Origins of Modern Life
The origins of life on Earth as we know it today can be traced far back into Earth History, more than 550 million years ago. But in more 'recent' rocks (up to 65 million years old) we can find evidence of more familiar sorts of creatures ...
On display in this part of the gallery are a large collection of ophiuroid echinoderms (star fish), some brachiopods (known as "lamp-shells"), ammonites and a variety of plants from the Jurassic of Britain, providing a glimpse into the tremendous variety of animals living in the warm, tropical Oolite Seas, 65 million years ago.
Secrets of an ancient lagoon
A remarkable range of fossils are preserved in the limestones of Bavaria, formed on the bottom of a shallow tropical lagoon. These quiet conditions favoured preservation, so the level of detail is remarkable. This deposit is famous for the fossil of Archaeopteryx - the earliest known feathered creature - and also contain remains of the tiny predatory dinosaur Compsognathus. Both are displayed in this part of the gallery.
Crocodiles and Sea Urchins
Steneosaurus was an ocean-going crocodile, now found fossilsed in the Peterborough brickpits. Also from this period are fossils of sea urchins - some even have their delicate jaws preserved.
Coprolite diggings were a major industry in the Cambridge area during the late 19th century. These nodules are actually fossilized droppings. Due to their high phosphate content coprolites were used for agriculture, and briefly, by the explosives industry. A by-product was the discovery of thousands of Cambridge Greensand fossils - a unique collection of Cretaceous fossils. Some examples are on display in this part of the gallery
Giants in the Chalk
In this part of the Museum you can find fossil creatures from the Chalk, including the gigantic Mosasaurs - part of the jaw of one of these giant marine predators is pictured left. Each tooth is about 10 cm long. Also on display are sea-urchins and shells, similar in form to modern sea-creatures.
The end of the Cretaceous Period marked the extinction of a wide variety of creatures - notably the dinosaurs, the flying reptiles, the giant mosasaurs, the ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, and the ammonites. This change is reflected in the types of specimens on display in this part of the gallery.
After the Extinction
To the left of the Museum entrance you can see a variety of fossils from the Tertiary period, including crocodiles that look very similar to modern species. Also on display are turtles, preserved with their hard bony, shield-like shells, fish and some beautifully preserved leaves - so delicate is their preservation they look as if they might have fallen from the tree yesterday.
Whales and Sharks in Norfolk
The Pleistocene Red Crag, exposed on the Norfolk coast, is a rich source of more recent fossils, including a wealth of fish and whale remains (notably giant fossil shark teeth and whale ear bones). The image shows a single vertebra from a whale - the diameter is about the size of a bicycle wheel. Also on display are some beautifully preserved fossil shells that look almost as if they were formed yesterday rather than millions of years ago.
Cambridgeshire in the Ice Age
Towards the far end of the gallery discover what Cambridgeshire was like around 1 million years ago. The remains of giant deer, a hippopotamus, mammoths, elephants, beavers, wolves and ox - all from the area around Cambridge - tell us that this part of East Anglia was once very different to the landscape we know today.