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Field Guide


Field Guide to the Deep History Coast

Recovering rhino atlas remains from the West Runton Freshwater Bed

After the storm surge of 13-14 January 2017 many collectors descended on the West Runton Freshwater Bed (WRFB). Jon Stewart and I were also there and one bone in particular was pointed out to me by collector Dan Chamberlain. Preliminary investigation suggested that it might be part of a skull but whatever it was it was delicate. So I decided to recover it using a time honoured plaster jacketing technique to ensure the bone remained supported and encapsulated so it couldn't fall apart.

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The full moon sets at dawn and two tides have hit the WRFB.

The WRFB is eroded and the surface is washed hard, revealing fossils.

Exploring the extent of the remains pointed out by Dan Chamberlain.

Don't know what it is yet but it looks interesting. Plastering needed.

Back home and the excess sediment in the block is largely removed.

Getting close to the friable surface and great care is needed.

Working under a microscope the surface was cleaned with a tooth pick

Small mammal (vole) teeth and seeds sieved from the sediment.

The friable surface is consolidated and little more needs to be done except scientific investigation.

What type of rhino is this?

Scientific investigators and amateur collectors have been visiting the West Runton Freshwater Bed since the 19th century. A number of remains of rhinos have been discovered from the bed over the years. Some are in the collections of the Norfolk Museums Service (Cromer Museum; Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery). This would once have been called the 'Etruscan rhinoceros' Rhinoceros etruscus but that name is now applied to the ancestor of this species. Our specimen is still awaiting preparation that will reveal its true identity but it is likely to belong to the descendent species of the Etruscan rhino called Stephanorhinus hundsheimensis, whose type specimen came from Hundsheim, not too far from the River Danube, east of Vienna, in Austria (in this photo, courtesy of Professor Tony Stuart, the front part of the skull is missing). They ranged across Europe and were adapted more for browsing rather than for grazing.

Mounted skeleton of Stephanorhinus hundsheimensis.

Reporting finds

Please report all finds from the Cromer Forest-bed to the Norfolk Museums Service, who are maintaining a database of fossils finds in order to better understand the nature of this remarkable coastline.

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A partial rhino skull

Rhinoceros finds are not uncommon. Two years before this find, on 26 January 2015 another storm surge caused erosion of the WRFB and more fossil remains were discovered by amateur collectors. I was able to collect a partial rhino skull that is underdevelopment at Norfolk Museums Service' Castle Museum Study Centre. Here are the pictures and description of that find.