Thursday, 4 November 2010

Getting Closer.....


In May we returned to Quarry 4. Conditions were good and the forecast was for a cloudy day with sunny intervals. Temperatures were in the low teens and we both felt that today would be a good day.

As we walked toward the far side of the quarry it was apparent that enormous amounts of clay had been removed. It never ceases to amaze me that the Bluff remains closed because of the economic climate and yet Quarry 4 continues to be worked hard despite the downturn.

We dropped to the quarry floor and began to prospect. It wasn’t until we got closer to the newly quarried face that we realised the full extent of the clay removal. I was amazed - it must have amounted to hundreds of tons of spoil that had been taken out. Still, it gave us a large area of virgin territory to search for fossils.

Better still, nearly all the flood waters had now receded and so we could search the areas that had been under water for some months. We looked in earnest, keen for success since I think we are both of the opinion that we are not the luckiest prospectors’ and almost resigned to the fact that the next person who follows us in will find the next plesiosaur or ichthyosaur.

Similarly to last time it was hard going. There were some areas that were particularly rich in belemnites and Gryphaea but, as mentioned before, this was zonal. There wasn’t a great deal of wood either and we knew early on that we would struggle. And yet everything felt right and we knew that we were going to persevere and eventually I found a small piece of bone. Not the most impressive piece you will ever see but at least it was a start.

Not too far from the spot where we had started to prospect, I began to look on the quarry floor that ran parallel to a long spoil heap. Where it ended there was a narrow gap before the next spoil heap began. I walked through this and double backed on myself walking on the other side of the spoil.

After a few yards I managed to spot a small piece of bone that was exposed on the surface. A good gust of wind would have probably covered it over with dust again but at last I got lucky. It was very narrow and rib-like and I gently began to uncover it. Slowly but surely, a delightfully preserved rib materialised. It was gently curved and virtually complete although it was fractured in a few spots.


I called Mark over and he recommended that we separate the clay from its surrounding matrix and remove it whole. I cleaned off the exposed bone, stabilised it with consolidant, and slowly began to separate the bone supporting block. After slow but sure progress the support block fractured and the lower part of the rib broke away but this wasn’t a problem and the remainder was removed intact. The two blocks were then carefully wrapped up and packed and I was ready to continue the search.

I searched the immediate area for quite a while to see if the bone was an isolated element or whether there was any more of the animal to be found but this was not to be the case, unless there was more remains under the spoil heap but it seemed unlikely. Satisfied that there was nothing left to find, I moved off in search of other material elsewhere and to join up with Mark who was now a little ahead of me.

Eventually we approached the bed where we spent so much time searching last time and soon my eyes focussed on a very familiar area. Sure enough we came across our rock markers which marked the spot where our tree trunk was located from our previous trip. We were both a little saddened to see that the trunk was still in situ but now much worse for wear and disintegrating.

Although a little aggrieved by this, I suppose it is a little understandable. Where do you store such a trunk as this? And the conserving problems are immense. I suppose in reflection that, although it was impressive, it was not particularly well preserved, there was no bark remaining, and all that was left was this huge chunk of carbonised wood.

Well we did the right thing in reporting the find. Now it will very soon crumble to dust and disappear forever but it was impressive when we found it and I have a good photographic record for posterity. We continued to search and, as mentioned previously, were now able to look in the areas that were now dry but still we could find nothing else.

One thing that we may take next time are yard brooms! When the clay is dry and dusty, the shiny enamel of fossil bone can be hidden and, although half joking about this last time, I am starting to believe that there may be some merit to the idea and that a quick sweep of a broom may help in uncovering bone that may be otherwise missed. We’ll see.

We made our way out of the area, and began to go over old trenches and the gullies that we had scoured previously but, again there was nothing more to be found and we decided to call it a day. As usual, we took the long way back to the cars in the hope of falling onto something, but it wasn’t to be.

Quarry 4 leaves me feeling a sense of inevitability that our time will surely come and that as long as we persist then we will find our skeleton. It’s a different feeling from the Bluff, which is a place that compels me to go regardless. Although skeletons have been removed from the Bluff they are incredibly rare, three that I know of, maybe four, so you know that you would normally be looking for isolated bone elements.

But Quarry 4 and the surrounding area have produced an abundance of skeletons over the years and as long as the clay is here and bricks are required, then there will be many more finds to come. I just hope that we are here for the next few skeletons that are found.

Footnote

For a look at the prepared rib, see here.

As mentioned in previous posts, Quarry 5 is now being worked quite heavily and, if all goes well, we will have access early next year. Quarry 4 is still down to be flooded very soon but there is no agreed date for this and we continue to have access until January 2011 although there are no new excavations and we are relying on the elements to uncover anything.

A further quarry, not too far away, has also been earmarked for extraction in the future and would be a massive excavation, so the future for more marine reptiles being found appears extremely positive.

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