National Museums Scotland secure 'Missing Chapter' fossils

21 March 2013
imports_CESC_0-4lju46d0-100000_95374.jpg National Museums Scotland secure 'Missing Chapter' fossils
National Museums Scotland has announced that an 'unparalleled' collection of Scottish fossils has been saved for the nation. ...
National Museums Scotland secure 'Missing Chapter' fossils Images

National Museums Scotland has announced that an 'unparalleled' collection of Scottish fossils has been saved for the nation, thanks to a grant announced by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The collection of almost 250 specimens contains fossilised remains of creatures that mark the period between 360 to 340 million years ago when back-boned animals first moved from water to land. Although this is one of the crucial chapters of evolution, the fossil record for the period was previously almost non-existent.

Museum experts believe the diversity and number of the fossils in this collection could provide the key that unlocks the period often referred to as Romer’s Gap (named after palaeontologist Alfred Sherwood Romer). The fossils come from one area near the mouth of the Tweed in the Scottish Borders and were discovered after a 20 year search by field palaeontologist Stan Wood.

The Heritage Lottery Fund supported the £260,000 acquisition of the collection with a grant of £161,700 with the balance coming from donations, grants and charitable trusts.

Nick Fraser, Keeper of Natural Sciences at National Museums Scotland said: 'National Museums Scotland has the best collections of Palaeozoic vertebrate fossils anywhere in the world and this acquisition enhances that claim. The scientific significance of the finds cannot be overestimated and Stan Wood, who sadly died last year, has left an amazing legacy that represents his lifelong quest to better understand this crossroads in the evolution of terrestrial life.'

Sir David Attenborough also commented on the find: 'The fact that they shed light on a part of geological history that hitherto has been almost blank makes Stan Wood’s discoveries of world-wide importance.'

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An expert group of 12 scientists has been assembled to research the fossils, operating under the acronym TW:eed – Tetrapod World: early evolution and diversification. The consortium, led by Prof. Jenny Clack involves scientists from National Museums Scotland, the British Geological Survey and the universities of Leicester, Cambridge and Southampton.

Already the collection has revealed one notable amphibian specimen that has been nicknamed ‘Ribbo’ (pictured) due to its prominent and well-preserved ribs, providing scientists with enough information to interpret what the creature may have looked like as it roamed the Tweed basin around 350 million years ago.

For more on the work of National Museums Scotland, visit their website.

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