A farm in England was the unlikely source of the Jurassic jackpot: a treasure trove of 183-million-year-old fossils. On the outskirts of Gloucestershire in the Cotswolds, beneath soil now trampled under the hooves of grazing cattle, researchers recently discovered the remains of fish, giant marine reptiles called ichthyosaurs, squid, insects and other ancient animals. Jurassic period (201.3 million to 145 million years ago).
Among the more than 180 fossils discovered during the excavation, one notable specimen was a three-dimensionally preserved fish head. Pachycormus, an extinct genus of ray-finned fish. The fossil, which the researchers found embedded in a hardened limestone nodule protruding from the clay, was remarkably well preserved and contained soft tissues, including scales and an eye. The 3D nature of the pose of the head and body of the specimen was such that the researchers could not compare it to previous findings.
“The closest analogue we could think of was Big Mouth Billy Bass,” said University of Birmingham field geologist Neville Hollingworth, who discovered the site with his wife Sally, a fossil preparer and coordinator of the dig. “The eyeball and the socket are well-preserved. Usually, they lie flat with fossils. But in this case, it’s preserved in more than one dimension, and it looks like the fish is jumping off the rock,” Hollingworth said. Live Science.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” said Sally Hollingworth. “You can see the money, the skin, the backbone – even the eyeball is still there.”
The sight so amazed the Hollingworths that they contacted ThinkSee3D, a company that creates digital 3D models of fossils. (opens in new tab)interactive 3D image (opens in new tab) to revive the fish and allow researchers to study it more closely.
Related: A huge graveyard of alien-like sea creatures has been discovered in the “Jurassic Pompeii” in central Great Britain.
Most of the fossils found by the Hollingworths and a team of scientists and experts were located behind the farm’s cowshed. (The farm is home to a herd of English Longhorns, beef cattle with long, curved horns, many of whom have been keeping a close eye on the excavation.)
“It was a little nerve-wracking when you were watching a herd of pronghorns,” Sally Hollingworth told Live Science.
At one time, this region of the United Kingdom was completely submerged by a shallow, tropical sea, and the sediments there probably helped preserve the fossils; Neville Hollingworth described the Jurassic beds as slightly horizontal, with layers of soft clay under a crust of harder limestone beds.
“When the fish died, they sank to the bottom of the sea floor,” said Dean Lomax, a fossil marine reptile expert and member of the excavation team, visiting scientist at the University of Manchester in the UK. “As with other fossils, minerals from the surrounding seafloor continuously replaced the original structure of the bones and teeth. In this case, the site shows little or no waste, so they must have been quickly buried by sediment. as soon as it fell, it was immediately covered and protected.”
During a four-day dig earlier this month, an eight-person team used a backhoe to dig 262 feet (80 meters) into the farm’s grassy banks, “pulling back the layers to reveal a tiny slice of geological time,” Neville Hollingworth said. A variety of examples from the Toarcian (Jurassic period, 183 million to 174 million years ago) include belemnites (extinct squid-like cephalopods), ammonites (extinct shelled cephalopods), bivalves, and snails. in addition to fish and other marine animals.
“It is important that we can compare these fossils with other Toarcian fossil sites, not only in the UK, but also with potential sites in Europe and the Americas,” Lomax said. As one such example I pointed to the Strawberry Bank Lagerstätte from the early Jurassic of southern England.
The group plans to continue studying the samples and is working on publishing the findings. Meanwhile, a selection of fossils will be on display at the Museum in the Park in Stroud.
Originally published in Live Science.
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