Friday 24 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 24: Westlothiana lizziae

PrehiScotInktoberfest 24 is a very special one for me. Not long ago, my grandfather celebrated his 84th birthday. One of my favourite memories, of which there are many, of him was when he took me & the rest of the family to see the Dinosaurs From China exhibition. While there were plenty of dinosaurs present - Mamenchisaurus, Yangchuanosaurus, Tsintaosaurus (they were nothing if not proudly local of their dinosaurs in China) - there was one fossil that I'll never forget.

Back then, it was not formally named: it was just called "Lizzie." Since then, its nickname was formalised into the specific name as Westlothiana lizziae ("Lizzie from West Lothian"). Originally, Lizzie was believed to be the earliest reptile to be discovered: subsequent findings suggest it's more a reptiliomorph (as with Saltopus & Eileanchelys, it just needed baking a few million more years in the oven).

Lizzie dwelt in what is now East Kirkton Quarry, Bathgate, 338 million years ago - the Carboniferous period. East Kirkton is particularly known for being a rare Scottish site that preserves land animals - such as the huge scorpions, massive millipedes, and early landlubbers. The site of the quarry in the Carboniferous was a small, hot lake, fed by volcanic hot springs - possibly scalding hot, or poisonous from chemicals in the springs, which built up layers into the formation we see today.

While the dinosaur skeletons were spectacular, they were mostly casts - models - of the original. Lizzie was the real thing: a genuine fossil, and to this day, the only one of its kind to be found. There's always something about being in the presence of such a wonder - a link to unfathomed aeons of time in the past. Lizzie is proudly displayed in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, alongside other palaeontological marvels from Scotland's, and the world's, distant past.

"I remember going to see Mrs Murray, the Head Teacher and thinking 'I'm just going to be honest and ask if I can keep my children off school to go on a trip to see the dinosaurs from China' always knowing that Al would never keep it to himself and both children were incapable of lies anyway. I had a deep argument ready for this completely relevant excursion for us but I knew that it was slightly crazy for most primary children to drive for hours for an exhibition to spend a short time, turn around and back. My Dad was just as excited and drove happily. What a surprise to find that Mrs Murray was actually supportive and pleased for us all to have such an opportunity and easily allowed us to officially skive and enjoy the trip. It was one of the very happiest day's of Al's life seeing 'Lizzie', as this was the center point of the trip, he would just have stood there all day looking at 'Lizzie' but there was lots to see."
 - Mammy

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