Friday, 27 November 2009

Tumble skills

I sell rock tumblers and often get asked about how to use them. Embarrassingly, I don't know much more than the basics. At some point I'll address this and get myself a big, heavy-duty machine. In the meantime, I found this handy set of instructions. Tumble yourselves silly.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


Now this is the sort of story I like: finds of five different fossil crocodile types detailed in this month's National Geographic. Paul Sereno, from the University of Chicago, found the first of the these in 2000 and has been leading a series of lengthy expeditions since to the Sahara of Morocco and Niger. The sites are famous for their rich dinosaur deposits, but these trips also turned up some fantastic croc finds.

The first find, of Sarcosuchus imperator, was nice enough. Sarchosuchus is the real monster of the bunch; one of the largest crocodilians ever to have lurked by a riverbank. Fully grown, it's reckoned to have got up to about 12 meters long and weighed over 8 tons. The heaviest saltwater croc on record - the biggest species alive - was a puny 1.3 tons. It had been known for a while, but only from a few bits and bobs. Sereno found a lot of material; enough to piece together a decent reconstruction. SuperCroc's challengers for the title are only known from skulls or less. Deinosuchus, an ancestor of the North American alligator is the best known, and may yet turn out to be the biggest. Nigel Marven visits some in this clip from CITV's Prehistoric Park.

The rest of the crocs found by Sereno's group include three new species, each with handy common names. BoarCroc, Kaprosuchus saharicus, has three pairs of protruding caniniforms, giving it a wicked bite. It would have been a similar size to today's saltwater crocs. RatCroc, Araripesuchus rattoides, is named for the Araripe Plateau, in Northeastern Brazil - home to a famous fossil locality, the Santana Formation. Which, in turn, is home to the RatCroc's closest relative, Araripesuchus gomesii. Ratcroc is a tiddler at only three feet long. The unhappily-named PancakeCroc, Laganosuchus thaumastos (and Laganosuchus maghrebensis), has a strange, flat head. You can see someone's reconstruction here. DogCroc and DuckCroc make up the numbers, though they were also previously known.

Aside from the list of new species, the amount of material collected is also remarkable. Quite a contribution to science.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Marsh Award

The Marsh Awards are given out annually to show recognition to 'unsung heroes' in thirty three fields of activity within four broad categories. Under the Conservation and Ecology heading comes the palaeontology prize. This year's winner is Stan Wood. Stan is the actual Mr Wood of Mr Wood's Fossils. Before they were my fossils, they were his.

The awards are the responsibility of the Marsh Christian Trust, who work alongside a variety of partner groups to find the deserving recipients. In the case of the palaeontology awards, The Natural History Museum is the partner. The presentation will be made on Monday the 23rd at the museum.

A very worthy winner, even if I'm a bit biased. I'll write a bit about Stan in a post of his own soon.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The screwdriver

Old Willie comes in. He's been in already today, asking for the loan of a wee screwdriver, to fix his TV. He still wants a wee screwdriver, to fix his TV. I still don't have one. Tomorrow morning is no use, because he can buy a set tomorrow morning anyway. He's desperate, so we cut a couple of bits of card into likely shapes, and he seems happy. He tells me there are some great fossils in here. Great fossils. Then tells me that he had found some once, and some pink stone. A guy from Perth had bought them all from him, and he had bought some fish.

He points at the Exogyra shells. 'Are these the ones you eat?'

'Well, they're related to oysters, so I suppose you could.' He picks up a silicified Turitella. 'Are these good?'

'Well, we don't sell that many. They're ok.' He puts it in his mouth and starts to crunch loudly on it. 'No, no - don't eat it. It's stone.'


'Yeah - it's fossilised. It's a fossil.'

'Oh.' Crunch. Crunch. ' I thought it was one o’ theym you could eat.'

Eventually, after some chewing, he spits some bits of it out. I hold out some tissue paper, but he puts it in his pocket. 'Out o’ the way.' Crunch.

He tells me about when he stopped cutting wood and went fishing in a boat. He knew where the oysters where, and caught huge haddock and herring. The fisherman asked him where he found them and he showed him. When he goes for a walk he keeps his eye open. If he finds something, he'll tip me a nod. He shakes my hand. 'Great fossils.' He shakes my hand again.

Crunch. Crunch. 'Christ - I'm still chewin’ that @*&#. I thought it was one o’ theym wee fish.' Crunch.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Rock God

Got an email this morning from Madobin, who thought I might be interested in his interesting fossil, though he did concede it might be outwith my usual 'sphere of focus'. His stone is a 'Fossilised apparition of Jesus watched over by an angel'. Now - there are a few photos of this wonderous find, and if you squint a little, it's possible to make out a figure. Looks a little like one of the BeeGees.

Turns out - surprisingly, as he describes it as a forever keepsake - he's selling his find on eBay. So if you have $10,000 you can buy it for yourself. There are no bids so far and he kindly offers free shipping. I would want to keep something I'd spent $10,000 on forever, I suppose. I took the time to reply to his message, asking if he'd like to swap it for my fossilised Wayne Gretzky (I felt obliged to pick a Canadian). I'll let you know if the deal is on.

It may be better to let Madobin tell the story himself:
Of all the pebbles I could have picked up, my fingers found this one. I was searching for pretty stones and fossils with my kids and I was absolutely dumbfounded when I saw the image on this little stone. Everyone with whom I've since shared pics or shown the actual stone is also equally amazed that nature conspired to create such a fossilized relic - a true work of art. "Absolutely amazing!", is the best phrase to describe it. I never would have expected to see such a naturally occurring sight, let alone, hold it in my hand.
Consider the odds! Not only was a fossil created a long, long, time ago (usually a lot of luck or pure happenstance anyway), but this combination of rock, sand, organic material, and whatever else was created in the image of Christ! Add to that the billions of little stones that line every beach. Four months ago, I happened to be on the right beach at the right time and picked up the right stone.
He is seen from the chest up, glancing to His right, and dressed in layers of robes. At first glance, I thought there was a halo of "light" around the top of His head but then noticed the image of an angel - from the chest up - within that halo of light looking down upon Him. There is some light behind the angel's back, illuminating his/her wings.
This little stone is about the size of a penny and weighs about the same. It is 11 mm (7/16") wide, 17 mm (11/16") long and between 2 mm to 3 mm (1/16" to 1/8") thick. I don't know what type of stone this is. Its mostly smooth surface has been naturally polished by the waves and its tumble amongst the other beach pebbles.
I am not going to presume the meaning behind this amazing find. What it means to me may not be what it means to you. But I do recognize the incredible odds that created this image and I'm personally spellbound by that fact alone. As a stone - this is a
forever keepsake! Why am I selling? I am certain that the nature of the image will hold more meaning for someone else. I am proud to be the owner of this amazing work of art, but perhaps for another, owning this stone will have more significance.
I hope the pictures I've taken sufficiently show off the detail of this amazing find. Feel free to ask questions.