'Exceptional prehistoric site' uncovered in farmer’s field in Gloucestershire

Among the specimens at Court Farm near Stroud are fish, ancient marine reptiles, squids, rare insects and more. Credit: Nigel Larkin

Fossil collectors have discovered "an exceptional prehistoric site" in a farmer’s field in Gloucestershire.

They found remains of animals which lived in a tropical sea roughly 183 million years ago.

Among the specimens at Court Farm, in Kings Stanley near Stroud, are fish, ancient marine reptiles, squids, rare insects and more.

The site was discovered by fossil collectors Sally and Neville Hollingworth.

They say the fossils come from a time when this part of the country was deep underwater.

Sally and Neville said: "These fossils come from the Early Jurassic, specifically, a time called the Toarcian.

"Excavations at Kings Stanley over the last week have revealed a rich source of fossil material, particularly from a rare layer of rock that has not been exposed since the late 19th Century."

A team of eight scientists have since spent four days with a digger clearing a stretch of around 80 metres, digging out several hundred limestone nodules, splitting them by hand and logging the fossils they contained on a database before they are taken for conservation.

About 200kg of clay was also collected and sieved in a special processing machine to extract parts of fossils like small teeth and bones.

The fossils come from an inland rock layer that was last exposed in the UK more than 100 years ago. Credit: Dean Lomax

Many of the specimens collected will be donated to the local Museum in the Park, Stroud, where they will form a significant part of the museum’s palaeontology collections.

One of the team members, Alexia Clark, who is the museum’s documentation and collections officer said: "We’re excited to expand our knowledge of the geology of the Stroud District and we are looking forward to a time when we can share these amazing finds with our members and visitors."

Among the best finds were several fossil fish with excellent details of their scales, fins and even their eyeballs.

Nigel Larkin, a specialist palaeontological conservator who was part of the team said: "Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Give a palaeontologist a fossilfish and they will tell you the species, the age of the rock, the climate of the time when the fish was alive plus the water depth and salinity and plenty of other information.

"This site - already an interesting farm in a beautiful setting - is one big outdoor classroom and the lessons now include geology, palaeontology, evolution and climate change. They tell farmers to diversify but this goes one step beyond."

It is hoped the site can provide opportunities for community groups and schools to be involved in the research, particularly from the Stroud area.

The landowner, Adam Knight, said: "I’m delighted that after the initial work that Sally and Nev did over three years ago we now have a full-scale dig on the farm involving a range of fossil experts.

"It has been a real pleasure to host the dig and I’m excited to see the results of what has been found."