Susan played a role in ‘50s fossil find

Susan Grant of Colinsburgh
Susan Grant of Colinsburgh

Headlines were made recently by the discovery of a new species of ancient sea monster, which lived around 170 million years ago.

The giant killer reptile, resembling a dolphin spliced with a crocodile, was identified from fossils found on the Isle of Skye over half a century ago.

And the party which made the historic find included a student from the East Neuk.

Susan Grant, of Colinsburgh, was with a group which discovered the bones, led by an amateur enthusiast, Brian Shawcross – and years later, Susan helped geology experts to locate them.

The new species – Dearcmhara shawcrossi – was named in Mr Shawcross’ honour.

Susan took up the story after hearing the bones had been presented to the Hunterian Museum.

“As a student at Easter 1959, I met up with some Cambridge geology students on a field trip to Arran,” she told the Mail.

“Brian Shawcross and Bruce McDowell were coming back to Skye on a fossil hunt in late June and I was asked to join them with another girl, Sarah Robens. We went to Balearig Power Station and descended over 600 steps down to the beach.

“The power station man said when we needed to come back up, we were to ring a buzzer and he would hoist us up in a sort of bogie.”

The weather had been very dry and the team was able to pick up fossils, ammonites, belemnites and mussel shells without any digging, recalled Susan, a former head teacher at Colinsburgh Primary School.

“Then Brian shouted as he’d found bones embedded in, I think, Oxford Clay,” she added.

“He dug them out carefully and we made our way up in the bogie and back to our youth hostel, where we examined them and were, needless to say, very excited. When they returned south, the bones were gifted to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

“Then, in the early 1990s, I heard a geology professor at Glasgow on the radio talking about fossil finds on Skye being all-important.”

Susan wrote and told him the story, adding where she believed the bones were buried, giving him Brian’s name and the fact he went to Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge.

“He must have pursued the information I gave him very successfully, tracked down Brian and the bones – for next I heard was last month on the radio that it is a completely new creature, they have incorporated ‘shawcrossi’ in the name and the bones are now in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow,” she said.

“I feel quite elated at the small part I feel I’ve played in all this!”