So some months ago now I was strolling through Cabot Circus – a very shiny shopping centre in Bristol – when to my astonishment I was confronted with a wall chock-full of fossils. I was intrigued.
As I’ve said before (the reason why this post is a #2), I think that science is basically a huge load of fun because it’s essentially just about finding things out. You can choose what kind of thing you want to find out about of course; it doesn’t have to be something uber-hard and complicated. In this case I really wanted to know what these ancient creatures – now encased in stone and on view for all of Bristol to see – were doing there and where they had come from.
Since I now find myself in the fortunate position of being in charge of the science bit of Epigram, I have the luxury of having a bunch of ‘reporters’ at my disposal. (For ‘reporters’ read, students who have no money and not much inclination to do anything I say). Still, I managed to persuade biology student Tom Denbigh to investigate the fossils on my behalf.
I dispatched Tom with the following instructions:
- Take some plasticine moulds of the fossils.
- Get some photos we can use in the paper.
- Talk to some academics and try to find out what these things are and where they came from.
To my delight Tom came up trumps. First, he contacted the Cabot Circus architects, Stanton Williams, who told him the stone used was Portland stone from the Jurassic coast. I had been ever so slightly worried that these were fake fossils – that would sure have ruined my story – so I was suddenly very excited about the whole thing again.
He also used my suggested plasticine impression technique expertly and got hold of some nice reliefs. He took these to some doctor in the biology department and got them identified. They are Portland screws, or to give them their taxonomical name, Aptyxiella portlandica (top photo) and an organism from the bivalvia class (bottom photo). This means the fossils are about 150 million years old. If you’re ever in bristol, make sure you look out for them.
Portland stone is often used in public buildings; St. Paul’s cathedral, the Bank of England, Buckingham palace and the National gallery are all made from the stuff. So even if you don’t live in Bristol, there’s probably a building somewhere vaguely close to you where you might spot some fossils. Having said that, Cabot Circus is unusual in that the stone there has been left so natural in appearance – mostly architects want the colour of the stone, but smooth it off so the majority of the fossil interest is invisible.