JURASSIC ARK – SPECTACULAR FOSSILS FROM AN ANCIENT SOMERSET SEA

After an unexpected pause, Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution is delighted to welcome the public back through the doors to enjoy its summer exhibition ‘Jurassic Ark’. The Summer Exhibition, with free entry, is being held at 16 Queen Square, Bath BA1 2HN, and is open 10am–4pm Monday–Saturday. BRLSI’s stunning collection of Jurassic fossils dates from 183 million years ago, so having the patience to wait another year for the opening seems almost trivial in comparison! BRLSI have put in place the Government’s recommendations on hygiene and social distancing so visitors can be sure of having a safe and enjoyable experience, while being gently reminded by the exhibits before them that no matter what happens the world goes merrily on.

And if you thought you knew all about the Strawberry bank fossils, BRLSI are bringing this unique collection of 19th century Somerset fossils right up to date with new discoveries from their recent excavation at the site, which lies beneath the hills near Ilminster, Somerset. For the uninitiated, here was discovered a beautifully preserved Jurassic ecosystem, 183 million years old, from which Victorian geologist, Charles Moore, collected hundreds of fossils.

First displayed in 2014, Jurassic Ark is an exhibition that brings this hidden treasure trove to life, illustrating how these ancient creatures lived and interacted, how they died and were preserved, and what they can tell us of the history of life. Specially commissioned illustrations by John Sibbick, one of the world’s foremost palaeontological illustrators, recreate the landscape of the Jurassic period in which the extinct marine reptiles, fish, crustaceans, squid-like cephalopods, and insects flourished.

The fossils show exceptional preservation, with the soft tissues such as muscles, guts, and traces of skin, retaining the animals’ original shape. Matt Williams, the BRLSI Collections Manager explained the significance of these fossils: “Uncompressed, three dimensional fossils that preserve soft tissues are very rare, and the concentration of a diverse fauna at this site makes it one of the best preserved Lower Jurassic marine ecosystems in the world.”

For the last decade these exquisite fossils have been intensively studied through an exciting collaboration between the BRLSI Collections and Bristol University, funded initially by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and later the Leverhulme Trust. In 2019 the BRLSI, working with and sponsored by Gekoella Ltd, excavated a site near to where the original quarry is thought to have been, in order to study the fossil-bearing strata for the first time in 160 years, thanks to a grant from the Geologists’ Association.

And if that wasn’t enough in itself, a series of paleontological experts will deliver online talks in connection with the exhibition in line with the reopening. BRLSI feels especially fortunate to have the world famous Professor Mike Benton speaking on ‘The life of the Mesozoic sea dragons’ on 2 June, 7.30pm and not only that, BRLSI will soon launch their brand new Bath Discovery Trails, sending you out onto the streets of Bath using a brand new digital app to explore 4.2 billion years of history before returning you to the BRLSI building for a lovely cup of coffee and a proper look at the real thing. We look forward to seeing you.

Ever wanted to know what preparing for an exhibition like this looks like?

Or what about digging for the fossils themselves? See our Jesbi page to find out more about this exciting project! And in case you didn’t know, JESBI stands for ‘The Jurassic Ecosystem Of Strawberry Bank Ilminster Project.’  No, it’s not an episode of  ‘The Detectorists’, Our curator Matt Williams talks to you from a secret location in deepest darkest Somerset, and let’s you have a behind the scenes look at what exactly an geological excavation looks like. 

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