Buckingham Palace, the Empire State Building and the Pentagon Are All Full of Tiny Fossils From the Jurassic Period

Buckingham_Palace_Photo by DAVID ILIFF_web
Buckingham Palace. David Iliff

Buckingham Palace is made from stone containing microscopic ancient fossils from the time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Along with a number of other historic London buildings, the palace is constructed from oolitic limestone, a material that contains microbes dating to the Jurassic period, around 200 million years ago, according to an Australian National University press release.

Oolitic limestone is a carbonate rock composed of tiny carbonate particles, known as ooids, according to the University College London. They have concentric rings of CaCO3, or calcium carbonate. Its lightweight structure and even distribution of ooids allow it to be cut into easily, making it a convenient building material.

A team led by ANU researchers discovered that the ooids themselves are composed of even tinier mineralized microbes—basically, tiny dinosaur-era fossils. A paper describing the research was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

A cross-section of ooids. Australian National University

"Many oolitic limestones form excellent building stones, because they are strong and lightweight," co-author Robert Burne, an honorary professor from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences, said in the press release. "Jurassic oolite in England has been used to construct much of the City of Bath, the British Museum and St. Paul's Cathedral."

In the United States, oolite is a building block in both the Empire State Building and the Pentagon, Burne continued. The material is found all over the world, including, but not limited to, Germany, the Bahamas, China and Western Australia.

"Our mathematical model explains the concentric accumulation of layers, and predicts a limiting size of ooids," co-author Murray Batchelor, a professor from ANU's Research School of Physics and Engineering and the Mathematical Sciences Institute, said in the press release. "We considered the problem theoretically using an approach inspired by a mathematical model developed in 1972 for the growth of some brain tumors."

Oolite from Germany. Lannon Harley, Australian National University

The discovery also overturns the prevailing "snowball theory" of how ooids are formed, which held that they came from grains that had accumulated layers and layers of coated sediment by rolling around on the seafloor, according to the Telegraph.

"We have proposed a radically different explanation for the origin of ooids that explains their definitive features," Burne said in the press release. "Our research has highlighted yet another vital role that microbes play on Earth and in our lives."

The researchers believe that studying the ancient building blocks could help us better understand the effects of climate change on our planet over time.