I SPENT Friday morning looking for dead bodies. Yep, it was a cold, dark, damp January morning, and I headed to a quarry on the outskirts of Peterborough in the hope of finding 20 or so corpses, more if things went well.
I SPENT Friday morning looking for dead bodies. Yep, it was a cold, dark, damp January morning, and I headed to a quarry on the outskirts of Peterborough in the hope of finding 20 or so corpses, more if things went well.But these were no ordinary dead bodies – these were the dead bodies of squid and oysters which breathed their last roughly 155 million years ago.
Because Jamie Jordan was good enough to let me join him on one of his fossil hunts at Warboys Quarry, near Huntingdon.
He has been going there for the past four years or so, and although it was once used by London Brick Company, who made bricks from its clay, it is now in the process of being turned into a landfill site.
"When you're looking for fossils you'll often see bricks, or the men's beer bottles or spades," said Jamie. "And they must have been pretty strong, because the spades you see are absolutely massive."
Many years before the days of the brick company the quarry would have been a seabed, and a very busy one judging from the amount of fossils scattered all over it.
You literally can't walk a metre without finding a fossil. I found about 30 devil's toenails, which are fossilised oysters. In fact, you can't move without walking over at least a foot-full. (They're called devil's toenails because farmers in the 1600s found some in the ground, didn't know what they were and decided they were from the devil.)
The quarry itself looks like something from Jurassic Park, with its green rainwater lake in the middle and its banks of claggy Cambridgeshire clay on either side.
The rain started to pour down, which was actually a good thing as it washed the fossils out of the soil, and made them easy to see. But my fingers got so chilly I began to wonder if we had managed to warp ourselves back to the ice age.
"I've been out in much worse weather than this," said Jamie. "Thunderstorms, extreme sunshine – I got badly sunburnt here once because when I'm looking for fossils I just turn off and don't think about anything else.
"Once I even saw a tornado pass by, very close to me, but I just carried on with what I was doing."
At the end of an hour's hunt we had found zillions of devil's toenails, several ammonites (squid), and one brachiopod (a shellfish). If we polished all our booty up and sold it we could expect to make 10. But they would equally be as nice perched on my mantelpiece.
"What I would love most of all is to start a fossil group for kids," said Jamie. "I would love to be able to take children on visits to quarries on a regular basis, to get them interested in history, and fossils.
"I would just like people to be interested in the history of the area they live in for ever and ever."