by The Curious Scribbler
The most remarkable people conceal themselves in the Welsh hills. Today’s exhibit are Cambridge-educated palaeontologists Joe Botting and Lucy Muir whose home is in Llandrindod Wells. As independent researchers they work all over the world, currently in China, the Czech Republic and Morocco and are among the foremost experts on Cambrian fossil communities – animals which lived at least 500 million years ago.
It was the Ordovician rocks of central Wales which brought them to Llandrindod Wells, and their research is putting their home town on the map. To the untrained eye the local stone look pretty unexciting, grey and shaley, and there is absolutely no chance of spotting a dinosaur bone or a nice big ammonite for the mantelpiece. Most amateurs would be proud enough to find a fossil trilobite, a segmented arthropod of a kind which became extinct 300 million years ago. This creature had a rigid carapace which formed a mould in the sediment and was thus more readily preserved as a fossil.
But very close inspection in the right places has revealed an unguessed-at variety of tiny fossils whose soft bodies are preserved as little more that smears between the layers of flaking grey rock.
Joe and Lucy’s discoveries present a picture of an ocean teaming with life 450 million years ago. Hours and hours of collecting, inspecting shards of rock for any tell tale sign of a fossil must be followed by days of microscopic study, to identify and photograph these tiny traces. Important publications will follow. It is for this reason that they have launched a crowdfunding page to buy a high quality binocular microscope and digital camera set-up to be installed at their home in Llandrindod Wells.
Life is precarious for independent researchers: Joe busks in the summer and Lucy does part time editing to support their modest life needs. They welcome amateur enthusiasts and have already been pivotal in launching at least one Penglais pupil on his geological career. In Llandrindod, they run a local amateur fossil group, provide public talks and workshops, visit local primary schools, and run field trips. They are involved in the community orchard, the repair shop, and the Transition Towns Group. As they say “We even offer our personal space, time and equipment to anyone who has need of it, simply to encourage a love of the natural sciences.”
The high quality photo microscope would be installed at their premises and will be of equal benefit to other scientists, especially in fields such as botany, insects, or archaeology, who will be able to use it free by appointment. Donations in the first week of the appeal have exceeded £5000 but there is more to go for a first rate piece of kit. Go to their web page and read all about it!