Mendips header
 Overview maps
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  Cheddar Gorge
 Burrington Combe
 Shipham & Rowberrow
 Crook Peak & Axbridge
 Banwell to Churchill
 Harptree & Smitham Hill
 Draycott & Westbury-sub
 Wookey Hole & Ebbor
 Great Elm & Vallis Vale
 Mells & the Wadbury Valley
 The Vobster area
 The Whatley area
 Torr Works & Asham Wood
 Beacon Hill
 Stoke St Michael & Oakhill
 Holwell & Nunney
 Shepton Mallet & Maesbury
 Gurney Slade & Emborough
 The Nettlebridge valley
 Rocks of Mendips
 Geological timescale
 Ancient environments
 Geological structure
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  Minerals and mines
 Industrial archaeology
  Stone as a resource
 Employment & the economy
 Quarrying & geodiversity
 Quarrying & the environment
 History of quarrying
 Caves and karst
 How caves form
 Dry valleys and gorges
 Dolines and sinkholes
 Mendip caves
 Going caving
  Flora and fauna
 Typical Mendip habitats
 Special Mendip habitats
 Horseshoe bats
 Appendix of names
 Biodiversity of western
 Biodiversity of eastern
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  East Mendip quarries
 Biodiversity of eastern
  West Mendip quarries
 Biodiversity of western
 Site map
Ancient Environments
Silurian l Devonian l Carboniferous l Triassic l Jurassic

Life in the Early Carboniferous, 359 – 327 million years ago

During the Early Carboniferous the Mendip area was part of a broad, shallow, tropical sea that stretched westwards into Pembrokeshire, and across which thick successions of Carboniferous Limestone, now forming the Mendip hills, was being deposited. A rich variety of life inhabited this marine environment, particularly corals, brachiopods and crinoids, which are the most commonly occurring fossils.

Crinoids inhabited shallow water and grew in dense clusters, sometimes called 'crinoid gardens' because of their resemblance to plants. Long stems were anchored to the sea bed, and held aloft a globose, cup-like structure with radiating arms. The whole animal is formed of many individual plates that usually become scattered when the creature dies. The stem plates are common fossils and the main constituent of crinoidal limestone.

Like modern-day coral reefs, the abundant remains of fossil corals in the Carboniferous limestone suggest the former existance of warm, clear, shallow and well-lit tropical seas. Corals have a variety of branching and encrusting shapes that provide homes for other creatures and act as a baffle to trap sediment. Different kinds of fossil corals occur at different levels in the limestone, allowing geologists to distinguish between older and younger beds.

  A reconstruction of the Early Carboniferous sea floor with crinoid 'gardens'

Brachiopods have become all but extinct in modern seas and oceans, but in the geological past they flourished at the shallow margins of oceans, especially in the Carboniferous. At first they appear little different from familiar modern-day sea shells, but they are in fact quite distinct, with different shell and soft part anatomy. Many brachiopods lived openly on the sea bed, but some such as Lingula, occurring near the base of the Carboniferous Limestone, inhabited burrows. Two important groups of brachiopods in the Carboniferous are strongly radially ribbed forms, called 'spiriferids', and large, less strongly ribbed forms with relatively plano-convex valves, called 'productids'.

Life in the Late Carboniferous
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