an autodidact meets a dilettante…

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Posts Tagged ‘Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island – Emu Bay’s Burgess Shale-type fossils

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Emu Bay, a lovely beach with hidden secrets. The 500 million-year-old fossils were found on the far, eastern side of the bay

Canto: We have a slightly disappointing tale to tell about Emu Bay, famous site for fossils from the so-called Cambrian explosion of some 500 million years ago.

Jacinta: Yes we went there in the naive expectation of ‘seeing something’ – not so much Cambrian-era fossils sticking out of the rocks, but a housed display, perhaps of a touristy nature, of at least photos of the many species of trilobite as well as an endemic species to Emu Bay, Anomalocaris briggsi.

Anomalocaris briggsi, named for famed Burgess shale paleontologist, Derek Briggs. Note the length, indicated by the scale

Canto: ‘Anomalocaris’ means ‘abnormal shrimp’. I recall using the term shrimp to indicate and abuse a small person, so when is a shrimp not a shrimp? I presume abnormal means rather large, as shrimps grow.

Jacinta: Well before we go into all that, let’s say that our trip was a disappointment because there was nothing on site to indicate, or celebrate, the place as one of the most important shale fossil deposits on the planet. Still, it was a nice beach. And I must say the weather here has been more than kind, so far.

Canto: Yes, after driving around for a bit in the tiny township of Emu Bay, we gave up and returned to Kingscote. On visiting the museum there, I asked the caretaker if he knew anything about Emu Bay’s fossils. Were any to be found on the island? He very much doubted it, and said that the exact location of the fossil deposits is not let out to the public – as fossil-fossickers were liable to desecrate the site, so to speak. In fact they’d already done so, it was said. Adelaide would be the most likely destination of the precious fossils, he said, or other parts unknown.

Jacinta: So, yes, in some respects a waste of time, but it was exciting to be so near the site of so many, and such old, fossil finds.

Canto: I’ve decided to return. Just to get a little closer, and fossick about.

Jacinta: Fossick – is that related to fossil?

Canto: Haha, good question – actually fossicking is probably related to fussing, but etymology, as I’ve learned from John Simpson – is often a fruitless endeavour. At least if you want to find definitive answers. But the word fossil has a much clearer etymology, ultimately from Latin fossilis, ‘something which has been dug up’.

Jacinta: But arguably the most important finding with respect to Anomalocaris was made in 2011, in Emu Bay. Six fossil finds of compound eyes belonging to Anomalocaris, which proved that it was an arthropod (as are shrimps), and that these eyes, which were 30 times more  powerful than those of trilobites, had developed very early in the evolutionary process. They dated back 515 million years! Trilobites were previously though to have the best eyes of the period!

Canto: I can see you’re impressed. In fact the Anomalocaris eye contained 16,000 lenses, which makes for pretty impressive resolution. But then, the modern  dragonfly has 28,000.

Jacinta: Hmmm, highly evolved eyes don’t seem to go with highly evolved brains. I’m sure there’s a lesson there…

artist’s impression of the sharp-eyed predator Anomalocaris, found fossilised at Emu Bay

Written by stewart henderson

April 2, 2018 at 8:05 pm

Kangaroo Island – prehistory, wildlife, travel

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Little corellas, viewed from hotel window, Kingscote. © Sarah Courtney


Canto: So we’re here in the not-so-thriving metropolis of Kingscote, largest town of Kangaroo Island, third largest island off the Australian mainland, behind Tasmania and Melville Island (just north of Darwin). After a harrowing sea voyage and a long overland trek from Penneshaw, we’re relaxing briefly at the salubrious Seaview Wonderland Hotel-Motel-Boatel (or something) before setting out to explore the isle.

Jacinta: And our initial explorations, our prexplorations perhaps, have been online. It hasn’t been an island for long, geologically speaking – perhaps 10,000 years, having been separated from the mainland as a result of the Last Ice Age, which ended the Pleistocene Epoch. There’s much evidence of early Aboriginal presence, but they appear to have left the island some 2000 years ago. Rather surprising since the distance to the island is hardly forbidding.

Canto: As to the most interesting things to see or visit here – a lot of interesting and almost unique bird life. We’ve already seen a flock of pelicans and lots of black swans here on Nepean Bay, and this morning, a noisy flock of little corellas (I think) wheeled around the town, resting briefly on some pine trees and electric wires outside our window.

Jacinta: Yes, and within that noisy flock, each adult corella has a mate – they mate for life – which it clearly recognises though they all look perfectly alike to us.

Canto: yes, like the ‘savages’ all looked alike to Captain Cook and his merry men.

Jacinta: At first. Other things the island is known for are shipwrecks, fossils, seals, lighthouses, spectacular shorelines, ligurian bees and their honey, lavender, walking tracks, and more recently, a range of home-grown wines.

Canto: And fresh fish – which I remember very fondly from a childhood trip here. Probably my first taste of freshly-caught fish, the biggest turn-on of my pre-pubescent years.

Jacinta: Yes, well we’ve had our first dining experience, at the Ozone Hotel here in Kingscote, but neither of us chose fish, it was lamb shanks and lamb cutlets, and a delicious experience for nous deux. Together with a bottle of lubbly Dudley Bubbly, from Dudley Peninsula at the eastern end of the island.

Canto: I am looking forward to some fish though – our charming servitor recommended the baked whiting on the lunch-time menu, when we’ll get to take advantage of the speccy seafront view from our window seats, which we were deprived of last night, our first daylight-saving dark night of the year.

Jacinta: And friends have recommended ye olde fish-and-chips on the beach, wherever we can get it.

Canto: One of the minor problems here, though, is the large distances we have to travel to get anywhere, with many unsealed roads for reaching important but off-the-beaten-track sites, which I don’t like to risk in a hire car.

Jacinta: Yes the road from Penneshaw to Kingscote was long, if straight enough. And many other trips will be longer. And we do want to get to everything worth getting to.

Canto: I find my accelerator foot starts to ache. Bring on the self-driving electric vehicle.

Jacinta: Okay, our next report will be about Emu Bay. Trilobites! Among other things.

Australian pelicans, Kingscote © Sarah Coutney


Written by stewart henderson

April 2, 2018 at 10:33 am