Chirnside fossils could provide key to Romer’s Gap

Ribbo

Ribbo

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National Museums Scotland has acquired an unparalleled collection of Berwickshire fossils, dating from a crucial evolutionary period.

The specimens, discovered on the banks and bed of the River Whiteadder near Chirnside, have been secured for the nation thanks to a grant announced by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The collection of almost 250 specimens contains fossilised remains of creatures that mark the period between 360 to 340 million years ago when back-boned animals first moved from water to land.

Although this is one of the crucial chapters of evolution, the fossil record for the period was previously almost non-existent.

Museum experts believe the diversity and number of the fossils in this collection could provide the key that unlocks the period often referred to as Romer’s Gap (named after palaeontologist Alfred Sherwood Romer).

The fossils come from near the mouth of the Tweed and were discovered by field palaeontologist Stan Wood.

Nick Fraser, of National Museums Scotland said: “National Museums Scotland has the best collections of Palaeozoic vertebrate fossils anywhere in the world and this acquisition enhances that claim.

“The scientific significance of the finds cannot be overestimated and Stan Wood, who sadly died last year, has left an amazing legacy that represents his lifelong quest to better understand this crossroads in the evolution of terrestrial life.”

The find has already been hailed by Sir David Attenborough as very exciting, who wrote: “The fact that they shed light on a part of geological history that hitherto has been almost blank makes Stan Wood’s discoveries of world-wide importance.”

An expert group of 12 scientists has been assembled to research the fossils, operating under the acronym TW:eed – Tetrapod World: early evolution and diversification.

Already the collection has revealed one notable amphibian specimen that has been nicknamed ‘Ribbo’ due to its prominent and well-preserved ribs, providing scientists with enough information to interpret what the creature may have looked like as it roamed the Tweed basin around 350 million years ago.