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Mark Olly is a Cheshire writer and archaeologist who runs the Celtic Warrington Project Archaeological Unit. You can read about Mark's work in the 'Celtic Warrington & Other Mysteries' volumes.




Prehistoric Labyrinthodons of North Cheshire
Mark Olly


Wind lashing orange sands across the flat beach of a vast salt lake drove roaring reptilian dinosaurs like giant, drunken, newts toward sand mounds of huddled turtles. Tiny lizards like bald chickens cried to pterodactyls screeching in the rushing rain clouds overhead while lumbering, crocodile like, sea giants slid silently away from the shoreline leaving a cascade of swirling wakes behind them. It was the time of the first prehistoric formation of Cheshire.

An unimaginably long time later early builders came to cut the red Cheshire sandstone in the area around Lymm and encountered the signatures left by the prehistoric drama which had unfolded on the beach of that vast salt lake millions of years before. Two names for the characters involved then developed. One name created for these beasts was Labyrinthodon, because the dinosaur remains found had a 'labyrinth' of complex teeth. The other name created was 'Hand Animal' or Chirotherium; a crocodile-like ancestor of a great many later dinosaurs that left five fingered hand-prints behind in the soft sands in two sizes, small front and large rear pair. 

Finds & Dates
In 1841 the footprints of 'Chirotherium Aff Storetonense' (to give it its full name) were dug out of the 'Keuper Waterstones', now known as the 'Tarporley Siltstone Formation', at the quarries in Lymm. They had also been found in Germany in 1833, Birkenhead in 1838, Liverpool in 1840 and were then found at Runcorn in 1843 and continued to be found in Lymm right up to 1900. In 1925 Wolfgang Soergal identified 'Chirotherium' as a 'Pseudosuchian' or 'false crocodile', a very early type of dinosaur. Further finds were also reported in the Storeton quarries on the Wirral, at Weston and at Daresbury.

 Slab showing labyrinthodon prints at Birkenhead Priory

Warrington Museum are presently displaying three specimens of 'Chirotherium' prints and have one stored in a draw, all found in the Windmill Quarry, Lymm. These also show fossil rain spots, sun cracks, worm-casts and ripple-marks, as do other print specimens of prehistoric turtles and other small animals found in the same sandstones at various of the sites. Apparently there are hundreds of such specimens in the cabinets and store rooms of British museums, most of them originating in Lymm, but now they only turn up on older sandstone constructions such as those recently found on the stones of Warburton cross.

If you are following the footpaths of the lower dam and the walking routes through the old quarries in Lymm, you are standing on the very shore of Cheshire's prehistoric salt lake, the lair of the Labyrinthodon.

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