Tom White, Collections Assistant at the Museum of Zoology, writes:
Amongst the collections in the Zoology museum lurk numerous enigmatic boxes containing rock and sediment samples, the contents of which were often collected decades ago. As we continue to clear the Dry Invertebrate store in preparation for it to be moved, we came across several large and extremely heavy wooden crates labelled simply ‘Cromhall Quarry fissure material’. These contained blocks of pale grey limestone, some wrapped in the remains of tatty plastic bags that were beginning to disintegrate with age. It took some time to haul all of the material out of the store so that it could be examined.
Cromhall Quarry is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) located a few miles NE of Bristol. The rocks in our store were collected from Triassic fissure fill deposits known as an abundant source of fossils, most notably very early Mesozoic mammal remains. At first glance the Cromhall samples looked rather unpromising, but to the right palaeontologist – in this case Professor Mike Benton of the University of Bristol – even the most boring of rocks can provoke great excitement. Professor Benton and his colleagues have taken away about two-thirds of the Cromhall samples and intend to extract the fossils as part of their research into Mesozoic mammals. The material will be returned to the UMZC in due course, thankfully as a tiny fraction of the size and weight of the material we have just had to move!