The Sedgwick Museum & Coprolite Fossils
This history trail audio is narrated by the poet Michael Rosen, with script researched by Helen Weinstein and the team at Historyworks. This recording is part of a series of Cambridge history trails which have lyrics inspired by 'history beneath our feat' performed by local schoolchildren, with poems by the top poet Michael Rosen and songs by the funny team at CBBC's songwriters commissioned by Historyworks. To find more trails and further information, go to http://www.creatingmycambridge.com/trails
The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences is the oldest Museum in Cambridge and holds the oldest items! It is said that a walk through the Museum takes you on a 4.5 billion year journey through time, from the meteoritic building blocks of planets, to the thousands of fossils of animals and plants that illustrate the evolution of life in the oceans, on land and in the air.
The Museum has over 2 million items including rocks, fossils and minerals. The style of the Museum is Victorian, with old cabinets of curiosities, and looks like the set of a Harry Potter film.
The Museum is fascinating and it is free to the public! Magnifying glasses can be borrowed from the staff at the desk to help visitors examine specimens close-up! The names of the specimens you can explore are in the categories of Palaeontology (fossils), Mineralogy (minerals), Petrology (igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks), Building Stones.
Favourite items in the Museum are partial skeletons of hippos and mammoths. These species from Africa were discovered along the banks of Cambridgeshire Rivers, showing that back in deep time East Anglia was connected to the African Continent. The Sedgwick Museum’s fossil called ‘Hippopotamus amphibius’ is a massive skeleton discovered in 1907 just outside Cambridge. The skeleton is the remains of a mammal that lived about 120,000 years ago in the Pleistocene epoch, and is the same species of Hippo that lives in Africa to this day.
The Sedgwick Museum is named after Professor Adam Sedgwick who was an ambitious collector in the Victorian period. He was sourcing specimens via a network of researchers, including Mary Anning, from whom he purchased a number of ichthyosaur specimens, now on display in the Museum. By the time of his death in 1873 the collection had grown to a staggering half a million specimens. In the Victorian era the fossils called ‘Coprolites’ were mined in the areas called the ‘Cambridge Greensand’ and these are fossilised faeces which date from about 110 million years ago. The fossils are on display in the cabinets of the Museum, and they look like dog poo turned into stones. And if you look with the magnifier, you can see lots of fish bones in the poos. These coprolites were mined on Coldham’s Common and other clay areas near the River Cam, where they were mined in seams from the layer beneath the clay . Once extracted the fossils were washed and ground up in a mill, mixed with acid and water to make super charged fertiliser for the fields around to grow better crops to feed a growing population in Victorian times.
What Jurassic creature left these deposits? The fossilized poos are mostly linked to Pterosaurs (Greek for flying lizard); fish-eating reptiles, including the Ornithocherius specimens and Ichthyosaurs (Greek for fish lizard); which flew above the Cambridge Greensands and lived off the fish in this swampy area. The remains of the Ornithocherius in the museum show them to have a wing span of approximately 2.5 metres (8.2 feet), an unusual carved snout and a straight jaw that narrowed at the tip. It had fewer teeth than other related species and its teeth were mainly vertical rather than pointing outwards.
Although many people would generally categorise all these specimens as dinosaurs, Pterosaurs and Ichthyosaurs are not actually dinosaurs as technically they do not have the correct attributes to fit in this category of prehistoric animal. They did however exist at th...