East Kirkton Quarry and Westlothiana

East Kirkton Quarry

East Kirkton Quarry is located in the Limefield area of Boghall in Bathgate. It is a point of interest near the Bathgate Hills due to its famous fossil find. 

It is a remarkable example of hot spring activity within a small volcanic lake. The East Kirkton Limestone found in the quarry formed during a period of volcanic activity around 330 million years ago, when a pile of basalt lava flows and ash layers built up in this area. Layers of calcium carbonate were precipitated as a result of the hot spring activity, forming a thinly bedded limestone which is exposed in the quarry. This limestone is unusual in that it was deposited in freshwater (most limestones form in shallow sea water). 

The quarry was worked in the early part of the 19th century when some fossils were found. The most important find occurred later, in 1984, when Stan Wood found fossils in a nearby stone wall and traced the rock to East Kirkton. 

This discovery was one of the most important in Scottish palaeontology during the 20th century. “Westlothiana” was previously thought to be the earliest known reptile, but is now considered to be closely related to the ancestors of that group. An equally important find from East Kirkton is “Balanerpeton woodi”, an amphibian that belongs to the group which eventually evolved into today’s frogs, toads and newts.

The quarry is located to the north of Boghall, which is just to the east of Bathgate. It is also a designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). West Lothian Council allow access to the quarry with prior permission, but fossil collection is not permitted.

The quarry can be accessed by foot but it is not sign posted and in summer months difficult to access due to many jaggy nettles etc as the site is not maintained. 

Westlothiana lizziae

By Geni - Photo by user:geni, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26774698
Nobu Tamura (http://spinops.blogspot.com), CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Image:Slate Weasel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The fossil named Westlothiana became famous as ‘Lizzie’  because its appearance is so lizard-like. It was thought to be the oldest known reptile.

‘Lizzie’ was unearthed in East Kirkton quarry, Bathgate, West Lothian. The fossils collected from this tiny quarry give a rare insight into terrestrial life at an early time in the evolution of tetrapods. The fossils from the quarry belong to the Carboniferous Period (c.360-299 million years ago).

Fossils were first discovered there in the early 19th century, but it was only in 1984, when new fossil finds were made by self-taught Scottish palaeontologist Stan Wood, that the global importance of the quarry was realised.

East Kirkton is an unusual fossil deposit because it favours the fossilisation of land animals rather than those which lived in water.

338 million years ago, a small lake was fed by volcanic hot springs rich in dissolved chemicals. These chemicals were deposited as layers of rock on the bottom of the lake, preserving fossil animals and plants.

At East Kirkton, fossils of water-living animals are rare, probably because the lake was usually scalding hot or poisonous, but the rocks contain many land-dwelling fossils. These fossils are helping scientists unravel the mystery of life on land.