Thursday, 30 April 2015

Exhibition of GB/3D Type Fossils project images in Athens, Greece (4-5 April 2015)

Guest blog by Panagiotis Latsoudis, Forester-High school teacher, The Moraitis School, Athens, Greece

A selection of stereoscopic GB/3D Type Fossils project fossil images were displayed in a special exhibition organized during the 2 days’ annual school fair “Panigiri Scholis Moraiti” in Greece.

The fair was held on 4-5 April 2015 at the Moraitis’ School buildings in Psychiko, a suburb north of the Greek capital, Athens. The event is organized by its high-school students once a year and hosts activities and events in order to raise money for charity. The specific exhibition was prepared by the high school “Nature observation and interpretation Group”.

The aim of the exhibition was to portray the possible landscape, flora and fauna of the wider school area during different geological periods and to feature the importance of the fossils in understanding about how life evolved on earth.

Due to GB/3D Type Fossils project help, the visitors had the opportunity to examine typical fossils of animals that lived during the long distant past, using special red-cyan glasses prepared by the students. The project also inspired the students to make their own stereoscopic images using pairs of photographs and relevant free software.

In addition, representative digital models, scanned and provided online by the GB/3D Type Fossils project, were  3d printed in the main entrance hall in order to attract the visitors’ attention, and to promote the new technology potentials and the pioneer initiatives!

Panagiotis Latsoudis

Friday, 27 February 2015

What's the point (on the map)?

In a previous post, we talked about the value of geo-locating some of the 20,000 or so fossil specimens we have processed in the 3D Fossils database. In this post, I want to explain a little more why it is useful, and also how we do it.

Visitors to the 3D Fossils site can at the moment choose to search by a number of criteria, for example, if I search for fossils from the Carboniferous I will return specimens around 300-360 million years old. However if I search for “Lyme Regis” I will only get those specimens where the location field contains at least those words. I won't see specimens from Charmouth, or Pinhay, both only a couple of miles away. At the moment, our system is not aware of any geospatial relations between the text in the locality field.

To fix this, we need to know where all our places are on the British National Grid. In the modern world where even your mobile phone knows exactly where it is within just a few metres, it is easy to forget that it was not always this easy :

  • A lot of our specimens were collected before the grid was standardised to the OSGB 1936 format currently in place
  • Distances were measured in miles or yards (sometimes even furlongs, rods and chains), rather than metres and kilometres.
  • Many of the localities are recorded in the style “small quarry (disused) on south side of lane, around 250 yards east of Dog and Duck public house, name of small village, etc”
  • There are plenty of places in the UK which share the same name, but are in completely different places. Examples might include Gillingham, Kent/Gillingham, Dorset, or Rainham, Kent/Rainham, Essex.
  • If two places sharing the same name is not confusing enough, some places like to move around. Dudley, in the two hundred or so years since it was recognised as a source of prime geological material, has been part of Worcestershire, Staffordshire and the West Midlands.
  • Sometimes, fossil dealers would not be keen to disclose the sources of their stock for fear of losing out on a sale. Hence we often see wonderful fossils with only scant location information, for example “Whitby” or “Lyme Regis”
Finally, sometimes the locality information can be so precise that there might be a risk of exposing the exact location of sites that may be on private land. In this case we obfuscate the locality slightly, whilst retaining full details on file should they ever be required for bona fide research.

Despite these challenges, we can use our resources to make our best estimate of the right place on the map, and we are being helped by a number of volunteers who can carry out a few minutes of investigation work for each one. Some of the resources we like to use are:

Ordnance Survey maps, old and new. We are lucky to have a comprehensive back catalogue of these, and in digital format too. We use GIS packages such as ArcGIS to examine them.
Geological maps, usually based on an OS map underneath, but the geology listed in the specimen data might be a valuable extra clue. You can have a look at some of our maps using the new Maps Portal
Gazeteers (such as the OS Open Data 50k version, or GeoNames, a crowdsourced alternative). These are simply lists of place names and their grid references. They can be very useful to simply get you to the right area to start looking, or where the locality information is so vague that there is no way to get any more accuracy. 
Web searches – sometimes old quarries will have become SSSI or RIGS sites and accompanying paperwork on these will often yield a grid reference. Similarly the original published descriptions of the specimens may provide location details
Friends and colleagues – sometimes, if a description is particularly ambiguous, contains colloquial references, or is spelled incorrectly, no amount of web searching will help. However, someone who is familiar with the area might instantly say “I know exactly where that is”!

When we find a point that we believe represents as accurately as possible where the fossil was found, it is just a matter of reading off a 12 digit reference (which represents the position, in metres, east and north of a datum point off the Isles of Scilly). We are compiling all these points into a database, which we can use to quality check the final results. I'll explain how we do that in a future post. 

We are a little more than half way through a list of around 4,000 points from the 3d Fossils database, but if you think this sounds like an interesting task then there are plenty more parts of our collection that would benefit from the same treatment. You can volunteer from home too, but if you're ever near Keyworth we'd be happy to show you around. Contact in the first instance. 

Simon Harris
GB\3D Team

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Georeferencing/Geolocating, GeoIndex and the BGS Maps Portal

It may be 18 months since the end of  official Jisc funding for the GB/3D Type Fossils Online Project, but development of this important resource has continued apace. Some of our volunteers have been georeferencing (or geolocating) many of the fossil localities. Georeferencing is the addition of a grid reference, or latitude and longitude, to a location, and it will be described in more detail in a forthcoming post. The aim of georeferencing is to allow localities to be plotted more easily on a map, or in a GIS (Geographical Information System), and then subjected to more rigorous analysis. As a geological survey, our traditional business has always been the production of geological maps, and not surprisingly, we are heavily involved in GIS. We have an online GIS known as “GeoIndex”, which provides access to many of our datasets and is available at:  .

BGS “GeoIndex” GIS: . Screen shot showing SW Scotland, the English Lake District and parts of the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland. Colours correspond to the BGS 1:625,000 scale Bedrock geology, and the triangles represent rock samples in the BGS Collections. Black triangles indicate online images of thin sections – both plane and cross polars. 
The BGS has recently made over 6000 geological maps and sections available through its online Maps Portal. The 1:50,000 (and previously 1:63,360) maps established a standard which many other geological surveys around the world have endeavoured to copy. Typical map sheets now include not only the basic map and key, but generally several cross-sections and a “generalised vertical section”. Some maps also include geophysical, metamorphic & biostratigraphic data, and a summary geological history.
Key “marginalia” on the Sidmouth Sheet (below) include:
  • Two horizontal cross sections, showing the general relations of the rocks along the two lines drawn on the map. The vertical scale is x2
  • Generalised vertical section. This acts as a key, drawn roughly to scale, indicating thickness variations, and the relationships between the solid geology lithostratigraphic units. Dominant lithologies are also described
  • Key to symbols and other units
  • Various location maps showing adjacent map sheets, component maps and survey dates
  • Surveying history and bibliographic reference
  • 2000/2005 –in the bottom left corner – indicates 2000 copies were printed in 2005

British Geological Survey 1:50,000 solid & drift geological map sheet 326 & part of 340 – Sidmouth. Published in 2005.

The online maps portal is available at: . It allows you to select from the latest versions of the 1:50,000 geological maps, or many of the older versions, plus many other small scale maps and sections. For each map or section there is a detailed record of the metadata and links to view or buy the map. The link to view the map open a high resolution JPEG2000 image within the IIPMooViewer (IIPImage HTML5 Ajax High Resolution Image Viewer), which allows you to zoom in and move around the screen. At full magnification (typically around x3), you can see more on the image that you can on the original – at least without a magnifying glass.

    The BGS online maps portal, available at: 

    The inclusion of all the historical maps allows the user to appreciate the understanding of the geology and the stratigraphical nomenclature that would have been current at any point in time, for example when a particular fossil was collected. One of the key localities in the GB3D database is Lyme Regis, and I have included extracts from the 2005 and 1846 maps. I will leave the reader to compare the two.

    Close-up of the area around Lyme Regis. BGS 1:50,000 geological map sheet 326 & part of 340 – Sidmouth. Published in 2005.

    Close-up of the area around Lyme Regis. Geological Survey of England and Wales 1:63,360 solid geological map, Sheet 22  – Coast from Lyme Regis to Torbay, Exeter, Newton Abbot, Totnes. Published in 1846.

    Thursday, 10 April 2014

    Jisc Technology Garden - Update #1

    The GB3D Fossil Types Online stand in the  Technology Garden at the Jisc Digital Festival 2014 in Birmingham raised significant interest in 3d-printing and the power of digital models for sharing objects and ideas.

    MeshLab representation of 3d digital model of Iguanadon thumb spike, NEWHM G36-63  

    Lawrie Phipps of Jisc was so intrigued by the digital model of an Iguanodon thumb spike in the Great North Museum, Newcastle  that he blogged about it - 

    You can download the digital model for yourself from the GB3D Type Fossils online website at:

    If you don't have access to a 3d printer, you can still appreciate the fossil in three dimensions by viewing the 3d stereo anaglyphs - all you need is a pair of red-cyan glasses that you can buy online for around a pound...

    Red-Cyan Stereo Anaglyph of the Iguanadon thumb spike

    Wednesday, 26 March 2014

    3D Fossils in the "Technology Garden" at the Jisc Digital Festival - #digifest14 - at the ICC, Birmingham 11 - 12th March 2014

    The 3D fossils stand in the Technology Garden

    The 3d Fossils team were lucky enough to be invited to the Jisc digital festival in Birmingham earlier this month. We thought it might be fun to take some (nearly) local fossils back “home”, so we were able to demonstrate scanning a crinoid and printing a trilobite, both from Dudley. 

    GSM 85097 : Crinoid calyx, or cup, Marsupiocrinus coelatus, Dudley

    As plastic trilobites emerged from the printer, we were able to regale people with the story of the famous “Dudley locust” which can still be seen in the coat of arms of the town today. Most people we spoke to seemed to prefer the somewhat more memorable nickname to the fossil’s scientific name of Calymene blumenbachii!

    Two newly printed trilobites, GSM 19671
    In addition it was great to meet Andy Holland from Bradford University, who have recently completed a project called Digitised Diseases – you can read more about it on their blog.

    The atmosphere at the festival was friendly and lively, and everybody we met had clearly come to the festival with an open mind, eager to learn more from the many stands and workshops that were available to visit. 

    The 2014 Festival was the first Jisc Digital Festival for a few years, but there was such mix of keynotes, workshops, demonstrations, exhibitors, panel discussions, surgeries, tech demos and expert speakers that everyone was kept thoroughly engaged throughout the two days - and that's not to mention the Digifeast! You can catch up with many of the keynotes online at and it's good to know Jisc Digital Festival 2015 is scheduled for 9 - 10th March, also at the ICC, Birmingham

    After two enjoyable but tiring days, we returned to Nottingham with more than a few ideas to be thinking about. If you took the time to come and see us in the Technology Garden, then thank you for your time, if you didn’t you can catch up with us via our website or our twitter feed. 

    Simon Harris

    Tuesday, 26 November 2013

    3D Fossil finder visits BGS!

    A few days ago, the overall winner of our “Hunt the 3D Fossil” Competition visited BGS in Keyworth for a VIP tour. Eleven year old Phoebe found a 3D printed crinoid in amongst the ichthyosaurs at the Yorkshire Museum, where she and her family are regular visitors.

    This is the crinoid we 3D printed and which Phoebe spotted in the museum
    The first part of the day was a chance to see the workings of the project, and Phoebe helped to make a laser scan of a fossil fish, and took photographs using the tilting stage which we then turned into an anaglyph for her. Before we left for lunch, we started the 3D printer to make a trilobite, one of her favourite kinds of fossil!

    After lunch we began a tour of BGS – being a large site, we had a lot to fit into quite a short space of time. Phoebe enjoys collecting “real” fossils as well, so first we stopped off at our records store, where she was able to see the registers which hold all the information on our specimens, and how important it is to keep these kind of records for any size collection.

    Examining one of the registers in the records section
     Next we headed to the core store to see some of the 600km of core samples that we store there, and to see how we are able to move racking that weighs nearly 800 tons (about the same as a high-speed passenger train!) with just one press of a button.

    Part of one of the three core stores at BGS Keyworth

    This left the museum collections to see. With a quarter of a million specimens there wasn't going to be time to see everything, so Louise and Paul (who look after the collections) had selected out some stunning specimens for us to look at. Phoebe liked them all, but we particularly liked looking at:
    • Dinosaur bones - unfortunately we didn't have her favourite Parasaurolophus , as it is a North American genus, but there were bones of Iguanodon and Megalosaurus to be seen
    • Ichthyosaur, plesiosaur and a pterosaur specimen from Lyme Regis, as well as a shark collected by none other than Mary Anning
    • Clypeus ploti, a sea urchin, or if you prefer, a “poundstone” or “Chedworth bun”
    • Calymene blumenbachii, the famous “Dudley locust” trilobite
    • Many, many ammonites, including Psiloceras from the Somerset coast, still with traces of the original shell present.

    To finish the day, Bruce Napier took us on a virtual “flight” above (and below) the UK using the 3D visualisation suite. The system is not just limited to this planet either. We also spent an enthralling few minutes exploring the surface of Mars!

    There was just time to visit the shop, where Phoebe was able to grow her own fossil collection a little bit more. We are glad that everyone had a fun day, and the family are already planning more visits to fossil localities and museums in the UK!
    Simon Harris

    3D Fossil Competition – National Winners Draw

    On Monday 23rd September, the drawer was held for the two national winners to enjoy a VIP tour round the National Geological Repository at the BGS Headquarters at Keyworth, Nottingham. The two winning tickets were picked at random from the hard hat by Jayne and Jo, two of the original project team.

    Jayne and Jo pick the National Competition Winners from the hard hat

    The national winners were Phoebe, who won the Yorkshire Museum competition, and Callum, who won the Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales competition. Phoebe also won the iPad mini preloaded with a 3D fossil collection.

    Congratulations to you both!