Thursday, 18 October 2012

Hospital Appointment for Fossil Fish

Scottish Pavement Fish Project
To date, twenty remains of fossil fish and plants from the Devonian Caithness flagstones lining the streets of Edinburgh have been found. With more areas within Edinburgh to explore (the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena at Ratho) we don’t doubt that more will be found. And that is just in Edinburgh! Caithness flagstones have been used in the pavements of Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, London, Paris and even Beunos Aires! See the last project post for more details of the project and pictures of our Edinburgh finds.
 It’s been a busy fortnight for The Scottish Pavement Fish Project. Myself [Dr Tom Challands (Geovertical)] and Jeff Liston (National Museum of Scotland) visited the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 2nd October  to discuss the rescue and conservation of two fine fossil fish specimens lying in the flagstones right on the doorstep of the parliament building.

Scottish Parliament building

Jerry Headley, Group Head of Facilities Management, Events and Exhibitions and Visitor Services at the Scottish Parliament, took us around the parliament building to look for further fish specimens in the Caithness flagstones that line the floors and interior courtyards. Fortunately for the parliament, and possibly for us, no more were found and it looks likely that the two slabs will be lifted when building work on a new security hall extension to the front of the parliament begins in the coming month. Once the specimens have been prepared and studied they are likely to go on display inside the Scottish Parliament.  Many thanks to the police officers on duty outside the parliament for initiating this meeting!!



National Museum of Scotland
Pantak Industrial X-ray machine



The following day saw one of the specimens being taken to the National Museum of Scotland (NMS) for X-raying. X-raying is an extremely useful technique to use before preparation begins on the specimen because it allows you to view where fossil is hidden beneath the surface of the rock and therefore get a detailed picture of how much preparation is needed. This way the correct tools can be chosen rather than having to experiment directly on the specimen itself. Analytical conservator Lore Troalen very kindly spent the day testing and experimenting with various voltages, current strengths and filters to obtain images that revealed not only the internal structure of the fossils but of the rock itself. The X-ray facility at the NMS is unique for its size and the density of material that the x-rays can penetrate. Most conventional medical x-ray machines will only emit relatively low-powered x-rays as living tissue is easily penetrated by x-rays and also there is a significant risk to health from exposure to high-powered x-rays (radiation burns). Despite being thirty years old the NMS Pantak Industrial X-ray machine is one of a kind in Scotland and an invaluable resource for archaeological, palaeontological and industrial analysis. Sadly, it may be decommissioned soon and are no plans to reinstate the machinery. If this was to happen it would mean a valuable research resource is lost to science in Scotland.

Flagstone being CT-scanned at the
Royal Hospital for Sick Children











A week later one of the fish extracted from East Market Street and another large specimen found in Spittal Quarry, Caithness, were taken to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh for CT-scanning. CT-scanning allows us to view inside the rock and fossil prior to preparation similar to standard x-raying but it also allows us to build a 3D computer model of the fossil. This fantastic opportunity for the project came to be through the BGS Open Day at Murchison House held back in September. Thank you very much to radiologist Jen Matrundola for suggesting we scan the pavement fish and also to radiographer Dr Michael Jackson for assisting in the scanning and 3D reconstructions. The information from these scans will hopefully allow us to view the underside of the fish which has to remain in the rock because the fossil is so fragile. Results of the scans will be posted as soon as all the data processing has been completed.

The next stage of the Scottish Pavement Fish Project is to secure funding for the preparation of the fossils. Because the specimens are so delicate and intricate, preparing the fossils using micro-drills and micro-sand blasters takes a great amount of time. We are currently looking for funding to pay a preparator for this job which could take up to six months to prepare all the specimens. In the mean time there are plenty of pavements around Scotland to search for more interesting finds in as well as another trip up to the quarries in Caithness where the paving slabs originate from. Spittal Quarry are currently excavating the horizon that yields the fossil fish so we intend to pay another visit to see if they match the fish we find in the paving slabs of Edinburgh.
Keep watching for more updates, photos and the exciting CT scan results!!
Tom
Dr Tom Challands
Geovertical
@geovertical  
facebook.com/geovertical

info@geovertical.co.uk

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