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About this blog

My family fossiling adventures , the geological society I belong to , my voluntary museum work.

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My days on the Leedsichthys project at the Peterborough Museum.

As a volunteer in the geology department its like a dream come true.


Day 1 and 2: After being introduced and under the expert guidance of Nigel Larkin who is a natural sciences conservator specialising in the excavation, preparation conservation, curation, storage and display of geological, paleontological, archaeological and osteological specimens. We were shown techniques in how to stabilise the base of various sized clay matrixes that hold bones from the Leedsichthys that where originally found around 10 years ago. With Plaster of Paris jackets applied at the dig site when found and in order to keep the bones in place for future research.


And now the Peterborough Museum with funding is in a position to bring these pieces out of storage and continue to work on them in the hope of piecing them together at a later date.

My first two days on the project consisted in reducing the weight of a large clay matrix slab by a couple of inches in order to have sufficient room to apply a fair sized thickness of plaster of paris which would, in turn help to increase stability. Just to help the stability process we also added an acetone / paraloid mix in various strengths into the clay cracks which when dry also aided as a bonding agent for our first layer of plaster of paris.



Top tip for mixing paraloid / acetone mix: Tie your paraloid beads into a small piece of muslin and suspend in jam jar while ###### the lid on this helps with dissolving process of the beads.

So what you can actually see here is the reverse side of the find (the base) with the bones being held in place by the previous dig site jacket. When we are satisfied that the base is secure after our layers of plaster of paris and muslin we will then flip it over to take the old top jacket off to expose the bones in readiness for prepping them out of the clay matrix.




Layering the plaster of paris was like icing a cake using various sized knives in order to give it a smooth finish. You had to work it a reasonable steady pace as the mixture set very quickly also if possible not to let the new mixture touch the old top layer plaster jacket as this would hamper removing the top jacket.


There are several pieces of clay matrix slabs so we will perform this prepping technique to all of them.

Day 3: Back in the prepping laboratory at the Peterborough Museum to help finish off the plaster base on the largest clay matrix slab.

After a good clean up after us around the Lab (plaster of paris is a very messy business). It was decided to retrieve two larger jacketed slabs out of storage in order to look at them further and to assess our plan of action.

Now these slabs where quite heavy with added weight from the made to measure wooden palate structures underneath them that Nigel had made to increase stability so it was all hands on deck to move them into position and onto our prepping table. We have been taking photos as often as possible with each and every step of the way with this project and making notes of any written marks that may have been applied to the jackets at the dig site. More photos were taking of the cast before we decided to take the top cast off to expose clay matrix with the bones encased within.



There were lots of boney elements intertwined with the clay with no formal identity as such to what we are looking at as yet with this particular slab. So again under the guidance of Nigel Larkin we tentatevly removed some small fragments of wood with tweezers and scalpels that had adhered themselves to the bone and clay.


Nigel had outlined in precise detail how best to start the cleaning process using some acetone and air abrasives on the bones and how to remove foam material that is connected with the original plaster the cast when jacketed at the dig site. This will enable us to reapply fresh plaster of paris to enhance the stabilizing process as we work on and around the clay matrix. To which hopefully I’ll be taking part in on my next visit to the museum.

Day : 4 ( 13/10/2015)…Back at the Museum for a catch up with other volunteers to see what stage we are at and to learn any new techniques that have been applied for the restoration of the Leedsichthys.

With PPE applied i.e. face masks and gloves we started to remove the old foam and any old overlapping plastered muslin. Also with the aid of an extraction unit to catch any airborne dust particles from the foam as we used our scalpels.



When satisfied that a section of the outer clay was exposed with as much foam and debris removed as possible. It was then decided to add a 15 per cent acetone paraloid solution to the clay not only to help strengthen it but by also to act as an adhere for the plaster of paris to stick to.


With a combination of plaster of paris and muslin we worked our way around the outer edge of the clay slab applying the techniques I’ve just discussed.


That was me done for the day looking forward to my return visit.

Day 5 : 15/10/2015..I was lucky enough to help out at the Museum’s storage facility today to help stabilise a large clay slab with lots of Leedsichthys bone elemnets attached to it. This process did indeed take quite a bit of Plaster of paris and muslin to fill cavities that are around the base of the slab. But the work is vitally important as the clay is quite thin in places so we need a strong base in order to work some of the plaster of paris up the sides to support any overhanging clay matrix.




We estimate this should take at least two days to complete if I’m fortunate enough to resume with this I’ll keep you updated on how it’s going.

Day 6: 10/11/2015

If I apply the phrase “Absence makes the heart grow fonder “can I use this for today’s visit to the museum…erm…yes...definitely.
Especially as we had the pleasure of meeting Professor Jeff Liston who is a world expert when it comes to working with the Leedsichthys problematicus. Just before Jeff briefed us on what duties we would be carrying out today he dropped in the classic line ( jaw dropping time ) “ As you know we are working on the most complete Leedsichthys problematicus…in the World. “


Heres a you tube clip about Jeff Liston working on a

We gathered our senses and composure to continue tentativily working away at various spots with acetone. To clean away old paraloid solution that had been applied at the dig site to reveal more tell-tale bone.


Also the piece we were working onto today has been identified as one of the head plates where we have now exposed the rostrum as well.



All in all it was another therapeutic few hours enjoyed by all the volunteers on this project.

Day 7: 17/11/2015

Back in the museum for a few hours to catch up with other volunteers on the project and to summarize on what stage we are at. Also to learn any new techniques needed as more and more bone is revealed.

Nigel Larkin had returned for the day to see how we were getting on and to further oversee the practices he had taught us on the first week of the project. We all feel quite comfortable in our new found prepping skills. But even more so with the presence of Nigel as he seems to exude some sort of air of confidence.


For example on my last visit I was removing some old paraloid from a section of bone by gently brushing some acetone over the bone then using a sharpened wooden spatchuler to remove the residue. But I found the residue congealing faster than I could remove it so Nigel showed us how to confidently remove the residue with sharp scalpels with the blade flush and flat to the bone going with the grain. In order remove the sticky residue then gentle wipe over with Lint free paper which certainly made all the difference to bring out all the hidden contours of the bone and its beautiful brown colouration.



Jeff Liston was also present busying himself with further research on identifying the bones as they become more apparent. Jeff had identified one of the larger slabs as a Right Hyomandibular which helped work on to remove any lose clay form the edges in order to strengthen the cracked but stable clay edges for consolidating. We noted on the wooden pallet left side and right side then marked up some zip lock bags ( Left side and Right side ) to put loose clay matrix in for further studies i.e. Macro-Palaeontology. Any recognisable bone fragments that we encountered we put on the top of the slab for consolidation at a later date.





That’s me done for today…speak soon.

…..Where was I, oh yes I remember now, working on the Leedsichthys project with a team of volunteers and some experts in this field, how could one possibly forget.

The chilli morning air is no bother when focused.

It certainly does seem a long time since I was in the prepping room of the Peterborough Museum. But as I’m sure you are aware especially the musuem voulnteers amongst us. Work and family life always take first place, but when you get amongst the fossils again everything ticks along and fall into place nicely.

There is still plenty of work to do as you can imagine when working on a specimen labelled as the World’s Biggest Fish. So as uaual we tentatively brushed over the old Paraloid that was used at the dig site to stabilize the finds. Armed with an array of small brushes and sharpened wooden picks as not to scratch the bone.

Very satisfying and therapeutic few hours with my work colleagues and especially nice to catch up with Jeff Liston and ask when his forthcoming book about the Leeds brothers will materialise.

Speak again soon.


You too can follow is work on the links below if you like:

On Twitter: BigJurassicFish
On Facebook: BigJurassicFish

Hi everyone,

At the Stamford library today here in the UK February the 19th 2015 2.00pm to 4.30pm was a very busy time for the members of the Stamford and District Geological Society. Being as it is half -term holidays for the children we found ourselves inundated with lots of families pouring through the doors of this historic building. To join us for an afternoon of prehistoric fun, quizzes and craft activities.

It was a wet and windy day with most of those looking a bit bedraggled. That certainly didn’t deter the children form dragging mums and dads along to show off their fossils that they had collected from all around the country.

Some of the fossils where brought along just to show other enthusiasts but also a lot of them where brought along for our team to give it our best shot to try and identify them or at least guide them in the right direction.

Due to popular demand the question asked many times from the parents was “where can we take our children to go fossiling “. So we struck upon an idea and are now going to organise this summer a family oriented field trip to a local nature reserve which has spoil piles of Oxford Clay full of Belemnites and Gryphaea.

Elliot was extremely helpful in helping to i.d. some of the Oxford Clay fauna that was bought in. He also took along with him two ammonites from his collection to show on the display table.


I took 50 membership leaflets to join the Stamford and District Geological Society they were all gone by the end of the day. So hopefully fingers crossed we may see some new members joining us this year.

Here are a few photos of the event.


And a few photos of the many fossils brought in.


It was just a few hours with fossils and a lot of smiling faces…..perfect.




Ice Age!

Hi everyone,

I managed another 3 hours voluntary work at the Peterborough Museum where one of the assignments was to help make plaster cast for one of their forthcoming events over the schools half-term holidays.

Ice Age!

Thursday 5th February 2015

Get up close to real woolly mammoth tusks and teeth in our Ice Age Gallery and enjoy the story ‘Oscar and Arabella’s Hot, Hot, Hot’

Then get crafty and make a woolly mammoth head mask before you stomp home!

The first photo is shaping up nicely to be a plaster cast of a mammoth toe bone.


The second photo is a cast of erm…can you guess what it is yet.





I think it was a real treat for the Stamford and District Geological Society to have had a palaeontologist such as Dean Lomax to visit us and to talk about Dinosaurs of the British Isles. Without the publication of his NEW BOOK you just couldn’t comprehend the diversity of Dinosauria roaming our shores...

Barely a week seems to go by without the announcement of some new dinosaur discovery. We seem to have become accustomed to media reports highlighting some exciting aspect of the Dinosauria, often from faraway places and remote parts of the world. Whilst it is always intriguing to hear reports of fossil finds relating to prehistoric animals that once lived in the Arctic Circle or indeed, to see pictures of the newest type of feathered dinosaur identified from north-eastern China, it is worth remembering that dinosaurs, lots of them for that matter, once roamed the British Isles.

To hear about meat-eating dinosaurs from Swindon, Stegosaurs from Peterborough and Tyrannosaurs from the Isle of Wight left you gobsmacked.

Ive also heard on the grapevine that Dean might be working on another new publication about Marine Reptiles…..let’s hope we can get him booked in for next year..!



“Oh yes and there was the rather embarrassing scenario on my part moment, when Dean incorporated into his PowerPoint presentation and showed everyone my Theropods footprint I found at Saltwick Bay “…Ha Ha.


The Clue Is In The Glue..!

I managed a few hours voluntary work at the Museum of Peterborough today. Remounting Belemnites such as these Hibolithes. They were donated to the museum in the year 1913 and I guess after a lot of man handling over the years a few of them had detached themselves from there display card.


So I got to work reattaching them to the card with my trusty B72 restoration adhesive.

That’s when the thought crossed my mind…..what glue did the curators use to attach them to this card all those years ago.

Would anyone have any suggestions?




The Dig for Dinos event has now sadly finished but it was a huge success especially to help raise awareness of the local geology and the fossils that can be found from where I live, Peterborough, UK.

Here are some photos before the children where let loose on the mock fossil dig site we had set up with a couple of photos of my siblings showing their expertise.

With over six hundred people frequenting this tent over three days I’m quietly confident the stage will be set again for next year.




Hi everyone,

Had to apply the finishing touches to these replica fossils made out of plaster cast moulds in readiness for a touch and feel exhibit for children.

They are all moulded from fossils from the Oxford Clay here in the UK: Ammonites, Bivalves, and Pliosaurs and Plesiosaur teeth.


I’ve been practising various sentences in the most kindess :) way possible that they have to put back and re- hidden in the special pits we have made for other children to find and NOT :( to be taking home.




On the August bank holiday, as a volunteer I'll be helping out with this event.

Discover the amazing story underneath Flag Fens archaeology!

Discover a time when Peterborough was under water at Vivacitys Dig Deeper for Dinos event, held at Flag Fen Archaeology Park on the Bank Holiday weekend of Saturday 23 Monday 25 August, 10am-5pm.

Be a paleontologist for the day with a fossil dig, meet experts, handle real specimens millions of years old, and more. Plus enjoy crafts and trails where youll come face to face with life-sized dinosaurs! Its going to be Jurassic!

All of sudden...I'm an expert, this should be fun.




blogentry-13364-0-04546600-1401467832.jpg The Society are very pleased to announce the re-launch of stamfordgeolsoc.org.uk

What you will see is the result of a lot of work done over the last 3 months by myself and my friend Luke . As well as a fresh new look, we’ve added a host of new features for you to get involved with, including expanded news and events areas, a discussion forum and your own profile area. Registration is quick and free – you can even log in using your existing Facebook profile if you have one!

Our goal with this new site is to provide both members & visitors with an easier way to learn about what the Society is all about; why we do what we do and how to get involved.

We will be adding new material on a regular basis, and in the pipeline we’re looking at featuring a quarterly newsletter that will present information on current events related to the Society.





Flag Fen Bronze Age Boats

Hi everyone,

Ive been really busy of late with not much time to blog in full but shall do when things calm down. Ive been asked to help with the archaeological digs at Flag Fen in Peterborough in August. So ill keep you posted...

Heres some more information on whats going on there : Flag Fen Bronze Age Boats

Speak soon...Darren.


If I Have The Time Ill Be There.

I managed another 4 hours at the Museum today, due to shift work its difficult for me to attend as often as I like so I take every opportunity I can.

So it was back down into the basement to retrieve my box of fossils I was working on. I managed to repackage four specimens of which Ive posted here if youd like to have a look.

Back To The Inferior Oolite Box.


My First Day Back At The Museum.

It was good to get back to the Museum especially due to family and work commitments time is precious. So I was there today 10am prompt just as the doors opened for my usual scheduled 4 hours. After I got the New Year pleasantries out the way with my colleagues it was down into the basement of the museum. This is where the vaults are and for me to be given my allocated fossil specimen box to work through at my leisure.

As I wait in anticipation I’m handed a very old musty smelling box which appears to have seen better days. The project set for the volunteers in the geology department is to rehouse all geological finds into brand new boxes and individually set into various thicknesses of foam.

My box is labelled (Inferior Oolite Jurassic 7) of which I could kind of sensed things where rattling around inside as I carried up the stairs out of the basement and into the laboratory.

I decided to work on the large ammonite labelled (Parkonsonia inferior Oolite Cornbrash) it also had a reference number which is logged into the museums data base for a full description, where and who it was found by etc.

As you can see it sits badly in a white cardboard carton, so I thought if we are going to rehouse them in new boxes ill recycle the old box lid and make a new cardboard carton from it. I then carefully placed the ammonite on some thick foam, drew around it then cut out the shape of the ammonite with a scalpel.

I then placed a very thin piece of foam in my newly made carton that I made, and then placed the thick foam on top with the ammonite sitting snuggly inside of the ammonite shape I cut off from it, and then put the original label back in with it.

Now those four hours seemed to have flown by with little to show but as my collegues kept telling me “ steady , steady we have all the time in the world , let’s have another brew “

Really looking forward to next Tuesday.


Out In The Field

blog-0270232001388959631.jpgHere at my Out In The Field link I shall post live photos of our surroundings and any fossils in situ as we go along on one of our field trips . Ill also post a link on TFF giving notice of our trip just in case you would like to tag along . And to give a summary of our event in the fossil hunting trip section on our return.

2014 Fossil Hunts

blog-0696769001388958407.jpgGearing up for another great year, so there’s nothing like a bit of forward planning to give yourself something to look forward to.

These are our destinations we have pencilled into our diary of events so far with more in the pipeline:

SUNDAY 9th FEBRUARY WALTON- ON-THE-NAZE, ESSEX blogentry-13364-0-96515000-1388958213.jpg

This famous London Clay and Red Crag site, where sharks teeth, bird bones, fish vertebrae, seeds and wood from the London Clay and gastropods and molluscs from the Red Crag are plentiful.

SUNDAY 13th APRIL KETTON, RUTLAND blogentry-13364-0-87313900-1388958211.jpg

A quarry hunt where the Jurassic Oolite of 170 million years ago is packed with ammonites, corals, brachiopods, bivalves, fish and reptile remains and much more are found in this truly enormous quarry.

SUNDAY 7TH DECEMBER WRENS NEST, DUDLEY, WEST MIDLANDS blogentry-13364-0-86118500-1388958215.jpg

Famous for its inland Silurian coral reef where you can find fossil trilobites, corals, brachiopods, crinoids, cephalopods and more.

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