Eating fossils | The Palaeontological Association

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2023-09-17 12:00:14

The rock lying by the roadside did not look like much of interest at first: a rather nondescript limestone, with little more to show to casual observation than a few vague blotches.  Anyway, old habits die hard, so I picked it up, licked the surface and put it, and my hand lens[1], to my eye.  The memory of the shock, and the thrill of minor discovery, is still fresh.  The little blotches turned out to be the most superb three-dimensionally preserved Nummulites foraminifera that one could hope to see, set in a marvellously revealing natural cement of sparitic calcite.  Part of the sample still graces my desk, while the rest has been sacrificed for microscope thin sections for students.  Such treasures should not be withheld from the younger generation.

Licking the rock, of course, is part of the geologist’s and palaeontologist’s armoury of tried-and-much-tested techniques used to help survive in the field.  Wetting the surface allows fossil and mineral textures to stand out sharply, rather than being lost in the blur of intersecting micro-reflections and micro-refractions that come out of a dry surface.  On that day, it brought out the handsome nummulites a treat.  The taste, now, was likely merely registered as generically-slightly-dusty and then instantly forgotten; I had always thought it entirely superfluous to identification.  But perhaps not so.  As we contemporary types develop capabilities in one direction, we might be entirely losing them in another.  Go right back to the beginnings of our science, and our ancestors, and their senses, were attuned to different settings.  One could then, it seems, literally develop a taste for stratigraphy.

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