Thursday, 17 March 2011

Quarry 4 - The Last Field Trip

We all returned to Quarry 4 in mid-December and this was the first time in ages that we had all managed to meet up since early Spring. How fitting this would prove to be since, although we did not know at the time, this was to be our last ever trip to the quarry.

We all knew, however, that it was indeed likely to be the last visit for some time because Winter had well and truly set in and when the clay gets sodden and the water builds up, conditions become impossible. So it was good to meet up with everyone and catch up on all things palaeo.

Again we were lucky with our choice of day. The weather had been poor the weekend previous and the following weekend, after this trip, was even worse. Temperatures were reasonable and the clay underfoot was just about walkable so it appeared conditions were tolerable.

As we made our way down into the quarry it was obvious that there was a lot more water build up than first appeared. It seeped through every footprint we made and clay that was firm underfoot was at a premium. We walked to the back of the quarry and saw that the breech in the corner was still pouring plenty of water into the quarry.

We all made for the same spot where Cliff had found his Liopleurodon tooth previously. Carl and I both had an idea that the tip of that tooth may be hidden in the clay somewhere where the rest of the tooth had been found and this was only a few yards away from where I had also found a Peloneustes tooth. In fact this small area had produced quite a few teeth throughout the year.

But now it was much wetter and muddier. The water breech in the quarry wall was also bringing other clay and silt into the area and it was increasingly harder to walk and locate any fossils. However, it had only been five minutes (again!) when Cliff, who was only a few yards form Carl and myself, promptly found yet another Liopleurodon tooth!

We could hardly believe it – a second tooth from the giant pliosaur and found within a couple of yards of where the first one was found. This was really unusual and for the first time we all began to think that there may more than just teeth from this animal. If not that, then maybe there may have been some sort of natural eddy or current that had washed these teeth to this spot – a sort of tidal collection point if you like.

After admiring the tooth and commenting on the colour of a certain part of Cliff’s anatomy, we all returned to the search determined to see if we could find more. Unbelievably, just as we turned our backs and returned to our spots, Cliff, in his matter-of-fact way, said “Here’s another one.” A third Liopleurodon tooth! Now this was unheard of and we quickly reassembled to discuss the matter.

Three teeth and we wondered if they could be from the same animal. Indeed Cliff had brought the previous tooth with him and we were able to compare. Strikingly, they did indeed look like that they may be from the same animal – indeed maybe even from the same dentary. We were starting to believe that there just might be some important Liopleurodon material not far from being unearthed.

At this point I mentioned the big pliosaur vertebra that I found previously and it was apparent that this had been found only about 50 yards away from where these teeth were coming to light. We were all a little excited and started to believe that there may be more to find of this animal for sure.

We searched the area as if our lives depended on it but no other fossils were forthcoming. Conditions were made worse by the fact that there were four of us searching the same small area and we were churning up the clay simply by walking around. Eventually we all moved on.

The rest of the session was simply prospecting as best we could, walking through the clay mire, hoping to glean some surface finds. But apart from Cliff locating some more scrappy Leedsichthys bone, there was not a lot forthcoming although there were several small fish coprolites recovered, a couple of which seemed to have inclusions present.

As time moved on it was obvious to all of us that were would not be too much more to be found. I decided to return to the Liopleurodon zone for a final look – just in case. I spent another twenty minutes or so scouring as best I could but to no avail. Little did I know that I was to be the last person ever to search that particular spot.

Soon after, we all returned to the cars to discuss the day’s events. We realised that it was quite likely that there were more Liopleurodon remains to be found and were hopeful of returning to Quarry 4 early in 2011. However fate was to take a hand and we found out only a few weeks later that the quarry had been closed.

As we entered 2011, it was apparent that things were changing and any future work would be done in the same formation but in Quarry 5 and, at last, we received the news that we had gained access during the Spring. This was a huge relief but was tempered by the fact that control of entry would be much tougher, although this would be good for fossil collecting since this quarry was very secure - almost inaccessible.

So began a period of waiting – waiting for new disclaimer forms, new permits and, most of all, for news of when we could visit the quarry for the first time. We were in a period of transition and this period of not knowing made all of us a little restless.


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