Neville and Sally Hollingworth used Google Earth to focus on a Wiltshire quarry and found a graveyard of hundreds of untouched creatures, including starfish and water lilies. Sally said, “They’re 167 million years old, these little creatures, and the preservation is just amazing.”
Dr Hollingworth, of Swindon, said after asking the quarry manager for permission, they found his clay soil was littered with “lots and lots of little fossils which we call crinoids or feathered stars.”
He added that evidence from a dig organized by the Natural History Museum showed the creatures had come to a sudden end.
He said: “They were probably buried alive by a mudslide, some kind of underwater landslide.
“All we have is a snapshot, like a window in time of what we call Jurassic Pompeii – that’s how I describe it because all the animals died where they lived.”
Thousands of people were killed on the spot when the Roman city of Pompeii was submerged by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, with their bodies covered for centuries in volcanic ash.
Dr Tim Ewin, senior curator of earth sciences at the museum, said he was amazed at the large number of fossils found in Wiltshire, a site dating to the Middle Jurassic period, 174 to 164 million years ago.
He added, “We have so much stuff that we kind of have to consider leaving some really great stuff behind. It really is a great site.”
Fossils of feathered stars (stemless crinoids), water lilies (stemless crinoids), and starfish (Asteroidea) are rare because their multi-plate skeletons disintegrate quickly after death and they need instant burial. to be preserved.
Researchers believe the Hollingworths may have found three new species: a feathered star, a brittle stars, and a sea cucumber.
The specimens will allow scientists to learn more about the evolution of animals, as juvenile and adult samples have been located, even a starfish with one arm being regenerated.
Dr Hollingworth, an honorary associate researcher at the University of Birmingham’s School of Geography, Earth Sciences and Environmental Sciences, said the discovery was even more exciting than its 2004 unearth of the skull of ‘a prehistoric elephant relative, claiming the latest fossils are “unique”.
He said: “From that point of view, it’s a gigantic find.”