During the summer of 2020, I posed a question to the BDP volunteer community. I asked them to rummage through their collections and present what they felt was “the most underwhelming fossil or rock” in there. The dream was to create the most disappointing show and tell the palaeontology world has ever seen. I can happily report, the people heeded the call.
What follows are the submissions of the people, all are presented anonymously, in the order in which they were sent in. Alongside are descriptions written by the ‘proud’ collectors themselves. Be warned, this exhibition features some saltier language than we usually see in the BDP.
Welcome to the Museum of the Mundane!
Ex-coral fossil. Destroyed by my incompetence and vinegar.
Personally, I find the Triassic sandstones around SW Devon to be extremely underwhelming, but I don’t have a sample as I can’t be asked to get it and it disintegrates like crazy. I know my entry it is a poorly compacted limestone from the Swanage end of the Jurassic coast and it is the largest rock in my collection (save for the family mega-ammonite), but it makes a right mess of my display and my hands and shirt gets covered in grains every time I move the damm thing. It’s only saving grace is the odd shell fragment here or there.
I know I have likely upset the sedimentary crowd too much already so I shall stop here before causing any more fallout.
*Editor’s Warning – The following story contains an unnecessary trip to Durham.
As an undergrad I did an internship one summer, just staying on to help with some research projects. I wound up getting invited on this whirlwind field trip: two members of staff were going to Anglesey for two days after hearing reports of exposed petrified wood at some beach and asked if I fancied joining them. I figured it would be an experience so I said yes.
It was a weird couple of days, with many, many hours spent in the car, a night in a fancy pub on expenses and some time spent stood on windy Welsh beaches. One of the professors was talking to me about finding fossils, and I said I didn’t really have any experience. 20 minutes later, literally mid-walk, he picked up a pebble with a coral inside it. He said I could have it, he had loads at home and I thought it was cool. I felt a bit embarrassed about having to face up to the fact that I’d finally accepted wanting to be a palaeontologist but was shit at finding fossils, seemed like a pretty fundamental skill.
So this coral pebble has travelled with me from Durham to Bristol, now to Leeds, and I always had this conflicted feeling about it. It’s kinda pretty and I like it, but it’s also not exactly that impressive and I didn’t even find it myself.
Over the years I spent a bit more time at the beach, getting my eye in, finding shitty fossils, but I’m still no field expert. I wound up demonstrating on undergrad field trips as the token palaeontologist, and felt like a bit of an imposter because of my lack of skills. But last year, whilst wandering a beach in Pembrokeshire, waiting for the students to finish their limestone logs, I spotted my very own coral pebble. And it’s even more special for being extra shitty. I spent the rest of that day ridiculously proud of myself, and now the coral pebbles from opposite ends of Wales sit together on my bookshelf.
I asked my sister which of my fossils is the most underwhelming, in her opinion. She said, “That one you made me look at under the hand lens, it was so boring! I don’t know what it’s supposed to be”. So here it is.
She’s wrong. It’s a lovely fossil, especially under the hand lens.
This is the best fossil I’ve ever found. It was sadly horribly disarticulated and had to be painstakingly patched back together from many disparate elements. Thankfully all the heavy lifting is now covered, and we’re excited to publish on it this year under Moreau et al. 2020. Unfortunately Nature has rejected it, with recommendations that we send it to its sister publication, “Freak Of Nature”. We suspect its reveal will cause a stir – it exhibits an extreme case of hyperdactyly wherein it’s actually developed a separate pair of hands altogether. As a result, we speculate that it probably sucked shit, or else was an early relative of the centaur. Either one.
I forgot about this but then I remembered.
So, due to its sheer girthy-ness, it may not qualify as a “mediocre fossil”. Anything that when you find it makes you exclaim “Holy Shit!” is probably barred but if I have an excuse to talk about my big, beefy belemnite, I am going to talk about it. An image of my pride and joy is attached. I am heartbroken that no one appreciates it as much as they should because it’s “just a belemnite”.
The only person who ever gave it the respect it deserves was the curator of invertebrate palaeontology at the NHM. Unfortunately, it is shy of record breaking size (though not by a huge margin) and search though I did I could not find the rest of it. It’s from the Bearpaw Shale of Montana and now lives in the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum collections. The first thing I did last summer when I returned was demand to see it. I miss it.
In terms of truly mediocre, I have attached a picture of this random gastropod internal cast from Penarth. I like it because it was the first thing I found on my first ever DinoSoc field trip way back when.
Can I submit these tiny pentacrinites stems that I collected on the last day of the last DinoSoc fossil hunting trip before lockdown to the slightly disappointing fossil museum?
The Folly Of Man
On a recent trip to Aust I had one goal. I really wanted to find a nice Hybodont spine, preferably a big one.
I find quite a lot of bone bed, but no shark spine. Ah well.
As we are just about to walk back I see another chunk of bone bed but doesn’t seem to have much in it, maybe like four coprolite bits. I figure, to hell with it, might be stuff inside. Give it one smash of the hammer for a lucky dip.
It breaks open beautifully, cleaves almost perfectly in two. Almost. The fracture point, hidden buried straight down the middle of the rock, was a previously pristine Hybodont spine. My single hammer blow had ABSOLUTELY DESTROYED it.
The coprolite filled rock neatly in two chunks. The shark spine in a million. Had I randomly hit it from a different angle it might have broken intact for me. I kept a small piece of the spine as a reminder of the hubris and ultimate folly of mankind’s efforts.
A while back I found this delightful bivalve. It’s only small but I was super happy with how perfectly it popped out when I hammered the random rock it was in. I like the big space next to it. I feel like I should carve my name into it and it’d be a cool desk ornament thing.
This is a crappy bit of rock with some crinoid bits in it. It looked alright on the beach but now I honestly couldn’t tell you why it was worth picking up. Or keeping for like five years.
Everyone finds ichthyosaur verts which have lost their neural spines, but how often do people find neural spines without the vert? Look at this thing. How did I find this but no other trace of the way more likely to preserve skeleton? I’ve placed it on my wooden labyrinth because it’s a puzzle.
National Treasure – British Isles Edition
Thus concludes our adventure through this menagerie of banality. We hope you didn’t enjoy it, because if you did, that would somewhat defeat the purpose of the topic. One day, we may be back with more…