You should be following the route of the road with trees either side of you. If you were here around 310 million years ago you’d be in a very different type of forest – one that was warm, swampy and home to creatures such as giant dragonfly. These forests formed the coal measures that were mined here in the Goyt Valley, and elsewhere.
There’s evidence of coal mining in the Goyt Valley from the 1600s. Much of the coal was used in local lime kilns. Fossils are also found within the coal measures, such as the fossil below, it’s from a Lepidodendron, an extinct species of tree-like plants.
Many plants and animals are found fossilised in the muddy beds and coal seams laid down 312–305 million years ago. You can see some of these seams in exposed banks at the southern end of the Goyt Valley.
This dragonfly fossil was discovered in Bolsover, but these creatures would also have been found flying here over 300 million years ago. These giant dragonfly could grow to a wingspan of up to 75cm. The fact that many creatures, including dragonflys, grew to such large sizes in the Carboniferous may have been down to increased levels of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere, higher than the 21% we enjoy today.
The Lepidodendron specimen above was part of the collection of Elizabeth Dale. Elizabeth was born in Warrington in 1868, educated at home by a governess and then spent some time at a private school in Buxton. During her time in Derbyshire she spent time collecting natural history specimens, including fossils as well as plants to turn into herbarium sheets. She studied for a time at Owens College, Manchester and then, from 1887 to 1891, studied Natural Sciences at Girton College, Cambridge. This was a time when women were still not awarded degrees or allowed to be university members. She went on to be a research worker at the Cambridge Botanical Laboratory, working mainly in plant pathology, and published at least 12 scientific papers. She also wrote The Scenery and Geology of the Peak District, first published in 1901.
You can find out more about Elizabeth Dale and her collections on Buxton Museum’s Collections in the Landscape blog