Welcome to GSN



Lectures for the winter/spring season 2016/17


GSN members and also any members of the general public are very welcome to attend.

Thursday 10th November 2016
Professor Tony Stuart (University of Durham)
Vanished Giants: the Great Ice Age Extinction
In 1876 Alfred Russell Wallace observed, with remarkable insight: “we live in a zoologically impoverished world from which all the hugest and fiercest and strangest forms have recently disappeared. It is surely a marvellous fact and one that has hardly been sufficiently dwelt upon, this dying out of so many large Mammalia, not in one place only, but over half the land surface of the globe”. What killed off the mammoths, woolly rhinos, sabre-tooths, giant ground sloths and so many other spectacular giants (‘megafauna’), that thrived on all continents (except Antarctica) during the late Quaternary; some until only a few thousand years ago ? We tend to think of these extinct giants as almost unreal ‘prehistoric monsters’. However, this is looking at it entirely the wrong way around. As recognized by Wallace, the unusual times are now; these beasts should still be with us if something drastic and extraordinary had not happened. What was responsible for their demise - humans, climate change, a combination of both – or perhaps something else?

Thursday 8th December 2016
Owen Green (University of Oxford)
Colouring the landscape: the extraordinary life of William Smith and the birth of a science
This presentation will put into context the life and work of William Smith, the author of the first geological map of England, Wales and part of Scotland. It will examine aspects of life in Britain at the time of his birth in the mid-18th century and his influence and legacy to subsequent generations of geologists. Smith was born in 1769 in the small West Oxfordshire village of Churchill, the son of a local blacksmith. His birth coincided with the start of the industrial revolution and an important time during the agricultural revolution. This was all against an intermittent back-drop of war against the ‘old enemy’, France, and the rise of the British Empire with a social and economic system still evident today. Following a basic education at the village school and time spent on his uncle’s farm in the nearby village of Over Norton, Smith became an assistant to a land surveyor from Stow-on-the-Wold in 1787. Sent on assignment to Somerset, there is evidence that he was introduced to the work of a local pioneer ‘geologist’. Remaining in the area, his geological knowledge and understanding of the relationship and surface expression of strata and its distribution and attitude below the surface was further increased. He also recognised the value of fossil remains present within the rocks and that when seen the sedimentary layers always occurred in a particular order. A tour of the country for the Somerset Coal Canal Company allowed Smith to examine engineering structures, methods of land drainage, and by being lowered down mine shafts the examination of the attitude of sub-surface strata. Following his dismissal from the Somerset Coal Canal in April 1799, Smith spent the rest of his working life seeking employment as a mineral surveyor, land drainer or sea-defence engineer and collecting information to support his thoughts on the value of fossils and for his great map. The map, coloured to depict the extent of different rock types, first published in 1815, was a work of genius and provided a legacy that supports many sub-disciplines of the science of geology.

Thursday 16 February 2017
Professor Ian Candy (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Greenhouse gases and global warming during the Quaternary: Why is the East Anglian record of interglacials so important ?
The records of interglacials in East Anglia indicate that south-east Britain was very warm even when global atmospheric CO2 levels were relatively low. This talk will survey the evidence that establishes this, and explore the reasons for it.

Thursday 23 March 2017
Elvin Thurston (Geological Society of Norfolk)
Why Norwich is a hilly city in a flat county, and why you can't swim in the River Yare at South Walsham (Advances in the understanding of the pre-glacial landscape of eastern Norfolk and relevant neo-tectonics).
This talk will present data about the pre-glacial landscape of eastern Norfolk that have never been published before. It will explain and correlate the results of papers published in the last 15 years into a coherent whole, and will include solid data about the evolution of the main rivers draining eastern Norfolk including what appear to be the proto-Wensum and the proto-Yare.
Please note that the Annual General Meeting of the Society will be held immediately before Elvin Thurston's lecture.

Thursday 15th June 2017, 7.30pm
Dr Ian Troth, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.
Ups and Downs in the Palaeozoic: Sea Level Change in the Devonian of South America
This is a unique opportunity to hear about an area of the world that whilst distant from Norfolk still shares some interesting geological features in common (see abstract below).
As ever, both GSN members and members of the public are very welcome to attend.
Please note that this lecture will be held in a different venue to that used for the previous lectures this season:
. The venue is room 2.03 in the Zuckerman Institute for Connective Environmental Research (ZICER) at the University of East Anglia.
If approaching from the main UEA car park, the ZICER building is located c. 100m on the left before the Thomas Paine Study Centre (where the previous lectures this season have been held). A map of the UEA campus, with ZICER (the Zuckerman Building) being numbered as 44 and the Thomas Paine Study Centre being building no. 52, is available at:
The Devonian System of Bolivia is important for hydrocarbon exploration because the major gas reservoir (Huamampampa Formation) and source rock (Los Monos Formation) in the region are found within it. Recent intensive hydrocarbon exploration has been undertaken in the central and southern areas of the country with the Huamampampa Formation the main subsurface target.
The main Devonian outcrop is in the Sub-Andean trend, an active thrust belt, where thrusting and folding over the last 10Ma have complicated the subsurface stratigraphy. Similar structural complications can be observed along the Norfolk coastline but these are on a vastly smaller scale to those observed in the Andes. Resolving subsurface architecture using seismics is a challenge and the application of a standard lithostratigraphic division of the Devonian to the subsurface has produced ambiguous results.
Success has been achieved using biostratigraphy, particularly microfossils, since in the Bolivian Devonian there is a succession of distinctive marine microphytoplankton ‘events’. These are short-lived monospecific pulses of certain acritarchs and green algae. Four such events are recognised in Bolivia involving the acritarchs Evittia sommerii, Bimerga bensonii, Crucidia camirense and the alga Petrovina connata.
The aim of this study is to undertake a high resolution palynological study of surface Devonian exposures and characterise the microphytoplankton events in terms of precise stratigraphic position, stratigraphic extent, geochemistry and global context. Particular emphasis is placed on the association of ‘the billion dollar acritarch’, E. sommeri, with a major sea level rise interpreted as the Eifelian ‘Chotec Event’.

Lectures will begin at 7.30 p.m. in Seminar Room 0.1 on the ground floor of the Thomas Paine Study Centre (also signed as “Business Studies”) at the University of East Anglia. UEA is on bus routes 22, 25 and 26 from Norwich. Directions to the venue are below:


Lectures that were held during the winter/spring season 2015/16

Tim Atkinson
The Ripple Effect - geological adventures in Java and their consequences
The talk will describe how cave exploration and mapping was combined with water tracing and geological observations to assess the water resources of a karstic limestone region in Java, Indonesia, in 1982. The area was revisited 32 years later, when it was found that the 1982 work had formed the basis for development of the water resources and of piped water supplies for 100,000 people in a previously very impoverished region.

Tim Holt-Wilson (Presidential Address)
Till I See You Again: Ten Years of Conserving and Communicating Norfolk’s Earth Heritage
A review of what has been going on surrounding the Norfolk Geodiversity Partnership and Tim’s audit and planning work over the last 10 years, including a slideshow of the most interesting sites. He has said, “If I drop dead tomorrow that’s what I’d want people to remember me for.”
This meeting will also include the Annual General Meeting. Please forward agenda items and nominations for Committee members to Martin Warren.

David Stannard
Eccles Deserted Medieval Village - a type locality for recognising coastal change.
Charles Lyell identified the old church steeple at Eccles as an important marker in space and time when he visited the site in the 1840s. Ever since that time any geologist studying coastal erosion has followed, both metaphorically and physically, in the great man's footsteps. This lecture traces the history of coast erosion at Eccles, shows how the site today can still provide evidence of coastal evolution and suggests how what remains of the old church and village may be better recognised to ensure its integrity in the further monitoring of coastal change.

Jonathan Lee
The Middle Pleistocene glacial stratigraphy of northern East Anglia – a new tectonostratigraphic-parasequence approach.
Over the years, lithostratigraphy has been a widely-used tool employed by geologists attempting further understanding of the glacial deposits in northern East Anglia. However, application of the approach has resulted in various geological models and controversies. Many of these controversies stem from local stratigraphic complexities but also wider problems associated with the application of lithostratigraphy to formerly glaciated areas. Within this talk, a new tectonostratigraphic-parasequence approach (it’s not as frightening as it sounds!) is applied to the region in an attempt to overcome these issues with attention focused principally upon the surfaces (or zones) that bound major sediment packages. In addition to resolving many previous stratigraphic problems and providing a stratigraphic scheme that can be applied regionally, the approach offers an insight into the nature and form of the landscape during various phases of glaciation.

Lectures that were held during the winter/spring season 2014/2015:

Dr Vanessa Banks
Sinkholes - the work of the British Geological Survey.
Sinkholes - what are they and where do they occur? Occasional occurrences of sinkholes in Florida and further afield capture the attention of the media, particularly when they are associated with significant impact such as loss of life or significant damage. In 1987 Norwich experienced similar media attention when crown hole collapse occurred beneath a bus on Earlham Road. More recently, during February 2014, the media reported on an unusually high number of “sinkholes” in the South and South-East of England. This talk will describe why this occurred and how it impacted on the British Geological Survey (BGS), as well as describing the data and research that BGS undertakes to benefit stakeholders with an interest in karst geohazards.

Matthew Williams BSc MSc CGeol FGS
Norwich - the grain of the city
Most people who live or work in the city have a reasonable two-dimensional knowledge of the geographical layout; we geologists like to be able to add not only a third dimension beneath our feet, but also the fourth stretching back millions of years. In a multi-disciplinary approach, Matt Williams seeks to bring our present experience of Norwich within this 4D context which has controlled Man's physical development of the city, in both obvious and more subtle ways, for centuries. By 'reading the landscape' and using detailed local knowledge, he goes in search of a holistic model that can inform our understanding of the heavily re-sculpted city we see today, and one which maybe helps us to identify developments that go 'against the grain'.

Bob Markham
The Almond Whelks of the Crag
Over 200 years ago a shoemaker from Haddiscoe found a fossil almond whelk in the crag which led him to contemplate that the earth was more than 6000 years old. 3 million years ago Neptunea arrived in the North Sea and changed the ecosystem. Where did they come from and why is a clock useful to describe their morphology?
NB The AGM will also take place at this meeting

Dr Steve Donovan
Introduction to the Jamaica Geology with comments on a prehistoric Irish Stew
Jamaica is one of the most notable of the Caribbean islands geologically. It was first examined about 190 years ago by Henry De la Beche, who published a geological map of the eastern half of the island in 1827. Until the foundation of the Geological Survey Division of Jamaica in 1950, the island was visited sporadically by some notable and other eccentric investigators. The oldest rocks on the island are mid-Cretaceous and the succession is dominated by volcanics and intrusives, and diverse limestones. The terrestrial palaeontology is poorly known. Apart from a Lower Eocene rhinoceros and autochthonous Upper Pliocene land snails preserved in a deep water deposit, terrestrial organisms are only common in Late Quaternary cave deposits. Of these, the Red Hills Road Cave, discovered by students in 1987, is the most spectacular palaeontologically and, perhaps, the least impressive speleologically, but is an 'Irish Stew' of bones and shells that have been teased apart over the past 25+ years.

Lectures that were held during the winter/spring season 2013/2014:

Presidential address
Professor Tim Atkinson
Taking the Plunge into Deep Time : Landscape Evolution Comes of Age
The last thirty years have seen great advances in ways of measuring time in both geology and geomorphology. The talk will review some ideas of geological time before showing how methods such as fission track analysis and uranium-series dating can be applied to landscape evolution. From such studies we now know that 'geomorphic time' overlaps by tens of millions of years with the more classical 'geological time'. The talk will be illustrated by examples from Britain and elsewhere and will conclude with some thoughts on the interaction of landscape evolution with very long-term engineered structures such as radioactive waste repositories.

Professor Christopher Talbot
A Deep Geological Disposal Facility for Nuclear Waste Under East Anglia?
After outlining the nature, amount and present location of UK nuclear waste, current government plans for "a rewarded volunteered solution" will also be outlined. The problem is that many regions (like East Anglia) are not likely to volunteer because they do not appreciate they may be suitable. The rest of the talk will point out what little is known about the deep geology of East Anglia (and why we are so ignorant).

Professor Phil Gibbard
Testing the River Bytham Hypothesis
A reinterpretation of the sediments that have been postulated as the headwaters of a pre-Anglian 'Bytham river', aligned towards East Anglia across the Fenland. Recent work has shown that the 'Bytham river' could not have existed in the form suggested by some authors since pre-Anglian-age fluvial sediments are absent from the eastern Fenland basin margin.

Dr Jonathan Lee
The Origins of the Cromer Ridge Moraine Complex in North Norfolk
The Cromer Ridge is one of the most famous and prominent glacial landforms in Britain. It is widely interpreted as a moraine formed at the terminus of a major southwards advance of glacier ice into north Norfolk and the North Sea Basin during the Middle Pleistocene. New structural and geomorphological evidence reveals a far more complicated and extensive ice-marginal picture with the formation of the Cromer Ridge representing just one small part of the story. Within this talk we explore the new evidence and present a refined model for the glacial geomorphology of north Norfolk.

Dr Nick Ashton
Conquering the North: The Early Human Colonisation of Britain
The Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) project has been investigating the history of human presence in north-west Europe over the last million years and how this record relates to changes in climate and environment. This talk will discuss the results of the project from the first colonisers at Happisburgh over 800,000 years ago to human survival in extreme conditions during the last ice age. The work is underlining the importance and uniqueness of Norfolk's heritage where geology combined with archaeology is answering questions of global importance.

Professor Jim Rose
The Bytham river story - key evidence for understanding pre-glacial environmental change and early human occupance in Britain.
Recently a number of papers by Phil Gibbard and colleagues have challenged the validity of the Bytham River and this case is to be presented in a lecture to the GSN in December 2013. The 'Bytham river story' will outline the evidence upon which the Bytham River was reconstructed and the background to how the research developed. There will be time for critical discussion of the cases for-and-against this pre-glacial river system (the largest in Britain before lowland glaciation). Hopefully, there will also be chance to discuss the wider significance of this system.

Dr Stuart Robinson
Whittlesea Lecture: Come on in, the water is lovely! New insights into Cretaceous climates.
Although sedimentological, palaeobotanical and palaeontological evidence can provide many insights into past climates, the quantification of variables such as ocean temperatures is necessary if we are to understand better how the climate system has operated in the past under very different boundary conditions (such as palaeogeography or atmospheric CO2 levels). This talk will review the latest techniques used to reconstruct past marine temperatures and discuss the implications of these results for our understanding of the behaviour of the Cretaceous oceans.

Professor Phil Gibbard
Testing the River Bytham Hypothesis
A reinterpretation of the sediments that have been postulated as the headwaters of a pre-Anglian 'Bytham river', aligned towards East Anglia across the Fenland. Recent work has shown that the 'Bytham river' could not have existed in the form suggested by some authors since pre-Anglian-age fluvial sediments are absent from the eastern Fenland basin margin. This is linked to the talk on 20 March by Professor Jim Rose.

Lectures that were held during the winter/spring season 2012/2013:

Mousehold Heath earth heritage trail
Tim Holt-Wilson
The new Mousehold Heath Earth Heritage Trail is opening up the story of over 450,000 years of Mousehold's geology and landscape, and its relationship with wildlife and industrial history. The Heath is a stack of glacial deposits resting on Crag and Chalk bedrock, and has been dug over many centuries as a source of brickearth, sand and gravel, flint and lime. The Trail takes in 18 points of interest, including the Heath's notable dry valley system and the findspot of a bout coupé Neanderthal handaxe.
The Trail was inspired by the late Professor Brian Funnell of UEA (and a founding member of this Society). It was a partnership project of Norwich City Council, Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership and Norfolk Geodiversity Partnership. It was funded by the Norfolk Biodiversity Project Fund and the Geological Society of Norfolk.

A new interpretation of the depositional history of the Early Crag in Norfolk and Suffolk
Dr Peter Riches
This talk will propose a new correlation for the Crag sequences at depth and in outcrop; suggest that the age of the "Norwich Crag" sequence is older than previously envisaged and underlain by a significant regional unconformity; argue that the main source of sediments was from the continent with no evidence for major rivers entering the East Anglian Crag basin during the earliest Pleistocene; discuss the influences of subsidence, uplift, and changes in sea level on the stratigraphic record in the Crag.

The curious case of the Stretham (Cambridgeshire) pliosaur
Dr Peter Hoare
Image to right: Left hind paddle of the Stretham pliosaur on display in The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, The University of Cambridge (Photograph: John McCullough, October 2012)

A pliosaur skeleton of considerable (but disputed) size was found in 1952 in Jurassic Kimmeridge Clay (ca 154.7–152.1 Ma) at Stretham, near Ely, Cambridgeshire. For various reasons, relatively few bones were collected by a local museum at the time, and then schools and private collectors were allowed to take what they wanted. When the importance of the find became apparent, attempts were made to recover the dispersed material. A few teeth and a small number of possible jaw fragments have survived from the cranial skeleton; about one-quarter of the post-cranial skeleton is known. Almost every step in the sixty-year-long history of study of the specimen has been contentious. A distinctive ‘scapula’ figured prominently in the naming of the pliosaur, but was later found to be an ilium. Between 1955 and 2004, the specimen has enjoyed the following scientific names: Pliosaurus sp., Pliosaurus macromerus, Stretosaurus macromerus and back to Pliosaurus macromerus. The age of the individual, its length, weight and pathology are all matters of controversy. Further research is planned.

The annual Paul Whittlesea Lecture:
Geological mapping in the Chalk
Dr Don Aldiss, British Geological Survey.
During the 1990s, there was a major revision of the lithostratigraphic subdivisions of the Chalk Group of southern and eastern England. Since then, BGS has progressively revised the geological maps of the Chalk according to this new scheme. This talk explains why the scheme was changed, and how the new Chalk formations are mapped.

Lectures that were held during the winter/spring season 2011/12:

Presidential Address 2012
The investigation of subglacial processes on modern and Quaternary glacial sediments
Professor Jane K. Hart (Department of Geography and Environment, University of Southampton)
Professor Hart has provided the following summary of her talk:

Norfolk not only has some of the best exposed glacial geology in the UK, but data from these sites have been an important component in many glaciological models over the last 30 years. The response of modern glaciers to climate change is poorly understood, and numerical models have failed to predict the rapid ice loss observed. This is probably because there are so few data concerning the nature of the subglacial environment, which is a key driver of glacier dynamics. Study of the subglacial conditions of modern glaciers is logistically difficult, so a combination of modern in situ studies with Quaternary till studies (from key sites such as those in Norfolk) is needed.

This talk will demonstrate results from subglacial wireless-probe experiments from Norway and Iceland, combined with sedimentology, micromorphology and CT scanning from Norfolk and discuss the following processes:
  • the subglacial deforming bed – field and microscale structures, till fabric development, rheological changes and till genesis;

  • subglacial rafting; and

  • rapid retreat associated with a subaqueous margin.

The Origin of Our Species
Professor Chris Stringer (Merit Research Leader in Human Origins, Palaeontology Department, The Natural History Museum)
Human evolution can be divided into two main phases. A pre-human phase in Africa prior to 2 million years ago, where walking upright had evolved but many other characteristics were still essentially ape-like. And a human phase, with an increase in both brain size and behavioural complexity, and an expansion from Africa. Evidence points strongly to Africa as the major centre for the genetic, physical and behavioural origins of both ancient and modern humans, but new discoveries are prompting a rethink of some aspects of our evolutionary origins, including the likelihood of interbreeding between archaic humans (for example the Neanderthals) and modern humans. See also Human evolution: the long, winding road to modern man.

James Frederick Jackson (1894–1966): boy genius of Hunstanton. The story of an extraordinary geologist
Ms Cindy Howells (Collections Manager [Palaeontology], National Museum of Wales, Cardiff).
In 1910 a small book was published about the geology of Hunstanton. The author was an uneducated boy of 15, who had a natural genius and passion for geology. This talk will reveal the previously unknown facts behind James Frederick Jackson, his Norfolk background, his dedication to collecting, and his moving life story. On view will be a small selection of his fossils, notebooks and other archive material.

The Paul Whittlesea Lecture: Forensic Geology
Dr Haydon W. Bailey (Network Stratigraphic Consulting Limited, Potters Bar).
Microfossils are playing an increasing role in forensic science and, in reality, a great deal of the day to day work carried out by commercial micropalaeontologists can be described as forensic in nature. The origins of the use of microfossils in criminal and similar cases will be outlined, and then a number of recent, high-profile, criminal trials in which foraminiferal and nannoplankton evidence played a very significant role will be described.

Cannibalism in Palaeolithic Britain
Dr Silvia Bello (AHOB Post-Doctoral Research Assistant, Palaeontology Department, The Natural History Museum)
Cannibalism (the act of eating any type of tissue from another individual of its own kind) amongst sapiens and pre-sapiens humans has been suggested, rejected, accepted and criticised since the nineteenth century. Whilst cut-marks on faunal remains are usually seen as a direct manifestation of butchery activities, those on human remains are not considered an unequivocal evidence of cannibalism. This is mainly because cannibalism among humans has always been a taboo topic, and because cut-marks on human remains can be the product of ritual practices (such as defleshing) without consumption of the body.

The identification of nutritional cannibalism is hard to prove through osteological analyses. One often-used criterion to demonstrate cannibalism is the similarity of butchery traces (frequency and location) on human and animal remains from the same archaeological context.

In this talk, I will present cases of cannibalism around the world and how it has been recognised. In particular, I will provide details of the Upper Palaeolithic site at Gough’s Cave (Somerset, England) which has revealed interesting human behaviour associated with cannibalism. Here, not only humans bodies were cannibalised, but the skulls of some individuals fashioned into drinking cups. The use of human braincases as drinking cups and containers has extensive historic and ethnographic documentation, but archaeological examples are extremely rare. In the Upper Palaeolithic of western Europe, cut-marked and broken human bones are widespread in the Magdalenian (~15 to 12 ka BP) and skull-cup preparation seems to be an element of this tradition. The combination of cannibalism and skull-cup production at Gough’s Cave is so far unique in the European Upper Paleolithic. Direct age determinations on two of the vaults (~14,700 cal BP) make these the oldest dated examples of skull-cups in the archaeological record.