Project Aims

The JESBI project will last three years and involve six key areas:

 

  •     Curation of Moore's specimens at the Museum of Somerset (2010-2011)
  •     Preparation of key specimens in order to expose further anatomical details (2010-2013)
  •     Re-storing of the whole BRLSI Strawberry Bank collection (2011)
  •     Research by MSc and PhD students and post doctoral workers at the University of Bristol resulting in high profile papers (2010 onwards, with several key papers expected before the end of 2013)
  •     Outreach through lectures by researchers at the BRLSI and potentially through school visits later in the project
  •     Exhibition featuring the prepared fossils and interpretation based on the research from the University of Bristol (2013)

The JESBI project is a partnership between BRLSI and the Palaeoibiology and Biodiversity Research Group, University of Bristol. It is funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

 

Curation

In 1905 Charles Moore's friend and obituarist, Rev. H. H. Winwood, gave a collection of Moore's fossils to the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. The collections of this organisation are now cared for by Somerset County Museum in Taunton, and a large proportion of Moore's specimens there have never been unpacked, some are still wrapped in emigration papers (Moore was an agent for emigration to Australia during the 1840s when the Strawberry Bank fossils where discovered). A number of these packages are marked Upper Lias and they almost certainly include what Moore referred to as over one thousand insect specimens from Strawberry Bank:

"In the bed containing these fishes and saurians, there are indelibly impressed the remains of insects in great variety. The gaudy dragonfly, the ephemera, with its short day of life, and the minuter creatures whose sportive dances may be noticed in our daily walks, are there. The order Coleoptera, with their hard wing cases, too abound. Upwards of 1000 insects have been obtained by me in this bed, belonging to various orders. So perfect are they in some instances that the nervures of the wings are to be distinctly seen, and some of the Coleopterous insects seem to be staring at you, there eyes being at times well defined in the stone. They are found in all stages, from the caterpillar, the larva, to the perfect insect." (Moore 1853).

Packages of fossils that will be opened for the first time in over 100 years.

The BRLSI will work at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton (Somerset County Museum is currently undergoing a major redevelopment project and will reopen as the Museum of Somerset in 2011) to carefully unwrap, identify and catalogue these fossils.

 

Preparation

By advanced preparation of a number of the fossils in the BRLSI collection (removing more of the surrounding rock to reveal more details of the fossils) we will make them even more attractive for exhibition purposes, while exposing new anatomical details of the preserved animals that will be useful to researchers. This extensive work requires the expertise of a highly skilled fossil preparator.

The specimens that are prepared will be chosen either for their potential as display pieces or for their usefulness to researchers, this will not always be mutually exclusive.

This fish fossil was roughly prepared by Moore in the 19th century and shows the remarkably well preserved gills. Much could be done to expose new details using modern methods.

 

Re-storing

The cabinets in which the BRLSI's Strawberry Bank specimens are currently stored are woefully inadequate. Re-storing this collection in specialised cabinets, raised off the floor to prevent elevated humidity, with dust free drawers of the correct depth, and mounts to prevent the delicate and newly prepared specimens from shifting in the drawers as they are opened or moved, will help to safeguard these specimens for the future.

This is one of the inadequate drawers that the Strawberry Bank fossils are currently stored in.

 

Research

The BRLSI is delighted to be working in partnership with the Palaeobiology and Biodiversity Research Group at the University of Bristol, and particularly with Professor Mike Benton who has already co-authored two important papers on the fauna. MSc and PhD students will be joined by post-doctoral researchers in this exciting work.

The extensive research that will be enabled by the preparation of these fossils will help develop a better understanding of the diversity of the ecosystem that these Jurassic animals were living in. The study will include an examination of their taphonomy (how they were preserved), description of key specimens and groups to refine our understanding of the diversity and palaeo-ecology of the fauna.

Further study will look at specific groups in more detail, such as a potential study of ontogenetic series in the fishes and perhaps refinement of the genus Pachycormus based upon these specimens. If Moore's missing insect specimens are indeed found in the Museum of Somerset (see Curation), there may well be new species to describe. Given the excellent three-dimensional preservation of many of these specimens, CT scanning will be used to 'virtually section' some fossils, allowing the description of their skeletal anatomy in exceptional detail.