Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

Born this day

March 11, 2011 7 comments

It is remarkable to me that two palaeontologists share this birthday (11th March). Both are connected in someway to Bristol, England and to the University of Adelaide and both have published papers on the Cambrian fossils of South Australia and the Cenozoic marine mollusc fossils of South Australia.

Professor Ralph Tate, FGS, FLS

One of the two, Professor Ralph Tate (1840-1901), is a bit of a hero of mine and probably everyone else who has an interest in the evolution of Australia’s marine mollusc fauna. Since many of you may not be familiar with him I’ll give you a short bio here.

He was born in Northumberland, England and was the son of a science and maths teacher. He studied geology from an early age (begining at 12) and was appointed senior science master in the Trade and Mining School at Bristol before his 25th birthday. By the age of 24 he was curator of the Geological Society of London. After a stint as a technical officer for a mining company in Central and South America he took up the position of Elder Professor of Natural Science at the University of Adelaide in 1975, where he went on to assist in the founding of the Adelaide Philosophical Society and the Royal Society of South Australia.

He also had a strong interest in botany as well (having published on the flora of the Shetlands before leaving England for South Australia) and travelled extensively throughout Australia, collecting plants, minerals and fossils.

Major acheivements include being the first to recognise ancient glacial pavements at Hallett’s Cove, South of Adelaide (these are now known to be part of a major ice-age that struck Gondwana during the Late Carboniferous and Early Permian while our early tetrapod ancestors lolled about in coal swamps to the north) and being the first to recognise and publish on the Cambrian sediments on York Peninsula (still one of the best sources of Early Cambrian small shelly fossils in the world). But it is for his pioneering work on the marine Cenozoic faunas of southern Australia that I know him best. He single handed described 626 marine invertebrate fossil species in a series of more than 15 monographs and papers.

I was extremely honoured when in 1994 I recieved the Tate Medal, a prize awarded to the best honours research project of the year, for a graduating student of the Department of Geology, University of Adelaide.

So who is the second palaeontologist with this birthday? oh that’s me.

Categories: Australia, Mollusca, personal

Father, Son and Goanna

February 12, 2010 3 comments

Father, son and goanna

Hey everyone, since its been a long time since I posted I’m giving you an extra bonus picture of the day post. This was taken at our rented holiday house at  D’Estree’s Bay on Kangaroo Island. It depicts one of those special moments that happen between fathers and their sons and a random squamate.

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Injuries sustained in pursuit of science

February 12, 2010 4 comments

Hi Everyone, Sorry for the long, long absence. You see,  I had been staying  in Adelaide for several months, where I only had a dial-up connection. It was very slow and well it was my holiday. There was so much to do, so much to show my children that hey, why try to blog? I’m back in Jozi now however so let the blogging commence!

Okay, its not a great lead photo, nor a truly tragic injury  but I did smash my toe in the name of research(I might add that this photo was taken two months afterwards – at the time of the injury my toe resembled a plum in both colouration and sphaericity!). To explain how it happened: I was here.‘Here’ in this are the cliffs of the River Murray, just south of the town of Morgan. Notice all those limestone benches? They belong to the Bryant Creek Formation (formerly the upper Morgan limestone) and I have scrambled over them for the best part of twenty five years of my life. They are, or at least were, solid. This time however one just gave way under me when I stood on it. Down I fell, followed by what was probably a 300 – 500 kg block of limestone. Miraculously the only part of me that got trapped under the block was my left foot. Even more miraculously, instead of slpatting my toe into a bloody pulp, it simply drove my foot into the deep loose sand that accumulates under the ledges (it also helped that the block slid down rather than straight out falling).

So all was well and I was even able to go on collecting. This is what I was after.That’s right! Sea shells. Or more accurately, the spaces where sea shells used to be. No-one has ever really bothered with these, even palaeontologists deeply interested in sea shells, mostly because immediately below the Bryant Creek Formation is the Cadell Formation. This is a soft marl crammed with easily collected shells in an excellent state of preservation so why go through all the trouble of splittng large limestone lumps in the blazing aussie sun for a handfull of specimens when there is a trove of easily collected gems a few metres downsection?  However it was not specimen shells that I was looking for, rather I wanted to see the changes that were occurring in the mollusc faunas after the Cadell Formation was deposited. And what a scientific bonanza these Bryant Creek molluscs turn out to be. Apart from lots of new records for the Miocene of South Australia I found a bunch of new species. And not just small variations on species from the Cadell Formation, these were unexpected taxa that give excellent clues to changes in palaeohabitat, changes in ocean currents  in southern Australia and the evolution of very wierd groups.

I’ll blog about this work, interspersed with a bunch of dino-related stuff.

cheers to all – its good to be back on the blogs.

Categories: Australia Tags: , ,