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Andrew Alden

Jurassic Squid Ink Recovered

By August 26, 2009

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I missed this news when it happened and maybe you did too: in 2008, fossil expert Phil Wilby of the British Geological Survey rediscovered the location of a fabulous fossil site that was excavated in the 1840s and then forgotten. It was one of the first known lagerstätten, a fossil site that preserves exquisite details, even soft tissues. The site, an early railroad cut, is in Christian Malford, Wiltshire, in a rock called the Oxford Clay.

Later Wilby got some extra funding and excavated thousands of fresh fossils from the site. One specimen of the squid species Belemnotheutis antiquus was so immaculately preserved that its ink sac was still intact. In the paleontological stunt of the year, Wilby's team scraped out a bit of the 150-million-year-old ink, prepared a proper calligrapher's mix with it, and used it to make a sepia drawing of the specimen. See the result in this story from the 19 August Telegraph. Who says scientists have no sense of drama?

UPDATE: The first commenter links to an excellent blog post pointing out that the fossil-ink stunt was also done in the early 1800s, making Wilby's feat not just a cool thing in itself, but also a beautiful hommage to his scientific ancestors.

About lagerstätten
The world's great fossil sites
What are fossils?


August 26, 2009 at 9:58 am
(1) Ray Girvan says:

The drawing is a nice stunt to draw attention to the finds: but they really ought to have credited the palaentologists – Philpot, Buckland and De La Beche – who did the same thing in the 1820s: see Fossil squid ink story has whiskers.

August 26, 2009 at 1:30 pm
(2) Geology Guide says:

Oh, that is priceless. Thanks for the link.

August 30, 2009 at 9:53 pm
(3) Jack says:

Heard this guy give a talk (in a pub!) just under a year ago, the ink was so fresh that they could use it to make lingiuni! The squid were also thought to be preserved in a carnivorous position.

Pretty damn cool!

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