Evolution and filling the gap in the fossil record?

Romers Gap, named after an influential American Professor, is the name that has been given to the period between 360 and 345 million years ago.   Paleontologists used to scratch their heads to explain the lack of fossils from this gap – a mere 15 million years.

Before 360 million years ago  there were no land creatures, then the ‘gap’ .  Then there have been lots of fossils found which are around 345 million years old and younger!   It had been thought that low levels of oxygen during this period led to limited evolution on land.

A revolutionary Scottish fossil finder extraordinaire, Mr Stan Wood, did away with the gap by finding a large diversity of amphibians, plants, fish and invertebrates in a river bed in Berwickshire, Scotland, dating from the very period of the ‘missing’ record.

A selection of  these fossils are now held by the Royal Scottish museum in Edinburgh and extra funding has been made available to study Stan’s fantastic collection since his sad death in 2012.   Before you jump on a plane, the fossils are not very dramatic to look at but are of huge scientific importance, showing that animals with 5 fingers and toes (yep, just like us)  appeared 20 million years earlier than previous estimates.   The drawing above is of  ‘Ribbo’ – an artists impression of the missing link!

Originally not academically trained,  Stan Wood had been a professional collector since 1968 and has upset as many academics as he has delighted by his successes – although all are now united in agreement of the importance of Stan’s finds and study.

Stan found over 3 dozen new species including the earliest known Tetrapod in Europe, possibly the world, and some sharks with very strange sexual appendages.

So get your wellies on this weekend – but no hanging around under insecure cliff faces – it happened to Stan a few times over the years and the results were not pretty!   No pain no gain, we guess.    Search carefully young rock hounds.

Read more in the blog on the National Museums of Scotland site, also Wikipedia and  – from the horses mouth – the blog at Mr Woods Fossil Shop  – a great little shop in Scotland started by Stan and now run by the equally  lovely Mr Matt Dale.   Also a BBC news article explaining the importance of tetrapods in the evolutionary development of the spine.