Two hobbyists found a treasure trove of Jurassic fossils by using Google Maps during Covid-19 lockdowns.
A UK couple named Neville (Nev) and Sally Hollingworth, who enjoy studying fossils as a hobby, spent Covid-19 lockdown studying old research papers. Amazingly, their efforts paid off in discovering one of the most important Jurassic fossil sites ever found in the UK.
According to Sally, Nev spent lockdown looking at Google Maps and happened across an old quarry.
Soon, the couple discovered the quarry held a bonanza of rare fossils, ancient sea creatures just waiting to be uncovered. They are echinoderms, plant-like animals related to starfish and sea urchins.
“As soon as we got out of lockdown, we got permission to come and have a look around,” Sally explained to the BBC. “What fascinates me is that research hasn’t been done on this sort of fauna for 100, 150 years ago when they were building railways and digging trenches through. It’s just unbelievable really, what we found.”
Indeed, most echinoderm fossils in the UK were found long ago, in the Victorian age. During that time, quarrying and railway constructions occasionally uncovered similar fossils.
At first, the hobbyists didn’t realize what they had found. Then, Neville cleaned up a rock he took home in his garage. Excitedly, he called for his wife to see a beautiful sea lily that appeared on the stone.
Jurassic Fossils: Squiggly Wigglies and Stalkie Walkies
Amusingly, Sally calls some of the fossils “squiggly wigglies,” due to their spiraling noodly shapes. Others are crinoids, sea lilies, or feather dusters with long stalks, so she calls those “stalkie walkies.”
Experts at the Natural History Museum have been amazed by what has come out of the secret Cotswold site. So far, “truckloads” of fossils have been unearthed in chunks of limestone. However, Sally and Neville remain integral parts of the team, helping find fossils in the wet mud.
“It’s amazing and the preservation is stunning,” said Zoe Hughes, curator at the Natural History Museum.
A ‘Jurassic Pompeii’
What the couple found was the site of an ancient earthquake in an undersea delta region. Some 167 million years ago, this area of Britain was a warm shallow sea close to where North Africa is today.
As the fossils show, a disaster struck: an earthquake that caused an underwater mudflow that smothered thousands of echinoderms. Buried by the mud, the starfish relatives were preserved in rich 3D detail as fossils.
“What we’ve got here is a sort of Jurassic Pompeii,” said Neville Hollingworth.
Previously, only a precious few fossilized echinoderms were found in the UK.
Dr. Tim Ewin, an echinoderm specialist from the museum, said the find was unprecedented among geological sites anywhere worldwide.
“Yeah it’s right up there with one of the best scientific finds of my career so far,” said paleontologist Dr. Tim Ewin. “It’s a really important site because there’s so many different types, as well as large numbers of individual fossils.”
With so many new fossils to add to the collection, scientists will have much more to study. However, they may need more space for the echinoderm collection.
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Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube