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30 April 2019


50-year-old museum letter comes to light alongside a rather older fossil.

Strongly curved yellowish-grey oyster shell on a bed of tissue paperA letter dating back to 1956 and a fossil 140 million years old have reached Stanhoe Archive thanks to the generosity of Hazel Seekings, daughter of the late Eric and Eva Blackburn of Stanhoe.

Eric found the “devil’s toenail” – a fossil oyster shell with a characteristically curved shape – and sent it to Norwich Castle Museum to be identified. The letter explaining his discovery is signed by Ted Ellis, for many years Keeper of Natural History at the museum and a very well-known Norfolk naturalist.

“As far as I can remember my Dad was working at Barwick Hall Farm and was involved in the installation of a grain dryer,” Hazel says. “I think they were digging out a deep pit and came across this shell at quite a depth. I expect the digging was done by hand then and things were easy to spot.”

Devil’s toenails belong to the genus Gryphaea; Ted Ellis identified this one as Gryphaea arcuata, previously known as Gryphaea incurva. They are common finds in parts of the midlands and the Yorkshire coast, and feature on the coat of arms of Scunthorpe. Carrying one was once thought to prevent rheumatism.

See a copy of the original letter here.

Posted by: Charles
Posted on: 30 April 2019