When a couple was looking at Google Earth, they found an interesting site in Wiltshire, England, and contacted Dr. Tim Ewin who is a senior curator in Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum (NHM) who organized a search of the site and what they found was jaw-dropping.
The research team found hundreds of marine fossils dating back to the Middle Jurassic Period (between 174 and 164 million years ago) that belonged to numerous species including feather stars (stalk-less crinoids), sea lilies (stalked crinoids) and starfish (Asteroidea) whose fossils are incredibly rare since they fall apart very quickly after death. It has been described as one of the largest collections of rare marine fossils that have ever been found in the United Kingdom.
It was Neville and Sally Hollingworth who discovered the site and explained to the PA news agency what happened next, “About six months ago, at the beginning of the year, when we were doing some research on local geology we noticed on Google Earth this little quarry and got in touch with the site manager and asked if we could visit.” “So we came on down to the bottom of the quarry and we noticed that the floor of the quarry was a clay layer, and on the surface of the clay with lots and lots of little fossils which we call crinoids or feather stars.” At that point, they took home a slab and found the fossils of sea lilies, crinoids, starfish and brittle stars.
It is believed that the marine creatures were possibly buried alive due to a sudden mudflow or landslide. “And all we’ve got is a snapshot, like a window back in time to what we call the Jurassic Pompeii, that’s what I’m describing as because all the animals died where they lived,” Mr. Hollingworth said.
“We know that they were buried during life, because we’ve got some evidence to show that the animals are adopting what we call stress position to being buried, they’ve closed up their arms to try to stop the mud getting into their mouths and our other orifices,” Dr. Ewin explained, adding, “So we know these animals were alive when they were buried.”
While they did find several species that are already known to science, the team believes that there are also previously unknown species. For example, they’re pretty sure that they have found new species of feather star, brittle star, and sea cucumber although further analysis needs to be conducted in order to know for sure. Additionally, they found fossils belonging to adults and juveniles, as well as a starfish with its arm being regenerated.
Pictures of the fossils can be seen here.