Exploring the Cambridge fossil site


The Cambridge fossil site is west of Richmond, and is a former quarry rich in fossil material. Paul Stumkat from the Richmond Fossil Museum took us there and it was quick to see that bones, and teeth, and traces of animals that once lived in this ancient inland sea were all around us.

Paul Stumkat:

So this would have been Cretaceous marine sediment, part of the Toolebuc formation and within this sediment we’ve found a host of material from very large marine reptiles, going to a whole series of fauna of fish species and squid and so forth. The evidence shows that it was an incredibly active area with heaps of animals in it, and that’s exhibited not only by the bone material but the actual amount of fossilized poo we get. We’ve been getting Ichthyosaur, heaps of Ichthyosaur material, we get lots of sharks teeth of various species yet to be determined, but for reasons one or the other we haven’t been able to find any really big marine reptiles like Kronosaurus, that might come yet. And yeah, it’s damn good.

Ben Kear:

It looks like it might be disappearing, but there’s that which could be part of a fin… there could be chunks of it flaking off all over the place.

Well it’s a reasonably large fish and my guess is that it’s a metre long predatory fish and one of a few that are swimming around in the ocean at this point in time. This particular deposit appears to be yielding reasonably articulated material like this, the tail that Paul found is potentially really important, because nobodies ever seen that stuff before. So it’s putting the front and the back ends together for the first time, if you like.

Paul Stumkat:

Okay, so what I’m doing here at the moment is just a bit of consolidating on a lot of the exposed material. What we’ve got here is a really a plethora of really interesting bits and pieces, all of them unfortunately disarticulated but nevertheless they’re all really interesting parts of a skeleton, most notably being the teeth. So we’ve definitely got some teeth of what has now been defined as Ichthyosaur, we’ve got teeth of Elasmosaur, we’ve got turtle, we’ve got shark’s teeth over here as well, and we’ve got quite a beautiful example of a tail fin of a large fish, particular species unknown as yet. And what I’m doing is I’m putting what’s called paraloid on top of the exposed bone material, and that will hold it all together before we start doing mechanical prep work on actually trying to get material out of the matrix.

Ben Kear:

So finding a giant skeleton is only part of the picture. What we can find from the particular locality that we’ve been working here with this finer grain sediment is piecing together what the ancient ecosystem was actually like. What you can see here is a mishmash of tiny bits and pieces that can tell us all the other kinds of animals that were around in the seas at the time. We have parts of turtle, Ichthyosaurs, bits of ballinite, and coprolites, fossilised droppings, actually telling us what things were eating. Alongside these we find other remains, for example Pterosaurs, flying reptiles, which give us an indication of not only what was living in the ocean, but what was flying around in the skies above the seas 100 million years ago. The virtue of this locality also is that we’ve been able to find material that’s articulated. You can see from this specimen that we collected a few days ago, basically, it’s an articulated fish fin. You can see the vertebral column and the blades of the tail itself. In fact in terms of preservation, this animal obviously settled on the sea floor and was undisturbed, and now all we have is the remains of it’s skeleton, effectively preserved for 100 million years.

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