How did Doris get to the museum?
The circle of life
One Jurassic day, after a long life, Doris died.
Bearing the battle scars of a true survivor, she floated down to the sea floor. R.I.P. Doris.
WARNING: GORY CONTENT!
As Doris’ corpse started to decay, it filled with gas and lifted off the sea bed again.
Her head started to separate from her body.
Doris’ carcass settled back on the sea floor and became a tasty treat for other Jurassic marine animals like crocodiles, sharks and tiny invertebrates.
Eventually Doris’ flesh was all eaten or rotted away. Only her bones were left.
Without flesh to hold them together, all of her bones started to scatter.
Doris’ bones were buried by sediment (mud) and then more sediment and yet more sediment.
Over millions of years her bones were squashed from the weight of the sediment above and were turned into ‘stone’.
Millions more years passed ...
… the world around the fossil changed and eventually, 150 million years after she died, her fossil rested close to the Earth’s surface near a place called Westbury …
Without flesh to hold everything together, bones start to scatter. This ichthyosaur was preserved as its bones started to scatter, just like Doris.
Can you see the teeth scattered above the jaw?
Can you see the scattered backbone and tail?
This ichthyosaur became a tasty treat for other Jurassic marine animal after it died. Can you see how its bone has been grazed by the star-shaped mouth of a sea urchin?
When bones are buried by sediment (mud), and then more sediment, over millions of years they can become squashed from the weight.
Can you tell the difference between these fossils? One is a complete fossil pliosaur vertebra and one is a squashed pliosaur vertebra.
This is a map of Doris’ fossil as it was when it was discovered. It shows the scattered head and bones.
Where was Doris found?
Place: near Westbury, Wiltshire
Site: clay pit run by Blue Circle Cement
How was Doris found?
Clue: fossil bones sticking out of the rock
A team from Bristol Museum and the University of Bristol spent the summer carefully digging up her bones.
What tools were used to excavate Doris?
Can you spot any of these tools being used in the excavation?
- hard hat
Who helped get Doris out of the ground?
Lots of people helped to get Doris out of the quarry:
University of Bristol staff
Digging up Doris!
Take a peek at these pictures to see how Doris’ fossil skeleton was excavated
The team maps and prepares the site
Bones are protected by plaster and fibreglass
Making the site bigger
Crate her up
Off she goes to Bristol
Up she comes to her new home at the museum
This ammonite was discovered with Doris’ fossil skeleton. It is only found in rocks 150 million years old, so tells us when she was buried!
Aulacostephanus eudoxus Ce9794
What do you call a palaeontologist with a spade in his hand?
Doris joins Bristol Museum’s collection
Doris’ fossil bones were still inside huge blocks of rock when they arrived at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery in 1994.
It took museum palaeontologist Roger Vaughan ten years to carefully chip this rock away to reveal them.
The bones were recorded, labelled and stored safely for study.
At Bristol Museum, Doris’ fossil became part of an amazing history…
Bristol palaeontology firsts
Open for business!
Bristol Museum & Art Gallery’s collection first opened for study in 1823.
Wax seals like these were used to label some of the first fossils in the collection.
Bristol Museum & Art Gallery’s first fossil was an ichthyosaur collected by Mary Anning from Lyme Regis, Dorset.
Mary Anning discovered amazing fossils from the age of 11 or 12. These included the first ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs ever discovered by palaeontologists.
How old are you? Have you ever discovered a fossil?
Image: Credited to ‘Mr. Grey’ in Crispin Tickell’s book ‘Mary Anning of Lyme Regis’ (1996) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Palaeontologists William Conybeare and Henry De la Beche used Mary Anning’s first fossil to draw one of the first diagrams of an ichthyosaur skeleton in the world.
Henry De la Beche and Mary Anning were childhood friends. They both lived in Lyme Regis and collected fossils together.
Image: William Conybeare (paper and drawing) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In 1824 Mary Anning discovered the first complete plesiosaur skeleton. She sent this drawing of her plesiosaur discovery to William Conybeare in Bristol who broke the news of her amazing discovery.
Can you imagine finding out that such a strange creature once existed?
Image: By Mary Anning (1799-1847) () [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
New fossils are still being added to Bristol’s collection today. These fossil bones are from a new species of Jurassic crocodile.
It is a 3D jigsaw with no instructions and some missing pieces. Sticking it back together will be a painstaking process.
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Now you're a plio-expert, what will you do next?
Be a Jurassic Explorer across the galleries at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
See more fossil displays at The Etches Collection, Museum of Jurassic Marine Life, Kimmeridge, Dorset
Visit their website to find opening times.
Join a group
Join Rockwatch, the UK’s Nationwide Geology Club for Children
Find a fossil
Keep your eyes peeled and you never know what you could find!