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The last 3 million years at a snail's pace
Date:8/4/2011

reserved within calcium carbonate crystals of the opercula. This crystal cage protects the protein from external environmental factors, so the extent of internal protein degradation allows us to identify the age of the samples. In essence, they are a protein time capsule.

"This framework can be used to tell us in greater detail than ever before how plants and animals reacted to glacial and interglacial periods, and has helped us establish the patterns of human occupation of Britain, supporting the view that these islands were deserted in the Last Interglacial period."

In a close collaboration with palaeontologist Dr. Richard Preece in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, the study examined a total of 470 fossil remains from 71 sites in the UK and three on continental Europe. The method proved highly reliable with more than 98 per cent of samples yielding useful results, resulting in the largest ever geochronological programme of the British Pleistocene.

Professor Collins said: "When we started this work 11 years ago, we thought it was going to be relatively straightforward to identify a good material for dating, but the first 3 years of research on shells showed that the stability of the mineral itself was vital. The tiny trapdoor of a snail proved to be the key to success."

Dr Preece added: "Luckily, fossil opercula are common in Quaternary sediments around the world, so the new technique can be used to build regional Ice Age chronologies everywhere, giving it enormous international scope".


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Contact: David Garner
david.garner@york.ac.uk
44-019-043-22153
University of York
Source:Eurekalert

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