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Newsletter - September 2012

The full, illustrated newsletter is available as a pdf for download. Text extracts are given below.


Welcome to the September Newsletter!

As the excellent field meetings season comes to an end we look forward to an interesting series of talks in our indoor meetings programme, which includes carbonates in the Cayman Islands, early North-West Geologists, a tour of the Outer Hebrides, and a look at the palaeontology of China, plus lots more.

Also in the newsletter, we have articles from our members on an interesting trip to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, an MGA trip to the Wild West, USA, a report of the Dangerous Dinosaurs and Fabulous Fossils event at Park Bridge, and a book review. An update of the MGA's archive (updating the list from 2008) is given by our archivist Derek Brumhead, as well as news from the MGA council, which asks for volunteers to help out with refreshments at the indoor meetings and for anyone who wants to become our next membership secretary. Volunteering for the MGA is a great way to meet other members and the council, so please consider helping out the association, any help is greatly appreciated. Also, if you are an internet user, please sign up to the MGA's facebook group, more details in MGA News.

Many thanks to all who have supplied material for this edition, if you have any articles, book reviews or news for the next edition (December), please email them to me before the end of November.

James Jepson
Newsletter Editor

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Jardin des Plantes, Paris

On a recent trip to Paris I had the chance to visit the Jardin des Plantes. From 1635 this site was the Royal Garden of Medicinal Herbs but in 1793, after the revolution, it became the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle (the National Natural History Museum). Appointed as head of the Garden in 1739, Georges Louis Leclerc, the count of Buffon and a leading naturalist, extended the garden and established it as a major centre for the study of the natural sciences. In the 19th century amongst the researchers at the garden were both Lamarck, the leading evolutionary thinker, and Cuvier, who is regarded as the founder of palaeontology.

Home to one of the world's great natural history collections of specimens and records, today the garden contains greenhouses, museums and a small zoo. The former Gallery of Zoology, which had been closed to the public for some 30 years before its refurbishment, is now The Grand Gallery of Evolution where the plant and animal life of the planet are explored in a vast, spectacular space with subdued lighting to protect the specimens on display. Unfortunately the Geology gallery is currently undergoing renovation and closed (but can be explored online) however the Gallery of Comparative Anatomy and Palaeontology is open to the public. This museum has a distinctly antique atmosphere and, in terms of its fabric, is rather badly in need of maintenance.

Nevertheless this is a remarkable museum for it houses the collections which allowed Cuvier to define the science of palaeontology. There are of course the fossils themselves, but perhaps more impressive is the vast collection of skeletons from extant animals. It was this collection against which Cuvier compared fossil remains to understand the animals from which the fossils originated. The main hall on the ground floor of the gallery is full to almost bursting with the mounted articulated skeletons of larger animals while the cabinets around this central space contain smaller species as well as various anatomical specimens such as skulls, brain casts and preserved embryos.

The collection includes the skeletons of a number of whales, several of which are holotypes, the specimens on which the definition of the species is based. The upper two levels of the museum display the palaeontological collections. On the second floor the vertebrate specimens are arranged from the most ancient species at the front of the hall to the remains of early humans at the rear. Invertebrate fossils are displayed on a balcony gallery running around vertebrate display. A small room above the entrance hall displays some of the original published descriptions of various specimens, and in particular ammonites, alongside the original specimens themselves.

Both the evolution and palaeontology galleries have small but interesting bookshops with a range of popular and technical books (of course mostly in French but some in English). If you do read French (or are experienced with Google translate) and are holidaying in France the bookshops have a series of small, excellently produced booklets, describing geological walks around different French cities for only 4 euro.

The recent novel The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott provides an atmospheric introduction to these museums and their history. The story is set in post revolutionary Paris, a time of rapid growth of interest in natural science, with much of the action centring around the Jardin des Plantes and its museums with Cuvier as an important character. For those with an interest in the history of ideas about evolution, Stott's most recent book is Darwin's Ghosts: In search of the First Evolutionists, which has been very positively reviewed.

More information about the Jardin and museums can be found on their website. I highly recommend a day spent exploring the gardens and its various museums on your next visit to Paris.

Gary Fuller

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The MGA in the Wild West, USA 2012

You could call it the trip of a lifetime.. well it certainly was for me!

For two weeks in June and July six members of the MGA, ably led by John Nudds and Cindy Howells, toured the WILD WEST of the USA in a large mini bus, visiting active dinosaur digs, mammoth exposures, fossil fish deposits, many museums, three national parks and some amazing geological wonders.

We started in Denver, lodged initially in Cheyenne, went to Medicine Bow for lunch at The Virginian and then, taking a circular route via South Dakota, made our way via Scott's Bluff, the Devil's Tower, Hill City and Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone Park.

At Mammoth Springs in Yellowstone Park we slept in simple cabins with resident ground squirrels, had close encounters with deer (which they call elk) and bison (which they call buffalo), saw many hot springs.. but fortunately only met bears in a wild life park .. and we did wild swimming in warm rivers! And, yes of course, we went to see Old Faithful and all the fabulous hot pools and terraces.

John's contacts in the dinosaur world of the wild west took us into the workshops of the Black Hills Institute in Hill City, South Dakota, where full size casts of huge dinosaurs were being constructed. The replica of "Stan" in the Manchester Museum was made here, and later to an active dig at the Dana Quarry near Ten Sleep in Wyoming. Here we saw an enormous articulated Apatosaurus being excavated (we got there half an hour before the folk from the Smithsonian).

The temperature on arrival in Denver was 102F and in Thermopolis, suitably hotter at 104F, but that didn't stop some of the team from enjoying a natural hot dip, more prudent members cooled off in the hotel pool. All of the mid west was experiencing a heat wave, and we drove mile after mile through tinder dry sage brush country with just the occasional pronghorn or cow and "nodding donkeys" to be seen. One expected Clint to come over the horizon at any time!

After a couple of nights at Yellowstone we headed south through the Grand Teton National Park to visit Fossil Butte in the Green River Formation and then via Flaming Gorge into Utah to the Dinosaur National Monument near Vernal.

On the last day we traversed the Rocky Mountains, saw some moose, drove up to 11,000 ft, and it started to rain. Our return journey was eventful.. ..our plane didn't fly so some came home via Frankfurt and some via Heathrow!

Long empty roads, small clapboard settlements and distant views of huge mountains are an enduring memory.. and really friendly folk.. "Manchester? England? Is that near Scotland? In Europe?" Oh, and well managed National Parks with helpful rangers wearing big hats and very shiny boots! We travelled 2,800 miles in 14 days, spent time in 6 different states and returned sunburnt, happy and exhausted after a trip of a lifetime.

Mary Howie

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Dangerous Dinosaurs and Fabulous Fossils Tribute to Fred Broadhust

Thank you to all those who helped at Park Bridge to make this a great event for children and a worthy tribute to Fred. Despite the dismal weather it was very popular, with children travelling from as far away as Southport and Huddersfield. Children got the chance to handle inspiring fossils from Manchester Museum as well as fascinating local fossils brought in by Oldham Geological Society. They could find out about Percy the Plesiosaur with Fred's family, dig for real fossils and gemstones, watch if erupting volcanoes wiped out their dinosaurs, do interactive walking with dinosaur workshops with Pete Loader of St Bede's, create prehistoric scenes and crafts with Rockwatch, imagine and make clay prehistoric creatures with Tameside's Countryside Voluntary Wardens and make their own fossils, pan for gold and try their hand at mountain building with the Earth Science Education Unit. For those who didn't mind the rain there was also a guided walk to explore the clues from the rocks around nearby Rocher Vale. Tameside Countryside Warden Service who manage this area have also been exemplary in their help and support.

The Curry Fund of the Geologists' Association funded a Coal Mine Crawly Tunnel, made by former miner Gary Brain. Gary even dressed up as a Victorian coal miner for the day and answered lots of questions about working underground. The Coal Mine Crawly Tunnel is now stored at Manchester Museum and can be loaned for future events to promote geology and our region's coal mining. Thank you to all the many volunteers, some of whom like John Price of the MGA and the Oldham Geological Society who donated many of their own fossils for the children to enjoy. Speaking to children and parents on the day it was evident that there's a lot of enthusiasm for more events for children in the north west who are interested in all things prehistoric. The inspiration created by Fred Broadhurst goes on and on.

Chantal Johnson

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Book Review

Introducing Palaeontology: A Guide to Ancient Life by Patrick N Wyse Jackson
Dunedin Academic Press - 2010
ISBN 978-1-906-71615-8
Paperback: £9.99

Introducing Palaeontology is a well written, nicely illustrated, accessible introduction to the science of Palaeontology. It gives an excellent introduction to the study of fossils and the major fossil groups. The book is divided into two major parts, The Science of Palaeontology and Fossil Groups. The first part, The Science of Palaeontology, introduces what fossils are, how to collect, curate and study them. A well written section on taxonomy is given, explaining how fossils are named, this is followed by the uses of fossils which briefly discusses the history of life on Earth from its beginnings to the present day, evolution and extinctions, interpretations of palaeoenvironments and climates, biostratigraphy and the geological timescale. A section on Fossil Lagerstätten (sites of exceptional fossil preservation), introducing the two categories concentration and conservation, then listing some of the major sites across the globe, including Ediacaran biota, Burgess Shale, Solnhofen, Baltic amber to name a few. This section finishes on a very brief history of palaeontological study from the Greeks and Romans to the present day.

The second part goes through the major fossil groups starting with Algae and plants, going via Forams, Radiolarians, Bryzoans, Molluscs, Brachiopods, Echinoderms, Arthropods and Vertebrates, including Conodonts, Fish, Reptiles, Birds, Mammals (which includes a section on Hominids) finishing with trace fossils. Each of the sections are illustrated with colour photographs and labelled diagrams, and give easily digestible information on morphology, how they lived, stratigraphic ranges and their evolutionary history, all technical terms are in bold and explained in a comprehensive glossary at the back of the book.

This is an excellent and affordable introduction to the science of Palaeontology, it is written in a very accessible way, not being bogged down in technical descriptions like many other palaeontology textbooks. It is illustrated throughout with colour photographs (one minor criticism is the lack of scale on many of the images) and excellent annotated diagrams, especially in the second part of the book illustrating morphology. It also gives a broad overview covering plants, microfossils, invertebrates and vertebrates, other books often have a narrower view, for example, just invertebrates. The book will be of interest to both amateurs and professionals who want an introduction to the fascinating science of Palaeontology, and also to students who are starting study in geology, and in fact this book is recommended reading for the first year students at the University of Manchester.

James Jepson
National Museum Wales

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