Square and Compass Museum Piece, Full article, edition 6.
Images by Geoff Stubbs.
The past is always new in Purbeck. From Pterosaurs to pottery, bones to beakers, it seems the jolly thing just won’t leave us alone. They’re turning up so may fossilised dinosaurs ‘previously unknown to science’ down in Kimmeridge that the novelty is in danger of wearing off (see editions 2, 3 & 4). And there is plenty of evidence of mankind’s relatively short residency on the planet; the pointers suggest Adam and Eve’s home town was Langton Matravers. Nakedness was all the rage at The King’s Head in those days.
The sheer variety of historical objects routinely unearthed in Purbeck is astonishing – as regular readers of these pages will testify. We return to the amazing museum housed within the revered Square and Compass pub, Worth Matravers, for our ongoing series by Cath Newman, bravely chronicling the results of husband Charlie’s bower-bird knack for spotting curious objects – and bringing them back to the nest.
Patera Handle Detail
This naïve, beautiful bronze object depicting a human face is the end of the handle from an iron-age patera. The decorative handle would have been attached to a small shallow libation dish used in worship and on ceremonial occasions. Charlie believes that the crude workmanship predates the finer efforts of the Romans. Fashioned from ceramic, bronze or iron – these libation dishes sometimes formed part of the grave goods interred along with burials, accompanying their owners into the next world. This example is approximately 2000 years old and was found by Charlie at Kingston, in 2000.
What shall we do with a drunken sailor, early in the morning? Well, as we all know, the worse for wear sailor must be put into the scuppers with a hose pipe trained on him to sober him up and shock him out of his reverie. The excess water collected on a ship was safely drained out through the scuppers, so this appears to have been a practical solution. Once the aforementioned sailor had come to his senses, the water used to bring him round could be safely drained off the boat, along with any other fluids, by un-bunging the scuppers. This scupper bung is approx 9″ across, made from oak, iron and brass and comes from a 19th century vessel. It was found at Egmont by Charlie in 2011.
Durlston was a hazardous body of water 90 million years ago. The warm, lagoon-like water was teeming with life which included several species of crocodile. Many of Charlie’s fossil finds are based upon detective work and this one is no exception. A vague mark on the outer edge of a limestone pebble stopped Charlie in his tracks. Upon closer examination he decided that there may be hidden treasure within. The pebble then had a trip to Dave Costin’s fossil preparation workshop at Lyme Regis where it spent a few days holidaying in a bath of acid. Slowly the limestone dissolved to reveal this section of the cranium of a six foot crocodile which had not seen daylight since it sank into the mud 90 million years before.
Who would have believed this exotic Hippochrenes Amplus shell is not only approximately 10 million years old but that it was found locally in the Barton Beds at Highcliff, Dorset? This shell is bigger than an average human hand. It was brought in for identification at our first Fossil Fare and generously donated to the museum. Its size and tropical beauty remind us that the waters around Southern Britain were once luxuriously warm and supported the growth of much larger shells than our chilly waters are capable of producing today.
Jurassic Gaviscon! Gastroliths are the stones found in the stomachs of fossilised reptiles and dinosaurs. It is thought that they were consumed along with the meal as a digestive aid, acting rather like an internal grindstone to break down the material consumed. On land the diet was very fibrous which required some fairly serious digestive action – an Argentinosaurus in South America was found to have approximately half a tonne of grapefruit sized gastroliths in its belly. At sea, a pliosaurs, such as the specimen in our museum, would consume small pebbles to break down the bones and shells of its prey. The example in the photograph was found by Charlie in the Wealdon beds at Swanage and he surmises that it could have come from a Sauropod – a large land living dinosaur. Under close scrutiny, the stones reveal a smooth sheen from being ground in the gut, acting just like a polishing machine.
Imagine you are a happy Pavlovia Rotunda, swimming in the warm waters of Chapman’s Pool and minding your own business when suddenly, out of nowhere, a pair of large jaws belonging to a passing predator (ichthyosaur, or perhaps a fish with worrying teeth) gives you a serious crunch. Your shell is enough to deter further interest and the predator swims off in search of easier, softer prey. So, you are now a Pavlovia Rotunda with an injury – just like the one in this photograph. The injury shows up as irregularities in the pattern of the ‘ribs’ in the fossil, which in healthy specimens are totally uniform and regular. The injury would eventually heal and you would continue to be a reasonably happy Pavlovia Rotunda. Charlie has in excess of 30 examples of these injured ammonites, all from Chapman’s Pool which will be on display at our Fossil Fare in July.