'The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.' — Winston S. Churchill

By Charlie Sands on 23/05/2023

Pneumodesmus newmani is a type of millipede that used to live in Stonehaven. Well, in Cowie to be exact.  And probably quite a lot of the rest of the world. It is the first myriapod fossil - the oldest known creature to have lived on land.

The fossil was discovered by and was named after Mike Newman - a bus driver and amateur palaeontologist from Aberdeen.  If you wander along the foreshore at Cowie Harbour you will find an information board mapping out where the find was made.

The exact age of the fossil isn’t known, but it is something like 414 million years old. It is from the Palaeozoic era – possibly Silurian or Devonian.  The fossil is kept in National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. 

From the picture you can see its back is covered with hard plates, and wispy slender legs. The animal is segmented, and it is like, or related to, millipedes. And it has a tracheal system – spiracles - a gas exchange system that works in air so it is the first known oxygen breathing animal on land.

Cowie is a fascinating place, and a mecca for geologists the world over.  The Highland Boundary Fault is right here – under your feet.  It was formed more than 400 million years ago, formed during a time when Stonehaven was actually in the southern hemisphere. This rock is made up of layers of sand, silt and mud that was carried and deposited by rivers, which over time was preserved as sedimentary rock. It’s in this sedimentary rock that we find fossils such as our millipede.

Scotland used to lie south of the equator in an ancient continent called Laurentia but over hundreds of millions of years drifted north, chased by the continent of Avalonia (to which England and Wales belonged),eventually colliding to create the Caledonian Mountain belt which may have been comparable in size at the time to the Himalayas.

The collision of these ancient continents caused these sedimentary rocks to tilt and buckle, so instead of lying horizontally, these rocks now lie almost at a right angle to the horizontal.

Sedimentary rocks here are almost in a vertical plane. Note also the wave-cut platform here. Sea waves have undercut the foundations of the near vertical cliff face, causing their collapse. Fallen debris is then removed by the sea and the process repeats, forming this rocky platform.

One of the walks on this website – Walk 1 – Cowie to Skatie Shore Look – does take you though an what you can see at the shoreline and if you are interested in this important geology then it is a fascinating place to explore. https://www.stunningstonehaven.com/home/info/

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