Cuttie’s Hillock

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Best Places to see Scotland’s Geology: Laich Sandstones, Elgin

Cuttie’s Hillock is a site found within Quarry Wood on the outskirts of Elgin. Unlike Scaat Craig, this site is Permo-Triassic in age and is the site that has yielded the internationally famous ‘Elgin Reptiles’. Fossils at the site were first discovered by a quarryman in 1836. Following this, the site was studied by the likes of Louis Agassiz (1807 – 1873), Thomas Huxley (1825 – 1895), Sir Charles Lyell and Sir Roderick Murchison among many others. The fossils were originally thought to be Old Red Sandstone fish, until Huxley first identified the remains as reptilian. Since then, the area has come under intense study. Today, the fossils remain as important as ever, although the site itself is now much filled-in and overgrown.

cs_cutties_hillockCutties Hillock – now an SSSI, this stone quarry has yielded some of the internationally famous ‘Elgin Reptiles’. © Scottish Natural Heritage.

Permo-Triassic rocks in Scotland are quite rare, however they are found around Elgin (particularly along the Lossiemouth to Burghead coast). These rocks are generally composed of aeolian sandstones, formed when Scotland was under desert conditions (most Permo-Triassic rocks in Scotland have been eroded since deposition).

Although many of these rocks are Triassic in age, the Cuttie’s Hillock Sandstone Formation is the oldest, forming in the uppermost Permian (Tatarian). The base of this unit contains conglomerates and pebbly sandstones that represent sediment deposition during arid conditions – prior to the onslaught of the desert conditions. The fossils occur above the pebbly sandstones, but below the aeolian sandstones.

Twelve genera are represented, including the early dinosaur Saltopus. Quadrupedal and bipedal animals exist, as well as herbivores, carnivores, omnivores and possibly insectivores. The skeletons were often found complete, although they exist as natural moulds (cavities) as opposed to solid casts. The reptiles include the dicynodonts Gordonia and Geikia, a horned pareiasaur (Elginia) and a possible procolophonid. The dicynodont remains are the only such fossils to have been found in Europe. Fossilised trackways have also been found. No plant fossils have yet been found, but it is thought that the animals lived near to plant-bearing rivers, perhaps migrating to new areas following seasonal climatic changes.

Further information:

Elgin Museum