By Grace Paget, science writer and interim communications officer for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
Fossil hunting is a hobby that can be engaged in by all, expert or enthusiast you just need to know where to go and what to look out for!
If you fancy a day at the beach the Jurassic Coast is a good place to begin. Ammonites are a common find on the pebble-covered shores of Dorset.
Fossils are the remains or impression made by prehistoric plants or animals created when bones, shell or traces of indentation are embedded in rock and preserved. Usually, fossils form when remains are quickly buried so that they are limited from the decay and decomposition processes. Fossilisation, in most cases, occurs when the remains are preserved in sediments underwater and gradually washed up after being untouched for hundreds of millions of years. This is why we often find fossils around coastal areas.
For beginners, a comfortable pair of walking shoes and an identification booklet should be adequate to get started with. Going out with an organised group or more experienced adult fossil hunter would be a good idea for your first excursion but if you do decide to venture out alone be sure to check for any restrictions placed on fossil hunting on the land, be vigilant for falling rocks and uneven surfaces and very importantly, make sure you are aware of the tide timetables- you don’t want to find yourself stuck at sea!
If you’re feeling confident and have enough time to spend analysing the rock, turn over as many rocks and stones as you can as you never know where signs of fossilisation might be hiding. This is where an identification booklet would come in handy as it may help you to recognise some of the tell-tale signs on the surface and what type of rock they are most likely to be found in.
It is often thought that the most fossils are found adhered to larger rock formations at the bottom of cliff edges however; fossils can be distributed across a wide range of areas and in fossil rich areas they can be found in the same random nature in which they washed up! For beginners it may not be such a good idea to go chipping away at large cliff areas as it can be dangerous. Fossils can also be discovered further inland as well as around coastal areas although many people tend to focus on the latter.
If you are lucky enough to find any fossils, dust off the rock so that it can be analysed more closely and if you are going to become a collector make sure you record the following details:
- The date the fossil was found
- Where the fossil was found (site and location)
- The type of rock it was found in
- The name of the fossil found
Some museums offer services which help you to identify and analyse fossils such as the Natural History Museum’s online forum.