Palaeontology International Rescue (well Wigan anyway) – Part 1

Last week, David Green (Curator of rock and minerals) and I went to Wigan & Leigh College Museum to have a look at the collection. Unfortunately, this small museum is closing down at the end of the month and is trying to find a home for its collections.

Wigan & Leigh College Geology Museum

The museum was formed in 1883 and was set us as a teaching museum for the college, which was at the centre of the north-west coal mining industry. The collapse of the coal industry in Britain means there is no demand for these courses anymore.

David and I went to see what we would like to acquire for the museum in Manchester. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was really impressed by the quality of some of the specimens from Solnhofen Limestone fossils, to amber and trilobites.

Solnhofen Limestone fossils

Gastrioceras from Upholland

Unfortunately, we don’t have enough room in our stores to acquire the whole collection, but along with the World Museum, Liverpool we will make sure we save the most valuable and important specimens.

We are planning to go across next week on our rescue mission. I’ll keep you posted.


How to tell the time

Everyone knows how to tell the time don’t they?

Well, it gets a bit more complicated when we get on geological time. It is really easy to say something is so many millions of years old, but how do we know?

Relative geological time

One way of telling how old a rock is, is by looking at the fossils. Different plants and animals lived a different times, because there were different environmental conditions at different times. Therefore, by looking at the fossils we can say which time period they came from.

Absolute geological time

The other way of telling time is by looking at the chemistry of the rocks. Elements called isotopes break down in to other elements at a constant rate. If you work out how many times this reaction has taken place you can tell how old the rock is in millions of years.

Two of the best geological timescales I have found are at the British Geological Survey website and the International Commission on Stratigraphy who are the group set up to help define geological time periods.

Great A-level day with Altrincham Grammar School

A couple of weeks ago we had a great A-level day with students from Altrincham Grammar School.

Fossil assemblage workshop

Louise Sutherland (from the learning team) and I met the group of students at about 10 and we went up to the Life Lab for the workshops. We began with the drawing fossils workshop, concentrating on bivalves, brachiopods and trilobites. The beauty of running this session in the museum is that we use complete fossils from the collection that really help with the drawings.

After this I showed them some of the more spectacular trilobites from the collection and we went on to the next activity: reconstructing fossil enviroments. The students were given a mystery box of fossils and asked to interpret the environment and deduce the age. The students did really well and by the end of the session were able to sum up their findings using fossils and range charts.

We then looked at more spectacular fossils from the Solnhofen Limestone and some amber.

Store tour

After lunch, we went on a tour of the stores and did the new dinosaur footprints workshop. The workshop uses amazing footprint fossils from the collection and asks the students to interpret a simulated trackway. This was done through measuring stride and foot lengths and calculating height and speed.

The workshops and tours seemed to go down a storm and the evaluation showed it was an exciting and useful introdouction to fossils at A-level.

If you would like to book a workshop, please go to the post 16 page.

Oldest land trackway discovered

The trackways found in Poland are 397 Million years old and push the record of these animals back millions of years. The crocodile-like animals mark the transition of animals from water onto land. They are so detailed that they even show digits.

The Fishy treasures of Manchester Museum

I’ve been having a look at the fossil fish collection here at the museum in preparation for a visit by a researcher from Bristol University next week and I’d forgotten how amazing it is!

Fossil fish from the Devonian, 370 million years old

Dr Phil Andreson is coming up to Manchester to give a talk on The War Between Tooth and Food: Integrating experimental and theoretical analyses to understand dental morphology at the Faculty of Life Sciences here at the University. He also wants to have a look at the jaws and teeth of fossil fish from the Carboniferous, which forms the basis for his research.

We have a over 4500 fossil fish in the collection mostly from a dedicated collectors Hickling and Watson.

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