It might not be well known outside of palaeontology that the south-west of England is famous for its marine reptile fossils. But it is: some of the best, most historically significant, plesiosaur and ichthyosaur specimens have come from Street in Somerset and from Lyme Regis and Charmouth in Dorset.
These rocks – spanning the Triassic-Jurassic boundary and known collectively as the Lower Lias – yield the giant, robust-skulled ichthyosaur Temnodontosaurus, the swordfish-like Leptonectes and Eurhinosaurus, and the more familiar, dolphin-like Ichthyosaurus. The long-necked plesiosaurs Plesiosaurus, Archaeonectrus, Thalassiodracon [shown below] and Attenborosaurus also come from these rocks, as does the short-necked plesiosaur Eurycleidus. Many of the specimens are beautifully preserved, and their discovery during (and even before) the early 1800s meant that they played centre-stage in debates on the diversity of vanished life (Howe et al. 1981, Taylor 1997).
If you’re interested in Mesozoic marine reptiles such as these, on the faunal changes that occurred across the Triassic-Jurassic boundary, or on the role that fossil marine reptiles have played in the development of palaeontological thought, you’ll be very interested to know that a special Palaeontological Association seminar devoted entirely to these subjects is being held at Street in Somerset on Friday July 31st 2009. While the talks presented during the seminar will review current knowledge of Lias geology and palaeontology, it is hoped that new data and discussion will also characterise the meeting: some details of the stratigraphy are still controversial, and the taxonomy and affinities of some of the animals remain disputed or require further study.
The meeting is titled Sea Dragons of Avalon: the early radiations of the marine reptiles and recovery from the Triassic-Jurassic faunal crisis, with special reference to Street in Somerset and the wider British record [the meeting logo is shown above]; it’s followed on August 1st 2009 by a fieldtrip to local quarries and other areas of interest. Prior to the seminar itself – on Thursday 30th July – world-renowned ichthyosaur expert Dr Ryosuke Motani is giving a talk entitled ‘Street’s town symbol: the ichthyosaur two centuries since its discovery’. For the duration of the meeting we will have posters and fossils on display, and we also plan to visit the Alfred Gillett Collection of local fossil reptiles (thanks to the kind courtesy of the archives of the Alfred Gillett Trust) [just to remind you how neat ichthyosaurs are, here's that cladogram again. It originally appeared back in June 2008].
For further details on the meeting please see the Palaeontological Association page here; a programme, with speakers and talk titles, is available here, and the booking form is here. Any enquiries about the meeting can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. A great line-up has been arranged, and this is sure to be a great meeting. I hope to see you there!
Ref – -
Howe, S. R., Sharpe, T. & Torrens, H. S. 1981. Ichthyosaurs: a History of Fossil ‘Sea-Dragons’. National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.
Taylor, M. A. 1997. Before the dinosaur: the historical significance of the fossil marine reptiles. In Callaway, J. & Massare, J. (eds) Ancient Marine Reptiles. Academic Press (London), pp. xix-xlvi.