3 months later the experts came to visit the Star Pit, Whittlesey to see for themselves where the bones were found, and realised that there could be many more bones lying under the cliff just waiting to be excavated!
The brick industry has been and continues to be a large part of Peterborough's heritage. The quarry was a working brick pit which has been used to extract clay to use in making bricks for many, many years. The famous fossil collector Alfred Leeds had collected Ichthyosaur specimens from the same brick 85 years earlier.
From this point the excavators started using dental tools to gently remove the clay from any fossil bones hiding underneath. This was painstaking work and took over 3 months and a second field season the following summer to uncover them all. By the end of that time over 2,000 bones had been uncovered.
Because the bones are unusually fragile, they had to be carefully uncovered from the clay using dental tools, yet swiftly covered in consolidant/glue to protect them from exposure to the elements.
It quickly became apparent that bones were spread right across the bed, all the way up to the excavated cliff face, indicating that there were probably more bones under the remaining cliff.
Although both pectoral fins of the fish were preserved as the animal had come to rest on the seabed for a final time, there was little coherence in the rest of the remains, which appeared to be scattered and mixed.
Some of that disruption of the body may well have been due to underwater currents, but the presence of discarded teeth of tiny sharks across the bones showed that the body of the dead fish had provided food for scavengers before being buried, and had been torn apart by them. the bricks show the limits of where bones of the fish were found on the bed.
It also became apparent that the bones of the skull that were preserved were almost exclusively from the left hand side of the fish’s head, which probably indicates that the right hand side was exposed above the seabed after it died, and was lost by erosion.
1. Alfred Leeds grew up at Eyebury just before the Oxford Clay around Peterborough began to be dug on an industrial scale to make bricks.
Over fifty years, while the owner of Eyebury Farm, he excavated thousands of fossil vertebrates from the clay around Peterborough and Whittlesey (or ‘Whittlesea’ as it was known then) as it was uncovered by brick-making companies, and those fossils went on to be sold to museums around the world.
In 1908 and 1909 Alfred collected marine reptiles from Whittlesey’s Star Pit, which was a comparatively new pit at the time.
Over 90 years later, Marcus Wood and Matt Riley found Leedsichthys bones in the wall of the same pit Alfred had collected from. A survey was conducted, that showed twelve different Leedsichthys bones were protruding from a bed in the cliff – and the hunt was on for more.
- Skull Outer
- Skull Inner
- Skull (top)