Saturday, November 18, 2006

Fossils on the Jurassic Coast

Fossils are the remains of animals and plants that have been preserved in stone and are the raw materials of the science of paleantology. Paleantology looks at the the direct evidence of fossils to study former life on earth and how it has changed over millions of years

The rocks that form the cliffs of Charmouth and Lyme Regis are rich in those animals that swam in the seas during the Jurassic period. As a result of landslides and winter storms, the area is rich in fossils that have been washed onto the beach. These fossils represent one of the richest snapshots of Jurassic life anywhere in the world

Geologists use fossils to help them identify rocks of a similar age, as rocks located hundreds of miles apart can be recognised as being of a similar age, according to the fossils that they contain. Ammonites are especially useful for this purpose as they evolved and changed rapidly (in geological terms), producing different species with distinctive shell forms. The Jurassic period has been dived into a series of Zones according to the appearance and disappearance of different ammonites

Mary Anning: courtesy of Wikipedia

Mary Anning (1797 - 1847) lived all her life in Lyme Regis and has been described as 'the greatest fossilist who ever live'. She collected fossils at a time when scientific enquiry was leading to a change in the way we thought about the evolution of life and our planet, which would culminate with the puplication of Charles Darwin in 'On the Origin of Species'

Mary collected fossils with her brother and father until the death of her father when she was aged 11. Mary took on the family business, becoming one of the most skilled of collectors, with an impressive knowledge of Anatomy. Her record of fossil 'firsts' is remarkable, leading to many eminent geologists of the day visiting the coast to learn from her work

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