Life in the Late Carboniferous,
326 – 299 million years ago
| In the Late
Carboniferous, quartzitic sandstones spread across the Mendip area,
ending the growth of the Early Carboniferous limestone succession. Eventually
a vast delta was formed, stretching from Britain eastwards to Poland,
crossed by a winding network of river channels, and colonised by
lush swamp forests of giant tree ferns. Decaying plant remains formed
thick peat deposits, and these were deeply buried, compacted, and
transformed into coal.
At Kilmersdon and Writhlington, near Radstock, discarded rock from
coal mining contains the exquisite remains (stems, foliage & seed
pods) of fossil plants such as Lepidodendron and Calamites, and more
rarely, insects. Unlike modern trees, there was no woody tissue to
support these plants. Some grew as featureless trunks, only producing
a tree-like crown of branches when fully mature. Others, such as
Calamites, resembled the modern-day horsetails, but grew to perhaps
10 m in height.
Periodically, the sea flooded into the coal swamps, killing the vegetation
and depositing thin beds of mudstone containing marine fossils. These
are called 'marine bands', and are very useful for understanding
the relative ages of coal-bearing rocks.
Each marine band contains particular fossils that allow its recognition,
and are individually named, usually after a particularly characteristic
fossil. Near Westbury-sub-Mendip, the Subcrenatum Marine Band has
been recognised, characterised by the goniatite Gastrioceras subcrenatum.
Goniatites resemble ammonites that inhabited the seas of the Jurassic
and Cretaceous, but are more primitive, typically with globose shells
and simplified ornamentation.
Life in the Early