England's Jurassic Marine Park
Carol M. Tang
FOR OVER A CENTURY, JURASSIC MARINE STRATA IN GREAT Britain have yielded an amazing array of well-preserved fossils, ranging from articulated marine reptiles to squid with preserved soft parts. In the early ninteenth century, great finds of articulated “sea monsters” from Jurassic strata exposed along the southern Dorset coast started a fossil-hunting craze that put the town of Lyme Regis on the map as a paleontological mecca. Mary Anning, the world's first well-known female paleontologist, found the first articulated ichthyosaur in the cliffs around Lyme Regis and later discovered several large marine vertebrates from the cliff exposures of the Lias and Kimmeridge Clay.
The fossils from the British Jurassic Lagerstätten not only have revealed much about the morphology and paleobiology of extinct organisms, but also have played a significant role in the development of modern ideas in paleontology and biostratigraphy. Large numbers of both professional and amateur paleontologists have devoted their lives to discovering and studying these sometimes extremely well preserved and beautiful fossils. Surprisingly, however, much still can be learned about the paleontological, geological, and taphonomic aspects of these Lagerstätten. This chapter examines in detail the Oxford Clay, one of these spectacular British deposits.
Fossils from the Oxford Clay were collected in the mid-nineteenth century from rail cuts and borrow pits dug for rail construction, and since the late nineteenth century from brick quarries in central England. Because the Oxford Clay is particularly suitable for making bricks, quarries provided good exposures and thus ample collecting was possible. In