Research Articles

Fossil shark found in Greenland

Read about a newly discovered fossil shark found on fieldwork in Greenland by a member of the Museum's staff. Conference poster was prepared for the 2015  Annual Symposium for Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy held at The National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. Read more.

Magma arta: rocks under the microscope.
Study of a unique rock collection – and its astonishingly beautiful microscopic crystal structures – could change our understanding of how the Earth works.

A new study funded by the Natural Environment Research Council in the University’s Department of Earth Sciences has turned to a unique rock collection, amassed since at least the early 1800s and held within the Sedgwick Museum, to provide fresh understanding of the composition of the mantle.
Dr John Maclennan, project leader, is working alongside Dr Arwen Deuss and Dr Tim Holland to look at the frozen remains of magma formed at depths of 100 km or more from the mantle and then 'spewed out of volcanoes'. More information and the film associated with the project can be found here.

Wolfe Creek Crater: the second largest meteor impact site in the world.

Article by Dr Kenneth McNamara, Director, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences.

Australia is famous for its natural beauty: the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, Kakadu, the Kimberley. But what about the places almost no one goes? Sedgwick Museum Director, Dr Kenneth McNamara was asked to nonimate one of Australia’s unknown wonders.
"It is a testament to the size and isolation of many parts of Australia that it wasn’t until 1947 that the second largest meteorite crater in the world was discovered. Known as Wolfe Creek Crater, this imposing feature is located about 145km from Halls Creek in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. It can be reached after a two to three-hour drive down the Tanami Road, only accessible to conventional vehicles during the dry season." Read the full article here

First Footfall: fossil discoveries that are providing tantalising evidence of some of the first animals to live on land.

Article by Dr Kenneth McNamara, Director, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences.

The world in which animals took their first tentative footsteps on land was a very different one from today. No verdant meadows, nor forests. Not a fern to be seen. The only plants were mosses and liverworts, clinging to rocks in wet places. For the most part the land was a bare, windswept world, probably not too dissimilar to the surface of Mars. Yet for some reason, some animals decided to leave the oceans, rivers and lakes, and venture on to this largely barren surface.Like the first Mars Rover that left its distinctive marks on virgin Martian soils, the first animals to drag themselves out of their aqueous world onto a harshlandscape at least 450 million years ago,left their own distinctive traces. Full article available here.



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Sep 20, 2019


My name is Andrew Simpson and I am a gallery volunteer at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences and a recent MGeol graduate in Geology with Paleobiology from the University of Leicester. My main interest is in vertebrate palaeontology, however, I like writing about all facets of palaeontology, from evolutionary history to fossil lagerstätten.

Science, like any organism, is constantly changing over time with scientific theories evolving to fit the best available evidence. This phenomenon is prevalent throughout the scientific world but can be very clearly seen in Palaeontology. There are many instances of reconstructions of extinct life being different in the past than they are today. One example, represented in the Sedgwick Museum, is the Carboniferous arthropod Megarachne ("Great Spider"). Once thought to be the largest spider ever, further research in 2005 found it to instead be a medium sized species of freshwater sea scorpion (though I don’t think this makes Megarachne less unsettling to look at!)

However one of the most interesting cases of an extinct animal whose palaeontological reconstruction has changed with new discoveries is the Cambrian arthropod Anomalocaris ("strange shrimp"). The Cambrian, from an evolutionary perspective, was a renaissance. New body plans and weird evolutionary experiments were emerging. Some animals became extinct soon after they appeared. Some, like the trilobites, survived for an amazingly long period of time. While others would evolve into the main animal groups alive today.
Anomalocaris is one of these weird wonders. It was discovered in 1892 by Joseph Whiteeves in the Burgess Shale formation in Canada. The original fossil looked shrimp-like but with no clear headparts. For a long time this was the only known description, its lifestyle a complete mystery. Later in 1911 the palaeontologist Charles Walcott, who also worked on the Burgess Shale, discovered a fossil which looked like a primitive jellyfish. He gave it the name Peytoia nathorsti.
Now you may be wondering "I thought you were going to be talking about Anomalocaris? Why have you wondered off topic?" Well this is where it gets interesting! In the early 1980s, Cambridge University palaeontologist, Harry Whittington, saw something astounding whilst preparing another Burgess Shale fossil. As he chipped away at the rock he noticed two Anomalocaris "shrimps" attached to the head of a larger body of another creature. Not only that, but a Peytoia fossil was attached to this same head. It became clear that the Anomalocaris shrimp and the Peytoia jellyfish were not separate species, but all part of one large Cambrian animal.

Anomalocaris was the top predator of its day. At around a metre long it was the largest animal the earth had seen to that point. After identifying its prey using large compound eyes, it then used its prongs to grab its prey. Anomalocaris then held its prey close to its mouth-parts so they could break through the hard exoskeleton. anomalocarids were widely successful, ranging across the globe from Canada to China and living from the Early to Middle Cambrian. While most anomalocarids were predators, a filter feeding species was described in 2014 and named Tamisiocaris borealis ("sieve shrimp").
So anomalocarids, the strange shrimps of the Cambrian, really are one of the most fascinating group of arthropods known. They are a great example of the evolutionary variety that has evolved on this planet.

Andrew Simpson

Sep 12, 2019

This week we reached a major landmark in the development of the Museum’s new Collections Research Centre. We’ve just been handed the keys to the brand new Colin Forbes Building, a purpose-built collections store to house our internationally important rock and fossil collections.  We now start the ambitious task of moving our rock collection – weighing more than 150 tonnes – from a variety of locations across Cambridge.  Bringing our collections together, and creating a space where we can welcome research visitors enables us to take a big step towards our aim of creating a world-leading centre for Earth Sciences collections research.