Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Misty Bluff - Another First


April 2009 arrived and it was soon time to return to the Bluff. Again it was another trip without any new scrapings so we would be looking over old exposures, but at least there had been another winter of wind, rain and frost to help uncover any new prospective remains.

I arrived early and was disappointed to see a contingent from the Isle of Wight again, but this time there were only four of them. However, the one guy I found so disagreeable from the previous trip was one of them. So be it then. I quickly signed in and made my way to the Bluff.

I still haven’t got used to the fact that it hadn’t changed again. Previously there would always have been a scraping or some form of quarry work that would change at least one of the facies, but not now – not until the quarry is working again.

As usual I dropped onto the south easterly reptile beds and began to prospect. The winter had washed away the previous year’s excavations although you could just make out where they had been. I’d only been looking for a few minutes when the IOW group arrived. I could hear them before I saw them – quiet they aren’t!

They walked around me, shouting away to each other but I was lucky this time and they soon headed toward the far side of the quarry. Once they’d gone, I settled on a plan. After finishing this face I would cross the quarry road and search the same reptile beds that do not get as much attention. Then I would go to my fish spot and search for scales and bone. I refer to it as my spot since I know for a fact that I am the only person to spend any time there.

After this I would scavenge the area where all the bone pieces were recovered the previous autumn. I didn’t want to do that straight away since I was waiting to see if the guy who originally worked the spot was returning to carry on the excavation. Some of us still have scruples!

It was soon apparent that the south east face, despite by no means being worked out, would need some significant work to reveal new material. How we are all hoping the quarry reopens soon! I quickly made my way across the quarry road to the part of this bed that is not scavenged as much.

After a quick preliminary look, nothing of size was apparent so I decided to do some “up close and personal” prospecting, carefully examining the sediment at extreme close range, slowly moving along the face, hoping to catch any visual clues that may lead to a fossil.

It wasn’t long before I came across a cracking little crocodile tooth. Unfortunately it had obviously been exposed for some time and had become a little weather beaten, and almost all of the enamel had been lost. It still retained its shape and striations, however, and I was encouraged by the find.

Only a couple of yards away I found another tooth. This was much smaller and well worn, although it retained a blue hue under the eye glass. It was recurved in shape but the tip was rounded off. It’s difficult to identify and will need further comparison and study under the microscope.

Once I was happy that there was nothing else to be found, I made my way across the bottom of the quarry to the fish beds. As usual there had obviously been no-one prospecting since I was last there, and I expected to find material again. I therefore wasn’t surprised when I found a few lepidotid scales and a rare vertebrae, although not as much as I had expected, especially with a harsh winter behind us.

I sat down for a while and had something to eat and a drink. I looked toward my next destination and was pleased to see the bed devoid of other prospectors. I was soon making my way to the face and to the spot where all the bone had been recovered previously.

Incidentally, it pays to keep a photographic record of all locations for future reference, especially working quarries. Before the Bluff was mothballed, great swathes of clay would be removed between visits and previously worked sites were rendered unrecognisable. A photographic record will at least ensure that you can return to productive areas since, at the very least, you can use land marks on the horizon (as per Currie and his albertosaur bed albeit on a much smaller scale) as the fixing points.

Referring to the photograph I was able to walk right to the bone bearing bed and start looking. I started to locate bone fragments in the spoil heap straight away and recovered more material immediately below the heap. Whilst none of the material was diagnostic in any way, a couple of the better pieces do support the previous assertion that this is rib bone, but from what creature is anyone’s guess.

Satisfied there were no more surface finds to be had, I dug into the bed a little further to see if there was any more material to be uncovered. It was soon apparent that this wasn’t going to be the case so I moved on scouring the same bed for more bone, but nothing was forthcoming. Eventually I headed back to the south east face for another look before finishing for the day.


As I approached the face I became aware of some great excitement at the top of the ridge. On their previous trip here, the IOW group had decided to excavate into a bank that abutted the south eastern reptile beds. They had dug an enormous gulley and made significant inroads into the face. They had found nothing, which didn’t surprise too many people since, even during the years I’ve been coming here, this face has turned up very little. Indeed, the only fossils I saw from here were a big slab of clam shrimps.

This time, after their initial forays onto the Bluff, they decided to carry on with their excavation, only with startling results. After more excavating they began to uncover some excellent dinosaur tracks, a first for the Bluff. They were mainly theropod tracks, although there was one good ornithopod track. These had been removed individually and at the moment it is hard to know if a track way is involved.

For me, this is the Wealden at its best. Classic examples of dinosaurs strolling about on the flood plain and, since this is the type locality for Baryonyx, it’s a nice thought that maybe one or two of these tracks may have been laid down by the very same animal.


What happens now is unclear. It’s tempting to arrange for the removal of the overburden to see if a track way is involved and, at time of writing, neither the funds or inclination are there to proceed in this direction. It may be beneficial to wait for the quarry to reopen since the quarry owners are palaeo-friendly and it should be fairly simple to arrange the removal of the overburden.

Also it will be of benefit to perhaps wait until later in the year when, almost certainly, there will be further manual excavation into this bed. And no matter how many volunteers there are and how strong they may be, the clay is extremely tough and it takes a lot of hard labour to remove the spoil. I don’t believe that this will be detrimental if a track way is involved, but we’ll see.

At this point I should also say a big “well done” to the IOW boys. Despite my earlier criticism of their attitude and overall mannerisms, it has taken them hours of hard work for this reward and they have definitely earned it. So hats off to them, but let’s hope they show some humility now since everyone else congratulated them on their find.

After taking some images of the tracks I said my goodbyes and moved off site, leaving them to continue with their excavation although they were looking tired and I reckoned that they wouldn’t be there for much longer.

The Bluff is unique in the country. I know of no other locality on the mainland with such a varied flora and fauna, and from different environmental habitats. There are animals from the air, land, swamp and river, and the Bluff gives us a unique window into the early Cretaceous world of 125 million years ago.

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