What are fossils?
Fossils are traces in the rocks of animals and plants that lived and died millions of years ago, were buried in mud, silt and sand and slowly turned into stone.
Sometimes they are the stony remains of shells and bones, sometimes they are nothing more than footprints and delicate impressions where something rested before moving on or completely rotting away. All are evidence that can tell us how our world used to be.
Black Country Fossils
The rocks minerals and fossils on display in the Museum are a tiny part of the remarkable collection amassed over the last 160 years or so.
The largest part of our collection are fossils found in the local rocks. These are the remains of long-dead animals that thrived in the oceans and swamp forests which covered the Black Country area millions of years ago. Chance and the workings of Mother Nature have preserved them like ancient messengers for us to eventually find, marvel at and study.
The rocks of Dudley are particularly abundant in beautiful and delicately preserved remains such as the ‘Dudley Bug’ trilobite of which you will see many on display.
Such rare and perfect fossils have made Dudley famous throughout the World.
The Silurian Period - our oldest layer of time. 443-419 million years ago
The Silurian Period begins at the start of a time of global warming, when vast melting ice sheets caused sea levels across the globe to rise and flood previous areas of land creating huge areas of shallow shelf seas. The Black Country lay on the edge of a landmass called Avalonia in the warm seas near the equator.
Millions of shelly sea creatures swarmed on the seabed and swam in the water above.
They were surrounded by shoals of shelly sands on which whole ‘meadows’ of stalked crinoids (sea-lilies) gently waved in the ocean currents. Trilobites crawled, burrowed and swam, shellfish burrowed in the mud or attached themselves to the reefs and the seawater was filled with tiny plankton and soft bodied creatures that the corals fed on. Shoals of squid hunted in these waters and fearsome sea scorpions prowled the reefs in search of prey.
All of these creatures lived and died and their fallen shells built up in layers on the seabed that would eventually become the limestone that was mined from the hills and valleys around us.
The cases in this gallery contain many beautiful examples of the fossil evidence that has been discovered in these limestone layers over the past 170 years.
Trilobites - 'Dudley Bug'
A trilobite is a fossil sea creature similar to a modern day horseshoe crab.
Both the trilobite and the horseshoe crab belong to a group of animals called Arthropods (Arthro meaning jointed and pod or podium meaning leg, i.e. jointed-legged animals).
Trilobites get their name from the typical shape and form of their fossilised hard outer shell which is divided into three raised arch-like ridges that run lengthways along the body from nose to tail.
Discover unique examples of our infamous Trilobite in this gallery. Such rare and perfect fossils have made 'The Dudley Bug' famous throughout the World.
The Carboniferous Period - Black Diamonds. 360-299 million years ago
Approximately 315 million years ago, the Black Country was a low wetland lying almost directly on the Equator. It was a hot and very wet place like the rain forests of today.
The rock layers that formed at this time tell us that vast forests appeared across this land containing plants and animals that would look strange to us today. The trees were 100m high ferns and giant horsetails towered over swathes of ferns and other delicate plants on the forest floor. The air would buzz with the sound of the first flying insects on Earth and the forest floor crawled with cockroaches and millipedes.
Threading throughout this swamp forest were rivers, streams and lakes in which freshwater mussels thrived and horseshoe crabs slithered in the grey mud. Huge predatory fish and freshwater sharks swam in these waters looking for shoals of smaller fish and huge newt-like amphibians hunted on the edges of pools and lakes.
Vast amounts of plants lived died and were buried within the ground forming the coal seams, the soils on which they stood, became rich resources of fireclay and the stagnant pools allowed iron minerals to form around the decaying tissues of plants and animals to form rich ironstones in between the coals and the clays.
This Gallery contains a few of the fossil trees and ferns, freshwater mussels and horseshoe crabs from the rivers and lakes that were scattered through these ancient swamp forests.
The Dudley Volcano & The Rowley Ragstone
The quiet swampland slowly subsided and layers of coal, ironstone, fireclay, silt and mud built up over time.
309 million years ago the climate changed and became drier. The rock layers turned reddish in colour and the plant fossils disappeared.
New rocks, called ‘Etruria Marls’ by geologists were being formed on a hot flat plain criss-crossed by small interweaving rivers where the forests used to be. The red clay was a very important resource for the Black Country; it produced the engineering ‘blue bricks’ that you can see in bridges and heavy structures across the area today.
307 million years ago, this quiet, hot plain was disturbed by volcanic activity. The area was pulled apart by earth movements and magma from deep inside the Earth squeezed up into the rock layers. Where this cooled underground it solidified to become ‘greenstone’ which geologists call basalt or dolerite. We find a great thickness of the dolerite in the Rowley Hills where it is locally known as ‘Rowley Rag’
In Pensnett however, it punched through to the surface and formed a small volcanic cinder cone that we now call ‘The Dudley Volcano’.
You will see examples of these rocks on display.
The Permian Period. 299-252 million years ago
The Permian Period began 299 million years ago and ended with the greatest extinction of life the Earth has ever known, 252 million years ago. At this time there was a single huge supercontinent called Pangea. The extinction had a dramatic effect with almost all life on Earth dying out – 90% of life in the seas and 70% of life on the land. This cleared the way for new life forms to evolve – in particular the dinosaurs
Global temperatures steadily rose, changing Earth from a world with polar icecaps to a scorching place dominated by deserts. The rocks deposited in these deserts are red and sandy, and can still be seen around the Black Country.
Only those animals and plants suited to hot, dry desert conditions could survive and spread. Plants changed too and early conifers, ginkgos and cycad trees appear in the rock layers at this time. In the early part of the Permian Period, large amphibians still flourished, but as time passed, global temperatures soared and land became progressively hotter and drier. This was a time suited to reptiles adapted for such conditions and whose early forms would go on to become the first true dinosaurs.
Let's discover fossils
Learn, have a go and watch.