As a Museum research fellow, my work on arthropod palaeontology often takes me to exotic places to examine and collect fossils. I recently returned from a packed five-week trip to Australia and Argentina. During this time I managed to squeeze in two fieldwork trips, a museum visit to examine some collections, and an international conference.
It began in early September when I flew to Adelaide, Australia, to meet up with friends and colleagues at the South Australia Museum (SAM) for some fossil-collecting fieldwork. A group of eight of us piled into fully loaded trucks and started the drive to Cape Jervis, where we boarded the ferry to Kangaroo Island. On this beautiful island, there is a spectacular fossil site known as the Emu Bay Shale. The fossils here preserve 510 million year old Early Cambrian animals in incredible detail, including soft parts not normally found in fossils, such as eyes, gills, skin and guts.
Dr John Paterson, Dr Diego Garcia-Bellido and other researchers from the SAM have published numerous papers on the weird and wonderful animals from this site. I had already been fortunate enough to work with these guys on the anomalocaridids – very early marine animals – from the Emu Bay Shale a couple of years ago. After the fieldwork this time, we returned to Adelaide with a truckload of fossils to add to the SAM collections. I then spent two weeks working in the museum on previously collected specimens, and making research plans for the years to come as part of the ongoing collaborations between this Museum and the SAM.
One of my favourite things about working in Australia is the chance for close encounters with the local wildlife, and this trip did not disappoint. During our time on Kangaroo Island, we saw many wallabies, Little Penguins, countless types of birds, and kangaroos of course. I even got to hold an echidna.
John, Diego and I then met up in Sydney airport for the long journey to Mendoza, Argentina where we joined nearly 900 colleagues for the 4th International Palaeontological Congress. This is one of the biggest conferences in our field, and takes place only every four years. We enjoyed a week of fantastic talks, including some given by the Museum’s researchers Dr David Legg and Prof Derek Siveter.
After the five-day conference, 30 of us headed out on a related field trip to the Argentinian Precordillera for a Palaeozoic marine journey to explore the wonderful rocks and fossils of western Argentina, near the border with Chile. We saw lots of lovely fossils, including trilobites, brachiopods, bivalves, corals and sponges. The terrain was so rugged at times that the field trip leaders had brought in the Argentine National Gendarmerie to transport us in army vehicles!
The scenery was spectacular, with impressive views over the Andes mountain range. After four marvelous field trip days, I then returned to Oxford, completing my journey around the world. The conversations and feedback from the conference and fieldtrip will help with my future research directions at the Museum. The fossil work in Australia provided important comparisons for the research I do here in Oxford on local collections, and will undoubtedly be the subject of future publications (and, of course, blog posts…).
Allie Daley, Museum Research Fellow