Rob Coram is not new to making scientifically important discoveries on the Jurassic Coast.
Collecting extensively in the Triassic over many years, Rob has made some incredible contributions to our understanding of this period, and many of his fossils are now in the collections of Bristol University where they are studied and curated.
Over the last few months, Rob has shared some of his remarkable discoveries with the Jurassic Coast Collection and we’re lucky to be able to present a couple of these here. We caught up with Rob to ask a little more about his lifelong passion for fossils:
“Like no doubt many other fossil collectors, I started off as a bored schoolchild, hoovering up everything I could find, mostly from along the Jurassic Coast, and built up a large and varied collection, of often dubious quality.
Finding myself unemployed after university, I set up a business with a friend selling rocks, minerals and excess fossils to gift shops. Much to our surprise, this business is still going 30 years later, though we no longer sell fossils from the Jurassic Coast, just common and educational items imported from abroad.
Most of the rocks along the Jurassic Coast are marine, but these are book-ended by nonmarine rocks: in East Devon by red rocks laid down in deserts during the Triassic, and in South East Dorset the Cretaceous Purbeck and Wealden beds, laid down by rivers and in lagoons. Less fossiliferous than the marine rocks, they receive less collecting attention, but are nevertheless interesting, so about 20 years ago, I decided to focus almost entirely on them.
My main interest was fossil insects, which occur mostly in the Purbeck beds and, like today, were incredibly diverse, so new species turn up regularly. These are very often just tiny drab wings that need to be examined under a microscope, but they can say a lot about the environment they lived in, (which they shared with dinosaurs) and I managed to turn that into a PhD thesis in 2005.
Insect remains are also found in the wonderfully fossiliferous marine Lower Jurassic rocks around Lyme Regis (washed or blown in from the land), so it was logical to extend the search downwards into the seemingly much more promising non-marine Triassic rocks to the west in Devon. Several years of searching however, failed to turn up a single insect fossil, so I found myself being drawn to vertebrates, particularly reptiles.
These included the large clawed footprints, and occasionally teeth and bones, of three-metre flesh-eating reptiles known as chirotheriids and the distinctive crushing tooth plates of sheep-sized plant-eating rhynchosaurs. Most of the reptile bones found in the Devon Triassic are worn and fragmentary, but I have been lucky enough, on very rare occasions, to find the remains of small, lizard-like, creatures that were surprised by flash floods and preserved intact.
Their bones are so delicate they can only be properly revealed by CT scanning (courtesy of the University of Bristol), but the end results can be spectacular and reveal important information about reptiles that lived long before crocodiles, turtles, snakes and even dinosaurs.”
If you would like to learn a little more about the Triassic palaeontology of the Jurassic Coast, have a look at this research paper published by scientists at Bristol University.