Scientists dig deep in Norham in search for evolution’s answers

Dr David Millward of The British Grological Survey at West Mains Farm, Norham with Drillcorp machine drilling for fossil's.
Dr David Millward of The British Grological Survey at West Mains Farm, Norham with Drillcorp machine drilling for fossil's.

The story of how life came to survive on land millions of years ago could be made complete thanks to extensive drilling on a Norham farm.

Archaeological interest was piqued last year when 
Selkirk’s Stan Wood found several interesting fossils along the banks of the River Whiteadder, near Chirnside.

They seemed to fill in a blank in the fossil record, named Romer’s Gap, which has previously obscured the period when prehistoric creatures ‘turned’ from the water to the land.

Now scientists from the British Geological Survey have started drilling 500m down into the earth to take samples of the sediment that has accrued under the borderlands over millions of years.

This week drilling began at a farm outside Norham. The first ten-metre stretch of the 500m bore hole was strengthened with cement to stabilise further drilling, which will go on for about two months.

The samples will provide clues as to the flora and fauna that lived and died in the area millions of years before mankind evolved, as well as the atmosphere at the time.

Professor Jenny Clack of the University of Cambridge, project leader, said: “Our finds will give real clues as to how fish-like tetrapods of the Devonian evolved into land-going tetrapods. Until now, this period in evolution was almost entirely unknown, so how and when tetrapods acquired limbs and joints, and jaws that were adapted for feeding on land rather than in water, remained a mystery. The borehole will place our fossils in a sequence showing the order of events for the first time.”

Dr David Millward, District Geologist from the BGS explained “We know little about the habitats that these early terrestrial tetrapods lived in.

“Studies of the cores will provide an insight into the environments in which they lived and died, and into the conditions that preserved the fossils. We will also be able to see how the changes in fauna and flora relate to the record of climatic and environmental change represented in the cores.

“It’s amazing to find fossils like this. Often when they are in shale rock, like at Burnmouth for instance, they are simply lost in the sea.

“Nowhere have there been found fossils like this as complete as here.”