Last week, I attended the International Subcommission on Silurian Stratigraphy Conference in Ludlow, Shropshire. This is where geologists from around the globe share their research and knowledge on the Silurian Geological Period. But my Silurian story began two years ago…
In the summer of 2009, stabilisation works took place within the Step Shaft Mine beneath the Wrens Nest in Dudley. Over 200 samples were taken from the complete Silurian stratigraphic sequence which is present within the underground canal basin. This included several 430 million years old rotted down volcanic ash layers known as bentonite’s. Further work on these bentonite’s back at the lab at Dudley Museum and Art Gallery yielded new microfossils and the BGS measured new radiometric dates for the Wenlock – Ludlow Epoch boundary within the Silurian Period.
During the summer of 2010, the ‘Dudley Geoteam’ which consists of young graduate and undergraduate level geology volunteers based at Dudley Museum and Art Gallery, met a group of academic geologists from the USA. We explained how we had been involved with the research on the bentonite’s and microfossils from Dudley. Astonished at our enthusiasm and commitment, as well being pleased that we were learning a lot from the experience, we were offered sponsorship to attend the recent conference.
So on Monday 11th July 2011, we made our way to Ludlow to register for the conference. Where else would a bunch of geologists meet other than the pub! So that was where we headed. Plenty of goodies came our way in the form of a field guide, stratigraphic chart, pen and best of all free drinks vouchers plus a nice t-shirt! The following day was the start of the two days of talks, consisting of 30 presentations about research projects from around the world. The presentation which we had been involved in was by Dr David Ray about the carbon isotope excursions of the Wrens Nest bentonite’s. Other topics of interest covered scholecodonts, graptolites and a new laser scanning project. Following the lectures was a free tour of Ludlow castle before we packed our bags for the field days.
The field trip began at Lea Quarry South at Wenlock Edge, where some interesting techniques were used to gain entry, such as one geologist commando rolling under a gate while the rest of us simply climbed over. Although I must add at this point that we did have permission to visit the quarry! Some fantastic gastropod fossils were found here as were large complete corals. Unfortunately the trouble began when it was time to move on to the next location, have you ever tried shifting 60 geologists away from a fossiliferous rock face? Trust me, understanding quantum physics is much easier!
Eventually when the packed lunches were handed out the group began to move, full of excitement as we headed to the Wrens Nest. Yet again, the group split up and melted into the landscape when we arrived at the reef mound. This time it was easier to move the group as they were led to see some ripples. ‘Wow’ and ‘oooooooh’, seems to be the general noise a geologist makes at the sight of old ripples.
The final stop of the day was a canal trip through Dudley’s limestone caverns, we had time to get off the boat and appreciate the stratigraphy much closer than the average visitor. By this time stomachs were growling and hunger growing, so finally a buffet of bostin’ Black County grub was provided at the Holden’s Brewery and an open bar. The perfect end to a great geological week.
Wolverhampton Art Gallery
Assisted by Alison Roberts