This is actually one of the worst bad casts I have seen. It is not the worst. I am saving that one. That’s a beauty which you have to see to believe.
Back to this bad cast. It is bad. Really bad. What makes it so bad is that it is actually pointless. This is a cast that doesn’t even need to be here. That may sound harsh, but it will make sense soon (plus, it is just a plaster cast, not a pet).
I’ve said it before, casts of fossils are great. There are not enough of the beautiful rarities for each museum in the world to have one. Real dinosaurs bones are too heavy to mount in museum display spaces, so casts are used. (The infamous Dippy, the Diplodocus skeleton at the Natural History Museum, is a cast. When I volunteered there many moons ago, the tail was slouched down on the ground and people used to help themselves to the tail bones. [This is stealing, and is not recommended] More casts of the tail vertebrae were taken out to replaced those stolen ones.)
So casts of fossils are useful. Even some of the bad ones had a reason. This one, however, baffles me. Why did they…? Who even…? What the …?
If you don’t recognise it, dont worry – that is probably due to the fact that it is a really gawd awful cast than your palaeontological skills. It is the cast of a Crinoid (a fossil of a sea lilly). (Click here to see what they should really look like.)
Crinoids are beautiful marine animals which have ‘arms’ that float upwards, grabbing their food to bring to their mouth. They have a long ‘stalk’ which attaches them to the marine sediment. Just imagine an upside-down starfish held to the sea floor by a long thin stem out of the sea floor! In fact, that is not really too far off, because Crinoids are closely related to starfish, and belong to the same group, the Echinodermata.
The earliest fossils of these creatures have been found in rocks that are very old, around 480 million years ago (during the Ordovician Period). These beautiful animals are still around today. Their vibrant, colourful forms brighten up the seas where they were found. The ancient Crinoids were just as likely to be as colourful as well.
Because they are still around today, we know quite a lot about these fossils. The young (larval) stage free float in the water for a few days before settling to the bottom and attaching itself to a hard surface. Here, it will spend the rest of its life, feeding and producing more sperm or eggs. They feed by using their fine feathery arms to filter tiny plankton (tiny organisms that float in the water).
This is actually a pretty cool animal. And this fossil cast we are very lucky to own, can tell quite a detailed story, from its origins around 480 million years ago, to floating with the warm currents today. it’s a big shame that it is too terrible to ever bring out and tell that story! Am I being too harsh to say we never even needed this cast? No.
Along the Jurassic Coast, in the South West of England (around 2 hours drive from Plymouth), you can find loads of Crinoid fossils which lived around 150 million years ago. We have quite a few very bad ammonites from Lyme Regis, countless belemnites from Dorset and even a fossil crab from Dorset. But for some reason we do not have any Crinoids from Dorset!
Perhaps this cast was an afterthought. The museum was about to open, and panic set in, we forgot to get a Crinoid fossil to show the diversity of life on Earth. So they ordered a cast. A truly pointless, bad cast. At the time someone was laughing as they made this cast. Little did they realise, that 102 years later a curator would be weeping as he tried with all his might to compliment this cast in his little office under the stairs. And probably failed miserably.