Science blog

25 July 2014

Fossil hunting at the British Library

Natalie Bevan explores some interesting traces of the geological past buried in St Pancras stone...

Over on our Collection Care blog, Christina Duffy recently wrote a fascinating piece on the stones and brickwork of the British Library’s architecture, the variety and origins of materials that have gone into creating the St Pancras site.

Following on in this vein of urban geology we decided to take a closer look at the variety of fossils that can be found all around us in the different types of stone used in the library's building work.

Inside the main building Portland stone is used in the flooring. This is a pale smooth grained limestone. Examination of the material depicts brown shapes within the white stone, reflecting fragments of fossilised marine flora and fauna.


Here you can see shell fragments; calcareous algal pellets are in evidence also, which look like coin sized white patches in the stone.

A much darker material from the late Jurassic/early Cretaceous period has also been used; Purbeck limestone, from the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. This brown-blue stone has been placed on the flooring alongside and providing contrast to the white Portland, this is best seen on the upper ground floor.

Purbeck limestone contains a multitude of curious swirly patterns, clearly defined – fossils of ancient shells well preserved, of freshwater molluscs such as pea mussels of ponds and streams.

The final example here is Italian Travertine. Used along the walls and pavings of the interior. It is a cream-coloured, rough textured stone.


The occasional indentations in the stone, shown here, are remnants of aquatic plants; the hollow stems of rushes.

Travertine limestone is a calcareous mineral deposited by flowing water, and originates from the Tivoli Hills outside Rome. It is the material often used in Rome’s classical buildings.

For more information on this topic please see Eric Robinson’s ‘A Geology of the British Library’

Interested in urban geology? You may find these two books of use:

Stories in stone; travels through urban geology / David B. Williams

Geology on your doorstep : the role of urban geology in earth heritage conservation / edited by Matthew R. Bennett [et al.]

For geological research the British Library’s contains a wide ranging collection of geological literature and resources.

Becoming a reader will allow you access to some of the best online resources available in this field, such as Geobase and GeoRef.  We also provide access to a variety of up to date reference books, some of which can be browsed on the shelves in the Science Reading Room; please search our library catalogue for further details.



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