School of Earth and Environmental Sciences


Dr Steve Sweetman

  • Qualifications: PhD
  • Role Title: Honorary Research Fellow
  • Address: School of Earth & Environmental Sciences University of Portsmouth Burnaby Building Burnaby Road Portsmouth PO1 3QL
  • Telephone: 023 9284 2257
  • Email:
  • Department: Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • Faculty: Science


As a sixth form student in the earliest 1970s I believe I was the first to sample the Early Cretaceous (Barremian) Wessex Formation of the Isle of Wight using bulk screening techniques in an attempt to recover small vertebrate remains. A diverse assemblage was obtained from one horizon and I planned to undertake a comprehensive study in due course. I graduated from Oxford University in 1976; BA Hons., Natural Science (Geology). However, financial considerations precluded research for a PhD and I commenced work in the commercial sector of the oil industry. In the summer of 2001 I moved back to the Isle of Wight after an absence of 25 years and there met members of the University of Portsmouth who were participating in a BBC television series entitled “Live from Dinosaur Island”. I showed them my 1970s collection, which engendered considerable interest. Hearing of my earlier intention to make a detailed study of Wessex Formation microvertebrates I was asked if as a mature student I might still be prepared to do the work. Not knowing quite how much was involved I said that I would, the university generously provided a scholarship to undertake research for a PhD, and I attained the degree and fulfilled a long held ambition in the summer of 2007.


During the course of PhD research more than 40 new tetrapod taxa and an as yet undetermined number of new fishes were recovered from the Barremian (Early Cretaceous) Wessex Formation of the Isle of Wight. This remarkable assemblage includes chondrichthyan and osteichthyan fishes, salamanders, frogs, albanerpetontids, the most diverse lizard fauna yet recorded form the Early Cretaceous, turtles, crocodiles, pterosaurs, ornithischian and saurischian dinosaurs, birds and mammals

To date I have published on four of the taxa concerned with manuscripts dealing with two more currently in review. In the short and medium term, priority will be given to publishing on the remainder of the tetrapod assemblage and its palaeobiogeographical and evolutionary significance. In addition, a number of potentially productive horizons within the Wessex Formation of the Isle of Wight have yet to be sampled due to lack of exposure. These will be monitored and samples taken when opportunities arise.

Trial samples taken from Valanginian and Hauterivian Wealden Supergroup strata of south-east England have also yielded previously unrecorded remains of small tetrapods and fragments of eggshell. This material will be reported in due course. In the longer term samples will also be taken from the Wessex Formation of mainland Britain in the hope of finding microvertebrate remains there.