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My Favourite Fossil: Peter Sheldon

Updated Thursday, 24th July 2008

The Open University's Peter Sheldon, academic consultant for Fossil Detectives, recalls a surprising discovery in the roots of a lightning-struck tree.

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Hello. I'm Peter Sheldon, the Academic Consultant for the Fossil Detective series, and this is my favourite fossil because it triggered off my interest in geology. I was five and a half when I found it.

We were in the car going along to visit my grandmother’s and we stopped for coffee and I wandered off into a little wood where there was a tree that had been struck by lightning and I went to look in its roots and found this thing which is a bit like half a hollowed out golf ball. My parents didn’t know what it was so they had the good sense to take me to a museum and find out what it was.

So we went to Bognor Regis Museum and the chap there said well this is a fossil sponge and it was living about eighty million years ago, a very long time before humans were ever around, and it just captivated me because I thought how did we get here, and that was a motivating factor for me for a lot of my childhood and still is.

So what have we got? We've got a sponge that’s mostly been dissolved away now. That would have been at the centre of this piece of flint. And the flint itself around it is derived from fossil sponges. The sponges made of silica have dissolved on the chalk seafloor, and in coming into contact with acidic conditions have precipitated around something, and maybe another sponge like this one.

Now these can often be found in gravel drives, pathways, on beaches and so on in the South, Southern England, South East England and Eastern England, and they’re so common that I put them in the Fossil Detectives field guide that I wrote for the series. And if we turn to the page on sponges, there, you can see that I’ve put my first fossil there in that illustration.

So I think people should keep their eyes open for these and, if you’re not sure what your fossils are, have a look in here or go to a museum and that may trigger off an interest which hopefully will be with you for the rest of your life and give you a perspective on your own lifetime that you can’t get I think from any other way.





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