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150 Million Years Ago

Squid150m-year-old squid ink signs its autograph
(The Times – Weds 19 Aug 2009)

Christian Malford: The fossil record has been rewritten – in 150 million year old squid ink. The discovery of the perfectly preserved ink sac of an inch long cephalopod, a type of squid, has astonished palaeontologists (Simon de Bruxelles writes).
The squid came from a site near the village of Christian Malford, Wiltshire that is renowned for producing well preserved fossils, but this is believed to be the first time that squid ink has been reconstituted.
To mark the occasion, the scientists used the ancient squid ink to paint a picture of the creature as it would have looked and wrote its Latin name, Belemnotheutis antiquus , alongside it. Before it could be used, the black ink had to be returned to liquid form with a solution of ammonia.

The amazing preservation was the result of what the palaeontologists call the medusa effect – a process by which specimens turned to stone within days, before the soft parts could rot.
The excavation was conducted by the British Geological Survey in an attempt to identify a site that produced vast quantities of well preserved fossils during the Victorian era. Its exact location had been forgotten.
Phil Wilby, who led the excavation, said: “It’s among the world’s best fossil preservations. It’s a squid-like creature but it’s not like anything we have in the world today. It still looks as if it is modern squid ink. The odds of this find are easily a billion to one.”
The specimen is now in the British Geological Survey collection in Nottingham.

FossilsJurassic treasure trove lost by the Victorians found by fossil sleuth
(The Times – Fri 24 Oct 2008)

One of the world’s most valuable fossil beds has been rediscovered, having been forgotten during Victorian times. Fossils recovered near Christian Malford in Wiltshire caused a sensation when they were unearthed in 1840 because they were the first to include flesh of Jurassic wildlife.
Phil Wilby, of the British Geographical Survey, has now rediscovered the site and led the first dig there in more than 150 years. He hopes that freshly recovered fossils can help to explain why tens of thousands of animals died simultaneously in episodes repeated many times over about a million years.

Fossil hunters and academics flocked to the area in the 1840s and 1850s to dig out extraordinarily well preserved specimens of fish and squid like creatures. But despite its importance as an extremely rare source of fossilised soft tissues preserved along with hard bones and shells the location of the site was lost.

None of the Victorians who visited the site, even leading researchers from universities and museums, recorded the precise place, when the digging ended, the location was forgotten.

The fossil bed was rediscovered after detective work by Dr Wilby, who realised that paleontologists had been searching in the wrong places.