Couple discovers “mammoth” discovery of rare marine fossils in Wiltshire | News from the UK
A couple have discovered one of the largest collections of rare marine fossils in Great Britain with Google Earth.
Neville and Sally Hollingworth, non-professional paleontologists, discovered the Wiltshire site during the second COVID lockdown while researching the geology of the area online.
They then contacted Dr. Tim Ewin, a senior geoscience curator at the Natural History Museum (NHM), who secured funding for an excavation at the site.
Dr. Ewin was amazed at the hundreds of specimens, including echinoderms, sea lilies, and echinoids, which date back to the Middle Jurassic (174 to 164 million years ago).
The findings are intended to enable new research that was previously not possible due to the small number of samples in collections.
Feather stars, sea lilies and starfish fossils are hard to come by because their multi-plate skeleton falls apart shortly after death – and must be buried immediately to preserve them.
Dr. Neville Hollingworth is a volunteer research fellow at the University of Birmingham’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science.
He said, “About six months ago, earlier this year, when we were doing a little research on the local geology, we noticed this little quarry on Google Earth and contacted the site manager and asked if we could visit.
“So we got to the bottom of the quarry and found that the bottom of the quarry was a layer of clay and on the surface of the clay there were many, many small fossils that we call crinoids or feather stars.”
The couple picked up a plate from a site and tidied it up at home, where they discovered an “incredible sight” of “beautiful” sea lilies, crinoids, starfish and brittle stars.
Ms. Hollingworth said, “It was amazing, the preservation is absolutely breathtaking.
“They’re 167 million years old, these little critters, and the preservation is just amazing.”
Dr. Hollingworth said he found a mammoth skull in 2004, but that the discovery of the site was the same, if not better.
During the excavation, he said, “This is a different type of site with different types of fossils, but from that perspective they are unique, this is a mammoth find.”
He added, “We have a multidisciplinary team that brings everything together to understand the environment in which these animals lived and then died.”
Dr. Hollingworth said the animals were likely buried alive in the mud river, based on all the evidence gathered so far.
Dr. Ewin stated, “We know they were buried while they were alive because we have some evidence that the animals are in what is called a stressful position to be buried – they closed their arms trying to stop the mud in their mouths and our other openings.
“So we know these animals were alive when they were buried.”
The discoveries will allow experts to study the animals’ evolution, having found both juvenile and adult specimens and even a starfish with a regenerated arm.
Dr. Ewin added, “It really is an extraordinary site, and the amazing thing about it is that just the sheer amount of material is simple and everything is beautifully preserved.
“And so it will allow us to do really cool science.”