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 the ground currently being trampled under the hooves of grazing cattle, researchers have recently uncovered fossilized remains of fish, giant marine reptiles called ichthyosaurs, squid, insects and other ancient animals dating to early times. The Jurassic period (201.3 million to 145 million years ago).
Of the more than 180 fossils recorded during the excavation, one outstanding example was a fish head preserved in three dimensions. pachykormus, an extinct genus of ray-finned fish. The fossil, which the researchers found embedded in a hardened lump of limestone from clay, was exceptionally well preserved and contained scales and soft tissues, including an eye. The 3-dimensional nature of the pose of the specimen’s head and body was such that the researchers were unable to compare it to any previous finding.
“The closest analogue we could think of was Big Mouth Billy Bass,” said Neville Hollingworth, a field geologist at the University of Birmingham, who discovered the site with his wife, fossil preparer and excavation coordinator, Sally. “The eyeball and nest were well preserved. They usually lie flat in fossils. But in this case, it’s preserved in multiple dimensions and the fish appears to be popping out of the rock,” Hollingworth said. Live Science.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” added Sally Hollingworth. You could see the scales, the skin, the spine—even the eyeball is still there.”
The image surprised the Hollingworths so much 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 help bring the fish back to life and allow researchers to examine it more closely.
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Most of the fossils unearthed by the Hollingworths and a team of scientists and experts were located behind the farm’s barn. (The farm is home to a herd of the English longhorn, a British breed of cattle with long, curved horns, many of which keep a close eye on the goose.)
“It was a little frustrating digging while being watched by a herd of longhorns,” Sally Hollingworth told Live Science.
At one time, this area of the UK was completely flooded by a shallow, tropical sea, and the sediments there likely helped preserve the fossils; Neville Hollingworth described the Jurassic deposits 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 seafloor,” said Dean Lomax, a visiting scientist at the University of Manchester in England and a member of the excavation group. “As with other fossils, minerals from the surrounding seafloor have continually replaced the original structure of bones and teeth. In this case, the area shows little or no clearing, so they must have been quickly buried by sediment. As soon as it hit the seafloor, it was covered up.” and they are immediately protected.”
Neville Hollingworth said that during the four-day excavation earlier this month, the eight-person team used a digger to dig 262 feet (80 meters) off the farm’s grassy shores, “retracting layers to reveal a small geological time period.” Various specimens dated to the Toarcian age (183 million to 174 million years ago), including belemnites (extinct squid-like cephalopods), ammonites (extinct crustacean cephalopods), bivalves, and snails. in addition to fish and other marine animals.
“It’s important that we can compare these fossils with other Toarcian-age fossil sites found not only in the UK but also in Europe and potentially in the Americas,” Lomax said. Said. He pointed to Strawberry Bank Lagerstätte, an early Jurassic site in southern England, as one such example.
The group plans to continue examining the samples and is working to publish the findings. Meanwhile, a selection of fossils will be on display at the Museum in the Park in Stroud.
Originally published on Live Science.
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