The red cliffs either side of Sidmouth display rocks known as the Otter Sandstone, which were laid down by rivers almost a quarter of a billion years ago during the Triassic Period. These rivers brought life to what was otherwise a barren desert landscape and occasionally buried and preserved the remains of local creatures. Known for over 150 years, these are mostly broken portions of reptiles and amphibians that lived before the appearance of dinosaurs. In recent years, additional types of fossils have been found which fill in more details about life in these ancient times. These include fossil shells, a variety of fish and footprints of large predatory ancestors of crocodiles. Of most interest are superbly preserved skeletons of small lizard-like creatures that can only be properly revealed through CT scanning of the rocks they lie in. These new finds have now made Sidmouth one of the most important sites of this age worldwide, and this talk will introduce some of the fossil characters involved.
Rob Coram has been interested in the fossils of the Jurassic Coast since a young boy, in particular the rare remains of land-living creatures rather than the marine fossils that these rocks are most famous for. After obtaining a PhD on dinosaur-age fossil insects, he turned his attention to looking for insects in the much older ‘red rocks’ of the East Devon coast. Several years of searching have failed to turn up a single insect scrap, but instead interesting remains of other creatures that lived at that time and are now being studied in conjunction with the University of Bristol.