1968-1989: David Dineley

Noted expert on fossil fishes, stratigraphic methods, and the Devonian Period

Professor David Lawrence Dineley (1927-2022) was Chaning Wills Professor and Head of Department from 1968 to 1989. He is best known for his fundamental work on early fossil fishes and on Devonian stratigraphy, on which he wrote many scientific papers and books (e.g. Dineley 1974, 1977, 1979, 1984).

He studied for a BSc in Geology at the University of Birmingham (1948), and also earned his PhD there in 1951,for a thesis on the fish-bearing Lower Old Red Sandstone in the Welsh Borderlands. He then took up a post at what was soon to become the University of Exeter, with a short spell of employment by the University of Bristol in 1959-1960. It was at Exeter that he began exploring stratigraphic correlation across the different facies of the Devonian, in Devon and elsewhere.

Although he had already left Birmingham by then, Dineley’s participation in the University of Birmingham’s 1951 scientific expedition to Spitsbergen engendered a lifelong love of Arctic regions. He co-led two further expeditions to Spitsbergen, also in collaboration with University of Birmingham (in 1954 and 1958) before relocating to Canada to take up a post at the University of Ottawa in 1960.

In Canada, Dineley worked extensively on Devonian rocks and early vertebrates and led or participated in a number of expeditions to the Canadian Arctic Islands, as well as to Nova Scotia. He also conducted fieldwork in collaboration with various companies exploring for oil and gas in Canada. He was Head of the Department of Geology in the University of Ottawa from 1966-1968, before returning to the UK to take up the Chair in Geology at Bristol.

While Head of Department at Bristol, numbers of staff and students increased, as did his administrative activities. Early in his tenure, Dineley initiated and directed the “Sabrina Project”, an interdisciplinary study of the Severn Estuary involving the Science and Engineering faculties that raised the prospect of harnessing the Severn for tidal power, while increasing our understanding of its estuarine ecosystem (Dineley & Smith 1975). He was Dean of the Faculty of Science (1976-1979) and, later,Pro Vice-Chancellor (1984-1987), posts held at that time in parallel with continuing as Head of Department.

Throughout this time, Dineley maintained his links with the University of Ottawa, participating in several return trips to the Arctic Islands to collect fossil fishes. He also travelled widely, examining and reporting on Devonian rocks across the globe in his work for the Devonian Subcommission of the International Committee on Stratigraphy.

After he retired in 1990, Professor Dineley continued his researches on the Devonian and its fishes, as well as writing and editing a number of geological books. One of his largest retirement tasks was to contribute a staggering 134 articles to the ‘The Oxford Companion to the Earth’ in 2000 – he covered everything about stratigraphy, his great love, as well as historical individuals, and all the articles nobody else would take on, such as and ‘Music and the Earth sciences’ and ‘Geological humour’.

David and his wife Nancy moved to St Monica Trust retirement home, where she sadly died in 2013. David lived on there, and was an unlikely star of a 2017 Channel 4 programme ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds.’ Before the children arrived, he expressed his doubts about how he and fellow residents would respond to the boisterous youngsters, but they soon had him reading stories and taking part in races on the lawn. After some ill health, David died in May 2022.

He is remembered in the David Dineley Prize awarded each year to the best thesis by a student of the MSc in Palaeobiology.

Read more

Dineley, D. L. 1964. Armour plated and jawless Devonian fish. Natural History 73, 48-53.

Dineley, D.L. 1974. Earth’s Voyage through Time. Random House, London, New York, 320 pp.

Dineley, D.L. 1977. Rocks. HarperCollins, London, 160 pp.

Dineley, D.L. 1979. Fossils. HarperCollins, London, 176 pp.

Dineley, D.L. 1984. Aspects of a Stratigraphic System: the Devonian. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 220 pp.

Dineley, D.L. and Loeffler, E.J. 1976. Ostracoderm faunas of the Delorme and associated Siluro-Devonian formations, North West Territories, Canada. Special Papers in Palaeontology 18, 1-214.

Dineley, D.L. and Metcalf, S.J. 1999. Fossil Fishes of Great Britain. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough, 675 pp.

Dineley, D.L. and Smith, D.I. 1975. The Sabrina Project: University of Bristol. An environmental study of the Severn Estuary. Chemosphere 1, 41-45.

Hancock, P.L., and Skinner, B.F. (editors) 2000. Oxford Companion to the Earth. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1184 pp.