The Jurassic Coast
The Jurassic Coast
The Jurassic Coast. And NO before you even ask, this page has NOTHING to do with the Jurassic Park Movies. Well not really. Other than the fact this lens will involve dinosaur bones and other fossils. But that's it!! Those movies were about bringing dinosaurs back to life. This lens is about discovering dinosaur bones and how Darwin came to write his book on The Origin of Species. .
And I'm sure the next question you are asking is - WHERE is the Jurassic Coast. The answer is - it's in England. On the south west coast running between Swanage in the county of Dorset and Exmouth in the county of Devon.
Jurassic Coast Map
Picture Source - Washington University (Tacoma) Class trip to the Jurassic Coast in 2006.
The West Country in Books
The Jurassic Coast in Devon
I'm sure we have all heard of the White Cliffs of Dover, No?
Well then, how many of you have ever heard of the Red Cliffs of Devon?
None of you? Noone? I am shocked!!!
The Jurassic Coast is a 95 mile (155 km) length of coast in south west England covering the counties of Dorset and Devon. I am concentrating on Devon in this lens because my ancestors came from this area.
The Jurassic Coast in Devon is stretches from Lyme Regis (which is just across the county border in Dorset) down to Exmouth. The western end of the coast (Devon) shows the older rocks. The eastern end (Dorset) shows the younger rocks. The red cliffs that dominate the East Devon coastline is called Red Otter Sandstone and it was laid down in an ancient desert climate over 220 million years ago. Geologists call this time the Triassic era.
Along this part of the coastline there are very few fossils, The ancient desert climate meant there was very little water to drown any animals to form fossils. The sandstone is coloured red due to the presence of iron minerals. Underneath the soft sandstone is a hard quartzite stone which has been dated back to over 400 million years ago.
The Jurassic Coast was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001.
Picture and Information source - Looking west to the Red Cliffs at Budleigh Salterton in Devon
The Red Cliffs of Devon
Picture Source - Wikimedia Commons
A sign post at Littleham Cove (between Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton in Devon) points towards Budleigh Salterton on the South West Coast Path in England. This section of the Path follows the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site for the geology exposed in its cliffs.
The Pliosaur Discovery in October 2009
These fossil pieces were found at Weymouth Bay in Dorset over a few years and presented to the Dorset County Museum in 2009. There is a link to the BBC article in the Resources below. (Dated October 2009)
She sells seashells on the sea shore
This tongue twister is said to be based on Mary Anning (1799 - 1847) who in the early 19th century, really did sell fossil shells and fossilised bones from the seashore.
The coastline around Lyme Regis and Charmouth (at the western end of the Dorset coast) is rich with fossils.
Mary Anning was a young girl from Lyme Regis who was struck by lightening as a baby and survived. She was then considered to be very lucky. Mary's father and brother were fossil hunters and Mary slowly learnt more about fossils. When she was 11 years old, Mary's father died so Mary took over the family fossil hunting business. Her brother Joseph had no real interest in being a fossil hunter. Despite having no formal education (she could barely write her name) Mary eventually became an expert on fossils. She started by selling her fossils to tourists on the beach. She later opened a shop and sold her fossils to museums, scientists and other interested parties.
Mary Anning made 5 major discoveries. She is credited with discovering the very first fossil of the Ichthyosaur in 1812 and the very first complete fossil of the Pleisosaurus giganteus in 1823. In 1828 Mary discovered a Pterodactylus macronyx - a flying reptile - now called a Dimorphodon macronyx. The discoveries kept coming and in 1829 Mary discovered a Squaloraja polyspondyla - a fossil fish. This fossil is now at Oxford University Museum. Mary's final major discovery was a complete fossil of a Pleisosaurus macrocephalus in 1830. She is now known as the First Lady of Fossils (AKA the First Lady of Palaentology) in English History.
There were 2 novels recently published about Mary Anning - both in 2010.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracey Chevalier, and Curiosity by Canadian author Joan Thomas.
I read and thoroughly enjoyed Remarkable Creatures. I even wrote a book review.
I found that I could not get into Curiosity at all. And I am not sure why.
Picture source - She sells Sea shells from the (Jurassic) Sea shore
This fossil is in the Natural History Museum in London, England. This Rhomaleosaurus (meaning strong lizard), is an extinct genus of sauropterygian reptile belonging to the pliosaur superfamily.
While this specific fossil was not discovered by Mary Anning, the blurb about Mary Anning at bottom left, does mention that Mary was the first person to discover a complete pleisosaurus fossil. Pleiosaurus is now listed as being part of the Pliosaur superfamily.
Books by Charles Darwin
Who has NOT heard of Charles Darwin? Everyone in the english speaking world knows about Charles Darwin.
Charles Darwin was a naturalist - a scientist of Nature. Mary Anning was discovering her fossilised creatures in the 1820.s This was creating a lot of chatter in sciebtific circles. In the early 1830s Darwin was sailing on board the Beagle, a ship making a scientific exploration trip around the globe. Darwin brought home lots of plants, a few animals and lots of new ideas.The ship stopped at many places, including the remote islands of the Galapagos just off the coast of South America. .
Up until the 1830s the Anglican church (aka Church of England - that which was founded by King Henry 8th in the early 1500s) and its adherents beleived that the world began in the year 4004 BC. That year 4004 BCE was supposed to be the year of creation as described in the Book of Genesis. That year had been derived from counting all the various ages and generations mentioned in Genesis, plus the lengths of various kings reigns as mentioned throughout the old testament. Eventually the magic year arrived at was 4004 years before the common era began. So the idea that there animals who were far older than 6000 years was extremely upsetting to the church.
After Darwin returned from his 5 year voyage on the Beagle, he slowly began developing his theory of national selection. It was all complete more or less by 1844, but he was reluctant to publish it because he knew it would go against the teachings of the Anglican church.
However in 1858, he was pushed into publishing when he receievd a letter from a fellow naturalist named Alfred Wallace. In his letter, Wallace was proposing to publish a paper with very similar ideas. Darwin had no choice, and he too was forced to publish his theories even though he knew he could have done a lot more research.
Wallace and Darwins essays were both read on the same day, Coincidently both authors were absent from the reading. Wallace was overseas in Asia, collecting specimans. That was how he made his living - collecting specimans and selling them to collectors and clients. Darwin was absent because his youngest son Charles (1856 - 1858) had just died and he had to attend the funeral.
Because Darwin was living in England, he was able to get his book On the Origin of Species published in 1859 while Wallace was still absent from England. I believe this was why Darwin's theory is far more well known than Wallace's theory.
Map Source - Galapagos Islands - Wikimedia Commons
Charles Darwin Resources
- The Complete Works of Charles Darwin
Darwin Online organisation
- The Origin of Species - complete text
- Publication of Darwins and Wallaces theories
- On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
- Charles Darwin
- Darwin's Darkest Hour
PBS and National Geographic Video Drama - aired on PBS in 2009. The story of Charles Darwin when he is forced to publish his theory due to competition, going against the church and coping with the the death of his daughter all at the same time.
Biographies about Charles Darwin
Tracey Chevalier and her Book Remarkable Creatures (Part 1)
Tracey Chevalier and her Book Remarkable Creatures (Part 2)
Mary Anning and Jurassic Coast Resources
- Jurassic Coast
Official Jurassic Coast Website
- University of Washington (Tacoma) trip to Jurassic Coast in 2006
A geology class trip from Tacoma Washington to the Jurassic Coast in England, in 2006. Has student papers on various topics and lots of photos.
- Mary Anning
A blog post about Mary Anning. This post also mentions the novel Remarkable Creatures by Tracey Chevalier
- Mary Anning
- Large Pliosaur sea creature displayed at Dorset in October 2009
News Item from the BBC science department dated October 2009
Voyage of the Beagle (1831 - 1836 CE)
Darwins life was changed during his time on the Beagle. He had intended to join the church when he returned home. Instead he gathered up a collection of fossils, animals, plants and brought them home to England. From his findings and his collection Darwin slowly developed his Theory of Natural Selection. It was published in 1858.