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OU on the BBC: Fossil Detectives - East of England

Updated Tuesday, 5th August 2008

The BBC/OU series Fossil Detectives team reveal the surprises held in gravel driveways during their trip to the East of England

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Peter Sheldon and Hermione Cockburn join a group of children exploring a gravel pit Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

The East of England is a land of fossil superlatives. The Fossil Detectives’ journey through the East starts with one of the most important recent British fossil discoveries, made in an unlikely looking brick quarry just outside Peterborough.

Here over two thousand fragments of bone have been found; all from just one creature. The remains are the most complete specimen ever found of Leedsichthys, the largest fish ever to have lived. Dig leader Jeff Liston now has the monumental task of reassembling this monster from the deep.

Fossils are all around us - to find them you just need to know where to look; they can even be literally on your doorstep. Gravel drives are a familiar feature of any town or village, and are a surprisingly good place to find fossils.

Open University fossil expert Peter Sheldon has met up with Hermione and some local children to go fossil hunting on just such a gravel drive. In a very short amount of time they’ve collected a huge pile of sponges; a sort of extinct oyster known as devil’s toenails; and belemnites.

In Norfolk, Hermione gets the chance to see the world’s most complete and largest elephant skeleton ever found. When alive, the West Runton Elephant, named after the dig location, would have been twice the weight of the biggest African Elephant and over four metres tall. And intriguingly, close examination of the bones provide tantalising glimpses of how the animal lived its life, and how and why it eventually died.

The Fossil Detectives also reveal the mesmerising beauty and mystery of nature’s time-capsule Amber; have a fossil collecting challenge at Britain’s most unusual cliffs; and on the way find out which fossil links Alfred Lord Tennyson to a Pope.

Take it further

Explore the Geology Toolkit

Watch the My Favourite Fossil videos


Study Fossils and the history of life with the Open University

Sample Reading the rocks and ecology - free learning from OpenLearn

First broadcast: Thursday 21 Aug 2008 on BBC FOUR





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