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Spotlight on Journal of the Geological Society content

The Lyell Collection is full of unrivalled content, research, invited review articles discussion papers, thematic collections and much more. Articles are topical, innovative, internationally relevant with global reach. Covering over 100 Earth and planetary sciences.

This month's spotlight is on new, recent and most read palaeontology content.

Key moment in the evolution of life on Earth captured in fossils

Research published in the Journal of the Geological Society has for the first time precisely dated some of the oldest fossils of complex multicellular life in the world, helping to track a pivotal moment in the history of Earth when the seas began teeming with new lifeforms - after four billion years of containing only single-celled microbes.

The full research paper, ‘U–Pb zircon-rutile dating of the Llangynog Inlier, Wales: constraints on an Ediacaran shallow 1 marine fossil assemblage from East Avalonia’ was published in the Journal of the Geological Society and can be found online here.

The Lagerstätten Collection

Fossil Konservat-Lagerstätten are sites of exceptional fossil preservation that serve as our key archives of evolutionary history, providing snapshots of evolutionary history in a fossil record that is otherwise dominated by cysts, spores, bones and shells. Many, like the Cambrian Chengjiang and Burgess Shale biotas, have received the coffee table book treatment, but for the majority it can be difficult to find a definitive summary. The Fossil Lagerstätten Review Focus series aims to provide distilled contemporary reviews of these evolutionary archives, covering their geological, environmental, ecological and geographic context, as well as providing insights into their preservation, age and evolutionary significance. Collection introduction by Philip Donoghue, Professor of Palaeobiology, School of Earth Sciences University of Bristol, UK.

Stratigraphic and geographic distribution of dinosaur tracks in the UK

Dinosaur tracks are a key means of determining the palaeoecology and distribution of dinosaurs through time. They provide an information source that is highly complementary to the body (skeletal) fossil record, but differ in preserving direct evidence of the animals’ interactions with their environment. The UK has a rich history of c. 200 years of dinosaur track discovery, but no recent synthesis exists. Here, we present a new dataset of dinosaur tracks in the UK. This dataset shows a close correlation between the distribution of terrestrial sediments and the preservation of dinosaur tracks through the Mesozoic, providing discrete snapshots into dinosaur communities in the Late Triassic, Mid-Jurassic and Early Cretaceous. The dinosaur track record shows similar broad patterns of diversity and relative abundance of the major dinosaur groups (Theropoda, Sauropodomorpha, Ornithopoda and Thyreophora) through time to the body fossil record, although it differs in that body fossils are also found (albeit infrequently) in marine sediments. There is a broad trend towards higher numbers of track occurrences through time and a notable increase in the relative abundance of ornithopod tracks following the Jurassic–Cretaceous boundary. The track record remains an underutilized resource with the potential to provide a much fuller view of Mesozoic dinosaur ecosystems.

Remarkable preservation of brain tissues in an Early Cretaceous iguanodontian dinosaur

It has become accepted in recent years that the fossil record can preserve labile tissues. We report here the highly detailed mineralization of soft tissues associated with a naturally occurring brain endocast of an iguanodontian dinosaur found in c. 133 Ma fluvial sediments of the Wealden at Bexhill, Sussex, UK. Moulding of the braincase wall and the mineral replacement of the adjacent brain tissues by phosphates and carbonates allowed the direct examination of petrified brain tissues. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) imaging and computed tomography (CT) scanning revealed preservation of the tough membranes (meninges) that enveloped and supported the brain proper. Collagen strands of the meningeal layers were preserved in collophane. The blood vessels, also preserved in collophane, were either lined by, or infilled with, microcrystalline siderite. The meninges were preserved in the hindbrain region and exhibit structural similarities with those of living archosaurs. Greater definition of the forebrain (cerebrum) than the hindbrain (cerebellar and medullary regions) is consistent with the anatomical and implied behavioural complexity previously described in iguanodontian-grade ornithopods. However, we caution that the observed proximity of probable cortical layers to the braincase walls probably resulted from the settling of brain tissues against the roof of the braincase after inversion of the skull during decay and burial.

Dinosaurs of Great Britain and the role of the Geological Society of London in their discovery: basal Dinosauria and Saurischia

Beginning with Buckland's 1824 description of Megalosaurus, the Geological Society of London played a leading role during the 19th century discovery of dinosaurs in Britain. Here we review the society's role and assess the current knowledge of saurischian dinosaurs in the country. Of Britain's 108 dinosaur species (excluding nomina nuda and objective synonyms), 32% have been named in the pages of Society publications. Britain has a rich and diverse dinosaur record ranging from the Rhaetian to the Cenomanian, and includes a surprising taxonomic diversity. Alleged Lower and Middle Triassic dinosaurs from Britain are suspect or erroneous. Sauropodomorphs represent all of the major clades and several have their earliest global appearances in the British record (Diplodocoidea, Rebbachisauridae and Titanosauria), implying that this region was biogeographically important for this group. The British theropod record is diverse, and includes the earliest spinosaurids, carcharodontosaurids and coelurosaurs. Although some specimens are represented by near-complete skeletons, much material is fragmentary and indeterminate, and c. 54% of British dinosaur taxa are considered nomina dubia. In part this high number results from the genesis of dinosaur science in Britain and the corresponding obsolescence of supposedly diagnostic characters.

Yorkshire’s first embryo-bearing ichthyosaur was pregnant with octuplets

The remains of between six and eight ichthyosaur embryos, still situated within a fragment of the rib-cage of the parent animal, are described. Each is represented by a string of vertebral centra, some with associated ribs. Other skeletal elements, including possible skull material, are represented only by isolated bones, none identifiable with certainty. The small limestone boulder in which the ichthyosaur specimens are preserved was collected from the beach at Sandsend, near Whitby, North Yorkshire, and derives from the Whitby Mudstone Formation (Hildoceras bifrons Ammonite Biozone) of the Toarcian Stage of the Lower Jurassic. The specimen cannot be identified beyond Ichthyosauria indet. However, it represents the geologically-youngest occurrence of ichthyosaur embryos thus far recorded from the UK and the first such occurrence to be reported from Yorkshire.

Mazon Creek fossils brought to you by coal, concretions and collectors

The late Carboniferous (Middle Pennsylvanian, ∼307 Ma ago) Mazon Creek Lagerstätte found in northern Illinois, USA, is unique for its exceptional biotic diversity as well as the human endeavours, both professional and avocational, that brought vast numbers of fossils and new species to science. In 1997, the Mazon Creek Fossil Beds, exposed along the Mazon River near Benson Road, Morris, IL, became a National Historic Landmark.

Indigenous knowledge of palaeontology in Africa

Compared to other continents, the study of indigenous (non-western) knowledge of palaeontology in Africa is a relatively new field. The literature reviewed here nevertheless suggests a long-lasting string of traditions, geomyths and folklore related to fossilized items on the whole continent and encompassing many African cultures. It is often difficult to estimate the antiquity of these traditions, but the evidence gathered here suggests that they range from the 1800s to pre-colonial times, and up to many millennia. Palaeontological items were collected and used for a variety of reasons, but the African record seems unusual for its scarce use of fossils for traditional medicine. Also, despite substantial efforts, some famous localities with conspicuous fossils still remain without any documented indigenous knowledge. We stress that documenting fossil-related folklore and geomyths is not only a matter of preserving this knowledge or promoting diversity, but is also crucial for establishing strong bonds with local stakeholders to encourage preservation of geoheritage and discover new sites.

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