Soon after the Wealden quarries I was winging my way back to Quarry 4, in the company of Mark from the NHM. We met at a junction on the A1 and were soon heading north en route to the quarry.
As we pulled in I was pleased to see all our friends were there including Cliff and Ray, although Bill couldn’t make it as he was on holiday. We had to wait about half hour for the diggers to stop work for the day and then made our way into the quarry.
Although the car park end was now well overgrown, the far end had been excavated much further back and the quarry had changed a lot since my last visit. We made our way to the newly dug section and started to prospect. Mark and I soon split up to search different areas and the hunt was on in earnest.
Still I hadn’t found any vertebrate remains and this continued to drive me on. I ignored all belemnites and ammonites, determined to see through them and ultimately uncover some bone or maybe even a tooth.
Again we were searching Bed 10 and I continued to look in gullies and on the quarry floor. Soon I heard that a belemnite had been found with a partial phragmacone attached – a rare find even for a quarry as rich as this. I then saw one of the regulars struggling to carry a slab back to his car which was quite a distance away, and I later learned that he had found a complete fish in this slab. I was encouraged.
I noticed a recent fall of clay from one side of the quarry and had a look amongst the fresh clay blocks, but there were still only compressed ammonites to find. When a small piece of clay hit my helmet, I decided to move on. Little did I realise how close I came to possible disaster…..
A little later I met up with Mark and we found that we were both lacking any significant fossils except for the usual well preserved belemnites. We sat down to our packed lunch discussing all things fossil when a strange noise made us quickly stand up and look behind us. The noise at first sounded like air being expelled followed by an almighty rumble.
There, where I had been prospecting only an hour earlier, was a massive fall of clay that left a huge chasm in the side of the quarry. Some of the others quickly rushed over to see if any fossils had been revealed. Both Mark and I stayed back because, looking above this fresh fall, another crack had appeared to the right of this chasm and it was obviously going to come down in the not too distant future.
Eventually the others spotted this crack and quickly vacated the area. A wise decision on their part, and I believe that this episode was a good reminder to all of us that these quarries can be very dangerous places.
After the excitement of the fall we all split up and continued to prospect, only this time Mark and I worked in tandem on the basis that two pairs of eyes were better than one. We dropped into a trench that had been cut right through Bed 10 and continued searching. Although the trench looked ideal, in reality there was very little to get excited about and we both knew that an excellent crocodile vertebra complete with processes had already been excavated.
We climbed out of the trench, checked the surrounding spoil heaps and then proceeded to the area I had looked at earlier, but this time concentrating on the open area of clay as opposed to looking near the quarry edge where I had been before. We searched individually for about 15 minutes and then met up and started to chat whilst looking further.
Then suddenly Mark spotted some exposed bone literally beneath our feet. I was surprised to see that this bone was mainly white with a hint of pink in places. I am used to the black and brown bone of the Weald and it was strange to see some bone that looked almost modern and unfossilised.
Mark carefully brushed the dirt off the specimen and I equally carefully removed spoil from around and below the bone. I scouted around within ten metres or so to see if any further bone was exposed, but it soon became apparent that no more was to be found. Mark carefully removed his prize and we moved on.
Mark’s initial prognosis was that it looked like a partial ischium from a plesiosaur, and further later discussion confirmed it as part of the pelvis and certainly plesiosaurian. We also saw another plesiosaur bone – a vertebral centrum recovered from the other side of the quarry in a ditch.
The day wore on and we made our way back to the cars looking in some neglected areas as we walked. But apart from the usual bits and pieces there was nothing more forthcoming this day.
Fossil hunting is certainly a beguiling business! On this occasion I was one turn of the head away from finding that first piece of bone in Quarry 4. Slowly, though, I feel that I’m coming to terms with the place and on each trip I learn a little more, and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone’s finds from the quarry – they are undoubtedly all merited.
Soon after this trip, Mark took his bone back to the NHM and compared it to a couple of specimens in the collections. It turned out the initial prognosis was correct, as you can see from the image. Little did we realise that this was a foretaste of some spectacular finds later in the year…….
Image © Mark Graham 2010