A Virtual Meeting on Plio-Pleistocene Palaeontology Collections: A Key to Understanding Our Modern World

This seminar took place on Saturday 26th November 2022.

Here we share the programme from the day and links so you can find out more about the organisations involved. Recordings from the three sessions will be made available in the new year.

What was the seminar about?


This free, virtual meeting, organised by Colchester + Ipswich Museums and Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences (University of Cambridge), explored the Plio-Pleistocene; a hugely significant period of fluctuating environmental conditions, which has shaped our planet and its fauna and flora today.

The British Plio-Pleistocene record, including the East Anglian Crags, is internationally significant, providing key insights into the beginning of the ice age. The rich East Anglian geological record also charts the dramatically changing warmer and colder conditions of the ice age.

The Museums Involved

The Organisers

Ipswich Museums


The service holds more than 40,000 geology specimens from across the world but its greatest strength is on the Plio-Pleistocene of Suffolk. The Museums have outstanding collections of Pliocene Coralline Crag and Red Crag – the latter is the only exposed UK deposit to chart the transition into the Pleistocene ice age. The collections of Norwich Crag include material from the type locality, Easton Bavents and Wroxham Crag which document the early parts of the ice age. From the later Pleistocene, Ipswich Museums holds important collections from interglacial type sites including Bobbitshole and Hoxne as well as from highly significant Suffolk sites including Brundon and Stoke. The collections have supported research into taxonomy, biostratigraphy, ecology, evolution, and climate change. You can search the Ipswich collections here.

Ipswich Museum is embarking on a major £8.7 million redevelopment over 3 years to transform the gallery spaces and visitor facilities. You can read more about it here.

Dr Simon Jackson is the Collections and Learning Curator responsible for the natural science collections. His email is: simon.jackson@colchester.gov.uk. With the busy redevelopment going on, we will do our best to get back to you as quickly as possible but please do bear with us, as there will likely be a delay. 

Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences

(University of Cambridge)


The palaeontological collection contains more than a million specimens from across the world, including excellent Plio-Pleistocene collections. Specifically, the East Anglian crag collections are extensive and the catalogued collection contains over 4000 lots and much of it historic, well localised and include over 150 type specimens and lots more figured material. Additionally, more recently acquired and uncatalogued collections, made by Philip Cambridge (1918-1993) are a treasure trove of Crag material. The large numbers of individuals allow more meaningful investigations to be undertaken on particular species. The collection still continues to grow, mainly as a result of research activities of the Department of Earth Sciences.

If you have any enquiries about these collections or would like to visit then please visit the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences website.

Other Contributors

Colchester Museums


Colchester Museums has more than 5000 Plio-Pleistocene specimens, which provide a key insight into understanding the local geology of North East Essex, with excellent East Anglian crag collections and dredged Pleistocene material from the North Sea. The collections are relatively young mostly dating to 1957 or later. Key localities include Cooper’s Beach, East Mersea and Marks Tey Pits. Collectors include notably Charles Robert Bree.

You can search the Colchester collections here.

Colchester Museums welcomes researchers to these collections. Please contact: Sophie Stevens, the Collections and Learning Curator responsible for natural sciences: collections@colchester.gov.uk



GeoSuffolk is a non-profit-making association and a voluntary group of professional and amateur geologists committed to researching, interpreting and conserving Suffolk’s landscape and geology. The group has been in existence since 1993, though was re-established in 2002 with a formal constitution and the name GeoSuffolk was subsequently adopted as the public face of the organisation.

To find out more, you can click here to visit their website.

The Natural History Museum, London


The Museum has about 7 million fossil vertebrate, invertebrate and plant remains, which are globally important. It contains about 250,000 fossil mammal specimens from around the world, rich in type and figured material. The collection includes excellent Plio-Pleistocene material from many East Anglian UK sites including: Pakefield, West Runton, Clacton and Covehithe and other UK sites including Westbury-sub-Mendip, Boxgrove, Trafalgar Square and Kents Cavern. The Museum is a leader in research and digitisation using its collections and unrivalled expertise to tackle some of the biggest problems facing the world today.

You can search the fossil mammal collections here.

If you have any questions about the collections, then you can contact the curator here.

Norfolk Museums Service


The Plio-Pleistocene collections of Norfolk Museums include large collections from the Crag and ice age deposits, reflecting the local geology of the county. The collection has a particular focus on the Pleistocene Cromer Forest-bed Formation, which outcrops around the coast of Norfolk and Suffolk. A notable specimen from these deposits is the West Runton Mammoth (a steppe mammoth) but other specimens include bones, antlers and tusks from other large vertebrates.

The Norfolk collection also includes specimens from the Upper Pleistocene river valley deposits and Lower Pleistocene Crags of East Anglia. You can find out more here.

If you have any questions about the collections, then you can contact the team by emailing museums@norfolk.gov.uk.

Royal Holloway University of London

(Centre for Quaternary Research, Department of Geography)


The Centre was established in 1990 and has grown to become one of the leading international research centres in Quaternary science. It has attracted funding from an increasingly diverse range of sources and has major research partnerships and initiatives with e.g. the Natural History Museum, British Geological Society which foster important advances in Quaternary research including, for instance, landscape evolution and quantitative palaeoclimate reconstruction.

To find out more about the Centre for Quaternary Research, click here.

The University of Helsinki

(Department of Geosciences and Geography)


The Department is an exceptionally diverse unit for academic research and education with research interests exploring plate tectonics and how environments have changed since life began. The focus of the research is on our planet Earth, from its core to the structures of its surface.

Read more about the department by clicking here.

The Programme

1 – 1.10pm Welcome and housekeeping

Simon Jackson, Colchester + Ipswich Museums

1.10 – 2.20pm

First session

Chair: Simon Jackson

Down the Rabbit Hole – Adventures in the Pliocene-Pleistocene Bob Markham, Chair of GeoSuffolk
The British (especially East Anglian) fossil record of mammoths: an evolutionary treasure-trove Adrian M Lister, Natural History Museum
Q&A Chair: Simon Jackson
2.30 – 3pm Second session Chair: Liz Hide
Unlocking the East Anglian Plio-Pleistocene – Key Insights from the Ipswich Museum Collection Simon Jackson, Colchester + Ipswich Museums
The Crag Collections at the Sedgwick Museum Elizabeth Harper, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences (University of Cambridge)
The utility of East Anglian assemblages in understanding the dietary ecology of Pleistocene cervids Laura Hemmingham, Royal Holloway University of London/Natural History Museum
3.10 – 4.15pm Third session Chair: Elizabeth Harper
Mammoths and more in the Colchester stores Sophie Stevens, Colchester + Ipswich Museums
Plio-Pleistocene climatic and environmental change in East Anglia – evidence from mammalian ecometrics and palaeoecology from the Red Crag deposits Juha Saarinen, University of Helsinki
Pliocene Forests Barry Hall, GeoSuffolk
Norfolk’s Deep History Coast: a living landscape museum David Waterhouse, Norfolk Museums Service
Q&A Chair: Liz Hide

What's On


Browse the diary to discover what’s on in Ipswich, including fun events for all the family, talks, tours and evening events for adults.

Exhibitions + Displays

Our programme draws from Ipswich’s own art and museum collections, as well as touring exhibitions and work by local artists. We also have an incredible array of permanent displays.


Where will your adventure start?