Ancient relics roadshow delights fans of fossils

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The Independent Online
THE specimens were antique but there was no sign of Hugh Scully waiting to pounce on a Faberge egg or enthuse over a fine example of Venetian glass. Instead, they delved into carrier bags and shoe boxes and produced pieces of dusty rock and bones for the experts to look at.

This was the Fossil Roadshow and hundreds of amateur archaeologists flocked to London's Natural History Museum to discover the origin of their finds.

Christopher Millbank, 35, from Kent, was almost collapsing under the weight of a jaw bone that he was hoping to discover was part of a woolly mammoth. "It is a passionate hobby of mine and I reckon this jaw goes back to about 10,000BC," he said.

Sadly for Mr Millbank, it turned out to be the remains of an Indian elephant which was only a few hundred years old. "I am a bit disappointed," he said bravely. "But I also brought a tooth embedded in a jaw and that really is from a woolly mammoth. It's about 40,000 years old and I found it in Whitstable so I am very pleased about that."

The roadshow was being filmed yesterday and today as part of BBC2's "evolution weekend" and there was no shortage of people eager to show off their discoveries.

William Rowlands, from Weymouth, had brought his seven-year-old grandson Mario D'Agostino to London for the day with their dinosaur footprints and Mario's collection of ammonites. "I think it's a wonderful hobby and it's great that Mario is so interested. He wants to be an archaeologist and we decided to give him the day off school so he could bring his collection," Mr Rowlands said.

Unfortunately, Mario was so excited he was sick on the bus but he recovered sufficiently to lay out his collection and to ask searching questions about its origin.

Meanwhile, Andy Currant, curator of Ice Age mammals, was delighted to have found the jaw of an ancient aurochs (ancestor to the cow). "This is fabulous. I did not expect to see something like this," he said. "It is about 8,000 years old and in very good condition."

Its owner, David Rayner, was delighted. "I've got the whole skeleton at home which I found in Kent," he said. He was planning to return today with a 50-million-year-old crocodile head which he had found along the same stretch of coastline.

Peter Snow, the presenter of the programme, was delighted with the response to the roadshow. "People have brought things which they just found in their gardens or in quarries and they just want to know what it is and how old it is. It is part of a fascination with human life and it is wonderful to see so many people here," he said.

Only in Britain would hundreds of people travel from all over the country to learn the truth about a bit of rock. And surprisingly for such a large group of enthusiasts there was not an anorak in sight.

t Fossil collectors can take their specimens to the Natural History Museum between 10am and 6pm today. The Fossil Roadshow will be on BBC2 at 6.50pm today and tomorrow at 4.25pm.