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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Schoolgirl finds an unusual fossil leaf

This fossil plant was found by Ruth Thornton, aged 11 who goes to Maldon Primary School in Essex. She found it among the rocks on the beach at Church Cliff, between Lyme Regis and Charmouth. Museum geologists identified the rock it is preserved in as having come from the Shales With Beef, and can also tell that it is from the birchi beds. The birchi beds are named for the ammonite they contain - Microderoceras birchi (see image below). The ammonites name comes from a contemporary and friend of Mary Anning called Colonel Birch.

This rock identification also fits with the layers in the cliff where the fossil was found.
Fossil wood is common at Lyme regis, but fossilised leaves and seeds are rare. All this plant material must have been washed from nearby land (along with the occasional insect or dinosaur!) and gives a clue about what life was like on land in the early Jurassic period 200 million years ago. The leaf does not appear to be exactly the same as others we are aware of that have been found in the rocks around Lyme Regis. This raises the possibility it could be a new species, but we need an expert opinion to be certain. It may be a new species for Lyme Regis even if it is not new to science. Another interesting idea that has been raised is that it looks similar to specimens found higher (younger) in the Jurassic. If it is the same it would not be a new species, but would extend the range of the existing species back into the early Jurassic. We will let you know when we find out more about this interesting specimen.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Mary Anning's first Ichthyosaur comes home to Lyme Regis

"The most famous fossilist's most famous fossil!" That is how the specimen of Ichthyosaur "Temnodontosaurus platydon" (the cutting tooth lizard) that Joseph and Mary Anning found in the blue lias cliffs of Lyme Regis has been described. It is believed that Joseph found the skull and Mary (who was just 12 at the time of the discovery) went on to find the neck section a few months later. The Annings sold the ichthyosaur to Henry Host Henly, of Colway Manor in Lyme, for £23 and it was sent off to London never to return. Until this week!!

The specimen's current owners, The Natural History Museum, have agreed that it can return to Lyme for a short period and on Thursday 21st July two of their staff brought it down in the back of a van. The picture to the right shows the van parked outside Lyme Regis Museum in what was Cockmoil Square where the Annings had their home and workshop. Museum geologist, Paddy Howe is removing the top of the packing case to get a first view of the ichthyosaur in Lyme Regis. Dr Martin Munt from the Natural History Museum is looking on.

The plan was to take the specimen up the museum's spiral staircase for display in the Geology Gallery but it was far too long and heavy for that. So it was manoeuvred through the the door and into the ground floor gallery. At least this allowed the photograph to the left to be taken from the staircase.

Until now, Lyme Regis has had to make do with a model of the ichthyosaur (below) but for a short period of time, townspeople and visitors will be able to see it in the place where it was found. The model will replace it at the Natural History Museum.

The Ichthyosaur head will be at Lyme regis museum until at least the end of September and will be a star attraction of Mary Anning Day on the 24th September. Click here for information on this event.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Lyme's royal connection

The first recorded royal visitor to Lyme Regis was Edward I (1239 -1307), who came to the town in May 1297. England was at war with France, and three years earlier Edward had ordered the town to build a galley of 120 oars to help with the war effort. It had to be finished by the time of his visit... and it was, although it only had 54 oars!

It was Edward I who, in 1284, had granted Lyme its royal charter, allowing the town to add "Regis" to its name (Regis is Latin for "of the King"). The charter had its positive and negative points. On the one hand, it entitled the town to two members to parliament and a merchant's guild. On the other hand, the town had to pay taxes to the King and build him a warship when he ordered them to!

For more information on the history of Lyme Regis, see the museum website.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Lerrets and lucky stones

The picture above shows one of the lucky stones hanging inside Gail McGarva's new lerret Littlesea. The boat has two of these stones, one from Lyme Regis and one from Portland, to unite both ends of the coast (the boat is a double-ender too!).

Small pebbles with naturally-occurring holes in them have always been used as lucky charms. In other parts of the country they are known as "hag-stones", although Gail doesn't use this term herself. Neither does retired fisherman Ken Gollop, who simply calls them "stones with holes in 'em"! Ken says that in the old days, these pebbles were very rare in Lyme Regis -- you'd have to walk a hundred yards along the beach, scouring it carefully, before you found one. Nowadays, with the import of shingle from the Isle of Wight, the stones are far more common.

Hag stones have many uses besides protecting boats. They are often tied above windows or doorways for protection. There are numerous hag-stones in the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, including one that has been tied to a door-key to prevent it from being lost!

Thanks to Gail McGarva for the photograph and information, and to Ken Gollop for additional information.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Evolution of ichthyosaurs: a new study

The evolution of ichthyosaurs was hit hard by a mass extinction event 200 million years ago, according to a new study from the University of Bristol. Ichthyosaurs are iconic fossils, generally dolphin-shaped (image left, top), and feeding on a diet of fishes and marine molluscs including belemnites and ammonites (image left, bottom). Ichthyosaurs were first discovered 200 years ago by Mary Anning on the Jurassic coast of Dorset at Lyme Regis. Hundreds of specimens of these dolphin-shaped predators have since been found, and they were abundant and important predators in Jurassic seas. The new study shows, however, that Mary Anning's Jurassic ichthyosaurs were actually a much reduced remnant of the former glory of the group.

Click here to continue reading about the results of this new study from the Palaeobiology and Biodiversity Research Group of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol.

For more information on ichthyosaurs and other fossils of Lyme Regis, see the Fossils and Rocks page of the Museum website.

Friday, 8 July 2011

J. M. W. Turner and Lyme Regis

J. M. W. Turner (1775 - 1851) was a landscape painter whose name has become almost synonymous with adventurous British art -- the prestigious Turner Prize is named in his honour. Turner (whose self-portrait is shown on the right, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) is especially remembered for his maritime scenes, ranging from dramatic naval battles to peaceful English seaside towns.

Turner produced watercolour paintings of Lyme Regis on at least two occasions:

There is also a small oil painting entitled "Shrimpers at Lyme Regis" on display in the drawing room of Nunnington Hall in North Yorkshire, which has recently been attributed to Turner.

For further information on Lyme's artistic heritage, see the Writers and Artists page of the Lyme Regis Museum website.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Curator’s Newsletter July 2011

From Mary Godwin, Director of Lyme Regis Museum:

We are a ‘Quality Business’!
In the last month we have been awarded ‘Jurassic Coast Quality Business’ status. This has involved us going on various courses and having a review of our operations and management. The lady who came out to review us arrived with the preconception that because we were a museum we weren’t really a business. She was quite surprised when I said that we were indeed very much a business; as an independent museum we rely largely on our own ability to generate income in order to survive and move forward – last year we generated 75% of our own income! By the time she left she was in no doubt that we were indeed very much a business! This award will get us valuable publicity on the Jurassic Coast website and demonstrates that we are a well-run organisation with a strong focus on customer service (as well as a great museum of course!!).

Resources for Schools
Our Learning and Outreach Officer Chris Andrew has been beavering away preparing a range of new school workshops. Information about all these is now on the museum website. There is also a new ‘discovery’ section with loads of useful info. and we are already getting noticeably more school visits. Chris is also working with Alison Bowskill from Woodroffe School on outreach visits to old people’s homes, which are proving very popular! Last week Chris worked with people from age 6 to 96 and most ages in between!

Museum Website Goes International!
Our website now has an instant translation facility! Go to the home page and simply select your language from the drop down menu at top left! With increasing interest from overseas visitors, we hope this will encourage more visits in person as well as online. Thanks to Lorraine Chamen for finding out about the software and thanks to Keith Shaw for setting it up which involved quite a bit of work.

Tweeters - follow us on Twitter @LymeRegisMuseum

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Tolkien in Lyme Regis

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 – 1973) spent most of his career as a Professor of English at Oxford University, but he is best remembered for The Hobbit (1937) and the three-volume Lord of the Rings (1954-5), which became the most popular fictional works of the twentieth century -- with combined sales of more than a quarter of a billion copies!

Tolkien (pictured left in 1911, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) visited Lyme Regis regularly between 1905 and 1910 for summer holidays with his younger brother Hilary and their guardian Francis Morgan. They stayed at the Three Cups Hotel in Broad Street -- the same hotel patronized by fellow author G.K. Chesterton. Later on, Tolkien returned to the town with his wife and children on many occasions. It is believed that he absorbed the scenery and atmosphere of Lyme and its surroundings into several of his fictional scenes... just as Beatrix Potter had done when she visited the town!

To find out more about the many writers and artists associated with Lyme Regis, see the Writers and Artists page of the main website... or better still, visit the museum!