non-living processes.
Scale: The 1 euro coin is 23.25 mm.
These fossils do have a name, and their place in the “Tree of Life” is now well established; but these details will not be released until next month.
The first to guess the true identity of these fossils will be given a free copy of the Fossils of the Urban Sanctuary from the Bayside Earth Sciences Society. You have until August 5th
Send your answer to: firstname.lastname@example.org
April 2020: Cetacean vertebrae. Beaumaris Sandstone, Beaumaris. Collected and curated by Bayside Earth Sciences Society in 2019.
Once upon a time, some six million years ago, a small whale, probably much the same size as a large dolphin, was swimming in Balcombe Bay. For some unknown reason, it died. Perhaps it was diseased, for if it had been attacked by a larger predator, the bones we see in this image would probably not be aligned as they are.
After death, the whale’s body sank to the seafloor, where it was covered in sediment before scavengers had an opportunity to tear the carcase apart. What looks like a series of alternating vertebra and vertebral discs is actually part of a vertebral column of a young whale. Each vertebra in this example is made up of a larger primary vertebral body (about 50 mm long), with a thinner, ossified epiphysis at each end (each about 9 mm thick). If the whale had lived to become an adult, these three portions would have joined together, generally obscuring the suture between the components. This slab of rock, from the Beaumaris Sandstone at Beaumaris, contains the four partially ossified whale vertebrae.