Harriet Williams publishes her summer project

Current MSc student has just published work from a project she did last summer before starting the degree programme. She was working on an example of the latest Triassic Rhaetian bonebed from a site near Gloucester, called Westbury Garden Cliff. This classic site had first yielded fossil reptiles and fishes as long ago as the 1840s, but had not received modern study.

Harriet worked on specimens from Bristol City Museum as well as newly collected materials. During field work, Harriet noted large numbers of burrows and trails made by worms, clams, and king crabs. In fact, the king crab tracks and resting marks show that this had become a tidal zone, where the sea flooded in and out.

The Rhaetian Transgression flooded across Europe and brought with it sharks, bony fishes and marine reptiles. One of the most exciting finds from the site is the small marine reptile Pachystropheus. This slender reptile was less than a metre long, like a long-necked salamander, chasing fish through the shallow waters.

Harriet’s paper is published in Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, and the University of Bristol also produced a press release.


Tom Halliday, former Bristol MSc student, hits the best-seller lists

Tom Halliday, who completed the MSc in 2011, has just published his first book, ‘Otherlands’ to high critical acclaim. The publisher, Allen Lane-Penguin, provide this blurb, “Otherlands is an epic, exhilarating journey into deep time, showing us the Earth as it used to exist, and the worlds that were here before ours. Travelling back in time to the dawn of complex life, and across all seven continents, award-winning young palaeobiologist Thomas Halliday gives us a mesmerizing up close encounter with eras that are normally unimaginably distant.

“Halliday immerses us in a series of ancient landscapes, from the mammoth steppe in Ice Age Alaska to the lush rainforests of Eocene Antarctica, with its colonies of giant penguins, to Ediacaran Australia, where the moon is far brighter than ours today. We visit the birthplace of humanity; we hear the crashing of the highest waterfall the Earth has ever known; and we watch as life emerges again after the asteroid hits, and the age of the mammal dawns. These lost worlds seem fantastical and yet every description – whether the colour of a beetle’s shell, the rhythm of pterosaurs in flight or the lingering smell of sulphur in the air – is grounded in the fossil record.”

Tom Holland, author of Dominion, says ‘The best book on the history of life on Earth I have ever read’. That’s pretty unequivocal praise. Otherlands is in the Sunday Times bestseller list for February and March 2022, and is already recommended as one of the best books of 2022.

In his MSc, Tom worked on fossil crocodilians from Central Asia, including a visit to see the specimens in Moscow. Since then, he has completed his PhD on the evolution of early fossil mammals, and is Honorary Researcher at the University of Birmingham.

Tom comments: “I loved my year as part of the Palaeobiology MSc cohort in Bristol, and it reaffirmed my desire to continue to study the history of life in all its aspects. From biomechanics to palaeoecology, from a day in the prep lab to a foreign museum visit, I was introduced to the diverse world of palaeontological research beyond taxonomy. In a sense, Otherlands is continuing that more complete vision of Earth history that I first encountered in Bristol more than a decade ago.