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Chrysopilus laetus
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Essex Field Club
Essex Field Club
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Geology Site Account

Little Dunmow Railway Cutting, LITTLE DUNMOW, Uttlesford District, TL65922107, Historical site only

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Site name: Little Dunmow Railway Cutting

Grid reference: TL 6592 2107

Brief description of site:

Railway cutting on the former Dunmow to Braintree railway line (now the Flitch Way) which yielded a curious fossil from the gravel when it was excavated in the late nineteenth century.



Some of the most important geological sites in Essex are those that have revealed rare seams or lenses of organic matter sandwiched between extensive layers of barren gravel (e.g. at Broomfield and Ardleigh). These seams sometimes contain fossils of plants and animals and they are the only evidence there is of the flora and fauna of a particular warm or interglacial period of the Ice Age.

An article by J. French in the Essex Naturalist in 1891 contains a reference to the discovery of what may have been another such site but no evidence of it has survived. During the construction of the Bishops Stortford to Braintree railway line in the 1860s workmen were excavating a shallow cutting near Felsted Station of no more than 2 metres (6 feet) of gravel when a piece of wood was encountered about 2 metres (6 feet) in length “flattened into thin lamina by the pressure”. The article states that “at some parts it is said to have the consistence of coal, but in other parts clearly showed its woody fibre”. This description is consistent with a piece of semi-fossilised wood in an interglacial deposit and it is possible that the workmen did discover one of these ‘windows in time’ in the old Thames gravels, which may have been over 600,000 years old.

French states that he obtained this information from the platelayers and signalmen working on the line but he was too late to see the specimen which had by then been destroyed.


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Reference: French 1891 (p. 213-214), Wymer 1985 (p.249)

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