About Professor Simon Haslett

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Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom
Professor of Physical Geography and Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Wales and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Geology and fossils of Usk, Monmouthshire

The rocks of Usk in south-east Wales are famously full of fossils and this month they will be the subject of a public lecture of mine and the publication of a new booklet Usk Fossils that I have written. I grew up in Usk and was inspired to follow my geoscience career partly by the rocks I encountered around this central Monmouthshire town. As a student, I undertook numerous projects on the rocks of Usk and became familiar with the fossils. Since then however, my academic research has focused mainly on coastal landscapes and he has become well-known for his theory that a flood that occurred in the Bristol Channel in 1607 was perhaps due to a tsunami, and featured on numerous BBC programmes.

Cover of new booklet Usk Fossils
This month, I go back to my roots in giving a public lecture for the charity ‘Hope and Homes for Children’ on the Geology of Usk, and also publishing Usk Fossils, an illustrated booklet guide to fossils of Usk. It’s been quite a lot of fun going back to relearn the stuff I’d forgotten about the geology of Usk, but once I got into it I remembered it quite clearly. I hope the audience at the lecture and readers of the booklet will find it interesting too.

Usk geological history includes classic rocks such as from the Silurian Period with its shallow tropical sea teaming with life, the relatively barren Old Red Sandstone and, more recently, deposits laid down by glaciers of the last ice age. When I was in University I remember finding a quote from a Victorian journal, which is included on the cover of the booklet, that made me realise how well-known the rocks of Usk are, it said: "Not for the beauty of its scenery ... nor yet for the romantic history of the castle ... nor yet again for the excellent salmon fishing ... was the visit made. Usk has great attractions of a geological kind, its rocks abound in fossils”!

The fossils from Usk may also have played an important part in scientific theory. Alfred Russell Wallace, alongside Charles Darwin, developed the theory of evolution and Wallace was born in Usk in 1823. The rocks behind his house where he lived are full of fossils and, although his family moved away when he was five years old, it is highly likely that he saw the fossils as a child and it is wonderful to think that Usk fossils may have sowed a seed that influenced his later thoughts on evolution.”

The public lecture the Geology of Usk is in the Sessions House, Usk, on the evening of Thursday 15th November (admission £10), and the booklet Usk Fossils is available to buy directly from Amazon, priced £4.99.

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