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My Favourite Fossil: Janet Sumner

Updated Thursday, 24th July 2008

The Open University's Janet Sumner shares her favourite fossil find.

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I'm Janet Sumner. I'm one of the Broadcast Executives on the Fossil Detectives series but I'm also a geologist and I love rocks. But one of the reasons I got into rocks was really through discovering fossils, little bits of preserved past life, windows into lost worlds, I thought that was so cool. So my favourite fossil isn't actually a single specimen, it's a whole group of fossils called trilobites.

Now the reason why I like them is when you find them perfectly preserved, like we've shown them in our field guide, is they look like real creatures. You know, so many fossils are just shells or little bits of bone that just look like lumps of rock but trilobites looks so real, it's almost as if they could walk right off the page.

The second reason why I like them is because of their name. It's one of those bits of common sense science, simple and applicable, tri-lo-bite, made of three lobes: a middle lobe, a left lobe and a right lobe. But they’re also divisible by three the other way; there’s a head, a thorax and a tail piece - simple and easy to remember.

But that’s not the only reason why I like trilobites. What I like most about them is the sheer range of size and shape that they come in. As a group, they’re like a chocolate box of fossils. And they come in all shapes and sizes. And they cover a whole range of habitats, from shallow coral seas right through to the iciest depths of the polar oceans.

Now they did have three hundred million years to do that, because that’s how long they were around as a species, but I still think that is pretty impressive. And you can actually see those adaptations. There are blind trilobites, no eyes at all but lived down in the mud or at the bottom of dark oceans, and then there are the free-swimming types of trilobites with enormous googly eyes that presumably were designed for them to be able to see all round in case of ocean-going predators, and there’s every variation in between those two.

So that’s just some of the reasons why trilobites are my favourite fossil and, if you’d like to find out more about them, why don’t you go and check out Tym the trilobite blog which is on our fossil detectives website.

[Editor's note: merged with OpenLearn in 2011]





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