Jurassic Ark: the Making of an Exhibition

June 2, 2021


After a long pause, Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution is delighted to welcome the public back through the doors to enjoy our summer exhibition ‘Jurassic Ark’, open now at 16 Queen Square, Bath. This short video, featuring the Bath Royal’s Collections Manager, Matt Williams, offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes insight into how the exhibition was put together. Our stunning collection of Jurassic fossils dates from 183 million years ago, so having to wait a few more months for this exhibition (delayed by Covid) is hardly a hardship. We have put in place the Government’s recommendations on hygiene and social distancing so that you can be sure of having a safe and enjoyable experience. We are bringing this unique collection of 19th century Somerset fossils right up to date with new discoveries from our recent excavation at the site, which lies beneath the hills near Ilminster, Somerset. Here was discovered a beautifully preserved Jurassic ecosystem, 183 million years old, from which Victorian geologist, Charles Moore, collected hundreds of fossils. First shown in 2014, Jurassic Ark is an exhibition that brings this hidden treasure trove to life, showing 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. Says Matt: “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 Bath Royal Collections and Bristol University, funded by the 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. A series of palaeontological experts will deliver some online talks in connection with the exhibition, and we are especially fortunate to have the world famous Professor Mike Benton speaking on ‘The life of the Mesozoic sea dragons’ on 2 June, 7.30pm. More details to follow.

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