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Fossils return to Ilminster - Part Two
4:30pm Saturday 31st August 2013 in News
A COLLECTION of important fossil specimens found in Ilminster in the 1800s returned to the town last week thanks to a partnership between the Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution and the University of Bristol.
The project has been led by James Fleming, a fourth year undergraduate in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol.
The Jurassic Ecosystem of Strawberry Bank Ilminster (JESBI) project opened a one-day exhibition in the Minster Rooms, Ilminster, to showcase fossils found in the area.
The reptile, fish, cephalopod and insect fossils were found by Ilminster-born geologist Charles Moore in the 1840s.
Moore, a member of the BRLSI, exhibited his collection in the institution during his own lifetime on the condition that admission was free and open to all.
On Moore’s death in 1881 the specimens were purchased by the BRLSI and have been part of its museum collection ever since, and this is the first time since leaving Moore’s residence in Ilminster that the fossils have returned to the town.
Over the past three years the JESBI project has curated some of Moore’s specimens thought lost to science, prepared key fossils for exhibition and research, improved their storage conditions and published new research in conjunction with the university.
Matt Williams, curator of the Bath collections, said: “We’ve had wonderful funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation over three years to develop our knowledge of this important collection, and the aim of the open day is to tell everyone about the work that has been going on behind the scenes.”
The Strawberry Bank fossils are unusually three-dimensional or uncompressed and have spectacular soft tissue preservation, not only making them remarkably charismatic, but also tremendously important to palaeontological research.
This is due to the ancient conditions of Strawberry Bank. In this shallow coastal area, unusual sea floor chemistry caused fossilisation to begin very rapidly after the animals died, even before burial.
This protected them from scavengers, decay and crushing from the eventual build-up of overlying sediment.
James Fleming said: “Here’s a chance for people in South Somerset to find out what their area was like 200million years ago.”
The JESBI project hopes to follow up the open day with talks for local societies to keep them in touch with research undertaken by the group.
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