Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Time’s They Are a Changing……

With a little homage to Bob Dylan here, this is an account of the last official field trip of 2008 to Misty Bluff. It was only a couple of weeks after the last trip to Quarry 4 and, as ever, I was ready to do battle again. No weird feelings enveloped me on the drive down. Indeed, the trip was quick and easy and I felt good as I drove into the brickworks.

Mark had tipped me off that a group from the Isle of Wight were attending the meeting today and, although I was the first of the regulars to arrive, the IOW group were already there kitted out and ready to go in and were being given the low down on the Bluff by Peter and Joyce.

I seized the opportunity and quickly got ready, signed in and swiftly left for the Bluff while they were being inducted. It was weird walking through the works. There was no machinery running; no ovens burning; no fork lift trucks operating and no personnel whatsoever. Truly a victim of the financial crisis that is engulfing the world at the time of writing.

The only thing missing from this ghost town were dried bushes blowing through the vast stacks of bricks that remain in the yards. It was very odd and kind of unsettling. I soon left the yards and came to the Bluff and, as expected, there had obviously been no work done at the quarry. It was all as we had left it back in April.

Looking around, it soon became apparent that the local plant life was starting to get a hold already. One face on the north east bank was quite green and, similarly, the recently filled north west section had already sprouted a myriad of plants. I dropped onto the favoured south east face and started to prospect.

The weather leading up to this visit had been a mixture of sunshine and heavy showers so I determined that a visual search of the surface would be the best option, not only for bone, but for lepidotid scales that are washed out. My instincts this time proved to be correct and I soon recovered some nice scales. However, the bone was not forthcoming and I decided to start quarrying close to where I had been on the previous trip.

During this time the IOW group had descended upon the Bluff and were searching in earnest, and I later discovered that a couple of them were very sharp eyed. At this point, we were all a little ahead of the game since none of the regulars had arrived. I started to dig in earnest.

I’d been digging into an astonishing amount of fossil wood and charcoal and reasoned that where wood collects then bone may also be evident. Although I still believe that this is the way to go, I could find no bone throughout the morning and, after some refreshment, decided that I would search on the flanks of the north east bank.

A couple of the IOW party had turned up a few scraps of bone but then one of them found a HUGE chevron encased in matrix. The vertebra it would have been attached to would have been massive. If iguanodontid, it would have come from a gigantic specimen. Quite possibly it may prove to be sauropodomorph but that would have to be confirmed. The bone came from the spoil on the side of the road into the Bluff, and I have to admit that I would have probably missed it.

Undeterred I pushed on and headed for the north east bank. By this time a few of the regulars had arrived and were busily searching the lower shales for insects and plants. I looked to the top of the bank and saw that three people were beavering away in a tight little area. I saw Peter and asked what they were working on.

He informed me that a significant amount of bone had been exposed but unfortunately had been crushed by one of the diggers. Indeed there were so many pieces that it was almost impossible to see what they were, although Peter was fairly convinced that there may be a couple of ribs involved. His comments that this find will keep them busy throughout the winter seemed appropriate!

Not willing to “poach” that particular area, I prospected a little further on and in the same bed as the bone had been situated but found nothing. Undaunted, I decided to look at some old fish bearing shales in an eastern part of the quarry. This section had survived being entombed when this end of the quarry had been back filled and I felt sure that nobody had searched here for some time.

Again, I was rewarded with further fish scales and a tiny concretion, which, when examined under the hand lens, revealed a few scales and another small undetermined bone. I made my way back to the south east horizon and continued the search, but by mid-afternoon I felt that there would be nothing else forthcoming from the quarry today.

Finally, I returned to the spoil heap where I had recovered the Iguanodon vertebra on the previous trip but this time, and maybe not surprisingly, I could find nothing else. At this point I determined to check some older spoil heaps round the back of some trees that I had noticed before, but on reaching the area found that they had been removed and the area was now bare.

I checked the area out anyway, just in case, but there was nothing to be found. This must have been one of the last operations the staff here had performed prior to closure. It was very quiet here and added to the strange atmosphere at the Bluff. I felt it was appropriate to call it a day and headed for the car.
In retrospect, I suppose it was a lot of effort for some fish scales but remembering the exceptional vertebra I found last time, payment seems reasonable. I headed home and I am now keeping my fingers crossed, not only hoping to be able to visit next year, but also that the brick works survives the current crisis and reopens soon.


It’s always good to meet new like minded people on field trips such as these. For the most part, everyone you meet is pleasant, unpretentious and willing to share their knowledge. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case and, I found in this instance, that more than one of the IOW group were disrespectful to the Bluff and to fossil dinosaur material in general.

The first chap I spoke to was not of this ilk. He was obviously fairly knowledgeable and we hit it off straight away. He was so glad to be at “the” quarry where Baryonyx was found and was also respectful of the dinosaurs as once living animals, which is something I feel strongly about.

When I mentioned how lucky he was to be living on “Dinosaur Island”, he said it had changed considerably and had become an extremely cut throat place. The Neovenator quarry was continually plundered, which distressed him since whatever was left of any scientific value had already been removed, but still the site was under continual scrutiny.

Anything found has to be kept strictly secret where possible; otherwise any new site instantly suffers the same fate. During periods of rough weather pounding the coast, especially during winter and spring, literally hundreds of resident collectors are out at all times of the day and night, pillaging the dinosaur grounds. Indeed, during such storms at night, the hunting grounds are almost lit up like a Christmas tree, such are the amount of torches and tilly lamps that can be seen from the cliffs.

He sounded quite despondent and suddenly I wasn’t too keen to visit the isle again. We went our separate ways until during the afternoon when a couple of the others approached me and introduced themselves. At first they appeared decent people. They too had been keen to visit the home of Baryonyx and had even found a few pieces of bone. It was when they described the bone as “not up to much” that doubts crept in.

I explained to them that any find at the Bluff, whether dinosaur, plant, insect or shell was an achievement and should be recognised as such. Big mistake! I then proceeded to get the full gamut, such as the following:

“If you want dinosaur bone on the isle, you simply go out and find dinosaur bone – no problem.”
“I wouldn’t get out of bed normally for bone of this quality.”
And so forth.

My newly found IOW friend looked at me and raised his eyebrows. I knew exactly what he meant and recognised that these were exactly the kind of collectors to whom he had been referring earlier. I quickly said my goodbyes and moved on for I knew that I would just get aggravated if I listened to them any further!

We are all different people – I accept that. If someone searches for fossils for profit, then that is their choice, it isn’t illegal after all (not yet anyway – but maybe now it is time for some form of action, especially on the Isle of Wight, an internationally important location for early Cretaceous dinosaurs). If the aim is to only hunt for dinosaur bone of the highest quality and value, then fair enough. But no one should ever lose respect for the fossils they find or the other collectors they meet. Everything we find is simply borrowed from future generations and is part of our planet’s inheritance. These magnificent extinct animals, whether ammonite or dinosaur, should always be given the respect they deserve.


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