The Natural History Museum has excavated one of the largest and most important finds of exquisitely preserved Jurassic echinoderms ever found at a secret location in the Cotswolds.
Echinoderms are a group of animals including starfish, brittle stars, feather stars (stalk-less crinoids), sea lilies (stalked crinoids), sea cucumbers and echinoids (sea urchins and sea potatoes or dollars). Surprisingly, and highly unusually, species belonging to all these groups have been discovered at the site.
Natural History Museum Senior Curator Dr Tim Ewin, says:
The site, which was discovered by two non-professional paleontologists (Sally and Neville Hollingworth) who then alerted the Museum to its possible importance, would have been a warm, relatively shallow sea some 167 million years ago.
Dr Tim Ewin, said:
This series of events led to almost an entire ecosystem being preserved in exceptional quality. Feather stars, sea lilies and starfish fossils are traditionally extremely rare as their multiplate skeletons quickly falls apart after death meaning only instant burial would allow them to be preserved whole.
Sally and Neville Hollingworth originally researched the site during lockdown and later gained permission to investigate from the landowners.
The team believe they have unearthed three new species so far, a type of feather star, a brittle star and a sea cucumber. Many of the other species being unearthed at the site are already known to science, however, many were described over 100 years ago and based on incomplete or poorly prepared specimens. The new site will therefore provide vital new information to describe and contextualise these species which will lead to a better understanding of how these iconic groups evolved and diversified into the ecologically important organisms they are today.
So far the team have spent three days excavating the site and have collected approximately 100 slabs, which are now being prepared for future study and public engagement.
Mark Graham, Senior Fossil Preparator at the Museum, explains:
The team hope to return to the site again in the near future and have already begun the process of identifying the potentially new species of feather star, brittle star and sea cucumber discovered.