“If they could squeal, I’m sure they would have done.”
Palaeontologist Tim Ewin is standing in a quarry, recalling the calamity that’s written in the rocks under his mud-caked boots.
“They tried to protect themselves, adopting the stress position of pulling their arms in,” he continues. “But it was all in vain; you can see where their arms got snagged open, right up to the crown. They were pushed into the sediment and buried alive.”
There’s a little smile creeping across Tim’s face, and he’s got reason to be happy.
The misfortune that struck this place 167 million years ago has delivered to him an extraordinary collection of fossil animals in what is unquestionably one of the most important Jurassic dig sites ever discovered in the UK.
We can’t be precise about the location of the excavation for security reasons, but you’ll recognise from the gorgeous, honey-coloured limestone that we’re somewhere in Cotswold country.
Things have changed a bit since Jurassic times, though.
No quaint villages and dry-stone walls back then; these parts were covered by a shallow sea, maybe 20-40m deep. And it was a damn sight warmer than your traditional English summer. The movement of tectonic plates means Britain was roughly where North Africa is today.
So you can imagine the types of creatures that would have been living on this ancient, near-tropical seafloor.
Stalked animals called sea lilies were tethered to the bed in great “meadows”. Their free-floating cousins, the feather stars, were ambling by, looking to grab
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