National Stone Centre

Opening Hours
10am - 4pm Every day
Published 06/06/2022

A View from the Rock Shop - Facts and Fossils

ammonite rock shop nsc

Each month, NSC Volunteer, Vivienne Smith, will be providing a background into various stones and fossils that can be found in the rock shop.

When it comes to technology, I freely admit I’m something of a dinosaur. I have no computer and only a basic mobile phone. Yet remarkably I survive! (meteorite? What meteorite?!)

Mind you, dinosaurs do have their uses. They are often the first thing to attract youngsters to the wonders of geology. It is certainly true of our shop.
On the very top shelf are several models of these fearsome beasts. Yet even the smallest of children notice them up there.

The other day a customer came in with her little 3-year-old grandson, and he spotted them at once. Not only that, but he proceeded to name each one, and correctly too: from Triceatops and Iguanodon to Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex. He even recognised Archaeopteryx (try saying that when you’ve had a few!). But for one so young it was a case of producing all the right sounds, although not necessarily in the right order (a bit like Eric Morecambe’s piano playing!)It's not only dinosaurs that fascinate people. All kinds of fossilised lifeforms have their fans, and some of those we stock have unusual claims to fame.

The ones that most kids instantly recognise is the ammonite. Yet it seems best-selling crime writer Stephen Booth is familiar with it too.


ammonites nsc rock shop 

All his books are set in Derbyshire and the Peak. In Already Dead , the murder actually takes place in the Wirksworth area. The NSC itself gets several mentions. At one point Booth’s detective DS Ben Cooper recalls how he came here as a child on a school trip and went gem panning. The murder victim even visits the Rock Shop. Here he buys himself an ammonite before coming to a grisly end (I hope that the revelation doesn’t cause a drop in sales).
Another popular fossil is the trilobite. The ones we sell belong to the genus Calymene, which thrived around 400 million years ago. They look rather like giant woodlice, but actually lived in the sea.

One particular species Calymene blumenbachii is famous in Dudley in the West Midlands (and not just for its ‘blumen’ long name!). From the late 18th Century, the local limestone was quarried for lime. So many of these fossils were unearthed in the process that it was dubbed the Dudley locust.

trilobite rocks
In honour of its celebrity, the trilobite features at the centre of Dudley’s coat of arms to this day.
Our customers are also intrigued by the fossil fish from Wyoming in the USA. Many are so perfectly preserved (that’s the fish, not our customers!) that I often get asked if they are real. One man recently had the audacity to tell me he thought they’d been painted onto the rock (I won’t tell if you won’t!)

extinct herring

These extinct fish of the herring family lived some 50 million years ago. Massive shoals of them are found fossilised in the local Green River limestone. They were named Knightia, in honour of Wyoming’s first state geologist Wilbur Clinton Knight. But their excessive abundance in the rock earned them a special accolade of their own.

For Knightia was made Wyoming’s state fossil. Fancy having a state fossil – how cool is that?
I reckon we should nominate one for Derbyshire. OK, so which smart Alec suggested putting my name forward?