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Quaternary Reference Collections in Cambridge

The correct identification of fossil material forms the basis for any palaeoecological work. As everyone engaged in such research appreciates, this can only be done satisfactorily with the aid of extensive reference collections. In Cambridge we are particularly fortunate in having a number of such collections scattered amongst various departments. Here we list some of the more important ones, giving brief details of their contents and quality, the names of the people responsible for each collection and the terms of access to them.

  • Sedgwick Museum, Department of Earth Sciences
  • Library, Department of Earth Sciences
  • University Museum of Zoology
  • McDonald Institute
  • Department of Geography
  • The Godwin Laboratory for Palaeoclimate Research
  • Stable Isotope Dendroclimatic Unit
  • Radiocarbon Laboratory

Sedgwick Museum, Department of Earth Sciences

Amongst the excellent reference materials at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences are:

  1. The F.W. Harmer collection of Crag Mollusca (including material figured in his Palaeontographical Society Monographs);
  2. The B.W. Sparks collection of Quaternary non-marine molluscs collected mostly during the 1950-1970s.
  3. The P. Cambridge collection. Particularly good representation of crag fossils (mostly molluscs) but includes other Pleistocene material.
  4. Extensive collections of Pleistocene vertebrates are also present, including much from Barrington.

Access by arrangement with D. Pemberton (01223) 333456.

Library , Department of Earth Sciences

A large collection of reprints amassed by Professors Sir Harry Godwin and R.G. West are housed here.
Access by arrangement with Libby Tilley, the Librarian (01223) 333429 ( Catalogues are available on-line.

University Museum of Zoology

This contains a good general reference collections of shells, corals, vertebrates and other material. A series of mounted skeletons in the main gallery are very useful for identifying odd bones; more extensive skeletal material is housed in the vertebrate store.

The Museum has a very large world-wide collection of molluscs (both marine and non-marine species), and includes the Benson, MacAndrew, S.P.Woodward and Saul collections. There is also Darwin material, some collected on the voyage of the Beagle.

The Insect Collections (on the 4th floor) have good representations of British beetles and general collections of insects from elsewhere. The Crotch collection of ladybirds from all over the world (the most important ever made) is housed here. No Pleistocene insect material is represented.

Important Quaternary collections include those of vertebrates made by A.J. Stuart, D. Mayhew, and A. M. Lister and mollusca and ostracods made by R.C. Preece. The bias is again strongly British. A large collection of sediment samples from many sites studied by R.C. Preece and P.L. Gibbard is also stored in the basement of the Museum.

Access by arrangement with Dr A.E. Friday (01223) 336671 (vertebrates), Dr W.A. Foster (01223) 336615 (insects) and Dr R.C. Preece (01223) 336666 (other invertebrates)

McDonald Institute

Contains two collections of note:

  1. Plant macrofossil collection with particular emphasis on British material. Also a reasonably good collection of macrofossils of Old World economic plants.
  2. Bone collections. Reasonable collections of Old World domesticates and an incomplete collection of European wild ungulates.

Access by arrangement with Prof. Martin Jones (01223)333507 or Jessica Rippengal (01223) 339348.

Department of Geography, Quaternary Palaeoenvironments Group

The Quaternary Palaeoenvironments Grouphouses samples from a number of important boreholes (e.g. the Royal Society Ludham borehole, Marks Tey) are stored at Laundry Farm, together with sediment collected from many other open sections.

The main reference collections stored here are:

  1. Pollen reference collection
  2. Plant macrofossil collection

In both cases there is a bias towards the British flora but it includes material from elsewhere. Active efforts are being made to improve the coverage from other European countries.

Access by arrangement with Dr S. Boreham (01223)333922 (

Godwin Laboratory

(1) The Godwin Laboratory for Palaeoclimate Research has limited collections of benthonic and planktonic forams (incomplete, with bias towards more common taxa). Perhaps more important are the comprehensive collections of sediment samples from all the more important deep-sea cores. Taxonomic problems relating to most published work on taxa from deep sea sediments can be potentially resolved by recourse to this material.

Access by arrangement with M.Hall (01223) 364911.

(2) The Stable Isotope Dendroclimatic Unit has an extensive collection of tree-ring records carefully archived. The most important of these are:

  1. Modern oak tree-ring chronology from Cumbria, SW England, East Anglia and Finland extending back to about 300 years.
  2. Pine chronologies covering the last 300 years from Scotland, East Anglia and the East Midlands.
  3. Beech chronologies again covering the last 300 years from the East Midlands and East Anglia.
  4. Fenland bog oak chronologies that have been dated at Belfast represent a continuous record back to 3000 years B.C.
  5. Historical oak timbers of known provenance provide an incomplete record from the 13th century to the present-day.

Most of these tree-ring chronologies are represented by cores of 5 mmdiameter but there are some 12 mm cores and a few disc samples. Samples of alpha cellulose left-over from isotopic analyses have also beencarefully archived and would be available for further study.

Access by arrangement with M.Hall (01223) 364911.