It turns out that it’s not too difficult to go fossil hunting in Dorset. All you need is enthusiasm, a little patience and a pair of keen eyes…
Dorset is one of the best-known spots in the world for finding Jurassic period fossils. The Jurassic coastline spans all the way from Dorset to Devon in the South West and is a designated World Heritage Site due to its wealth of natural beauty and abundance of geology. However, the sad truth is, if no one collected the fossils that end up on the beach, they would just melt away, destroyed by the sea.
A span of 185 million can be found along this coastline (pretty crazy, eh)! Pictured above is the Ammonite Graveyard at Lyme Regis. Dorset, and more specifically, the beach at Lyme Regis gained World notoriety when Mary Anning found a complete example of an Ichthyosaurus (the only dinosaur specimen to have walked the Jurassic coastline) at the age of just 12!
Fossils you might find while searching along the Jurrasic Coastline:
Maybe fossil hunting is suuuuuuper uncool. (As in it literally lies somewhere on the coolness scale between stamp collecting and talking about the weather.) But then again, aren’t the ‘uncool’ things normally the most fun? After all Fossil hunting is quite literally treasure hunting of a different kind. My favourite kind. Then again, I did want to be a palaeontologist when I was growing up!
Here are some of the things you may discover on your finds! (Pictured above is a beautiful piece of an ammonite that I happened across wandering along the beach which hopefully shows you just how easy it is to find fossils if you choose to go looking for them in this beautiful part of the world).
Shell pieces: Probably the most common fossil to be found; whole shells can be pretty, though!
Belemnites: Long squid-like creatures that lived in the sea, you’ll likely only find the hard shell piece of the belemnite if you do find one of their fossils.
Ammonites: The most iconic fossil of all, the curled ammonite really is a sight to behold.
Crinoids: Belemnites and ammonites are two a penny but stumble upon a piece of crinoid and that’s where the excitement really begins. I’ve only ever found one good piece of this!
Shark tooth: So cool! Enough said…
Dinosaur bone: If you are incredibly lucky, then you might be as fortunate as Mary Anning in the Victorian era and find one of the only dinosaurs to have been found in this area of the world. Search for long enough, and you may well be rewarded!
Best beaches for fossil hunting in Dorset:
Seaton: best for belemnites. This beach is a personal favourite of mine and the place to find belemnites just lying on the beach. The position of the Seaton beach means that it is also an amazing place to watch the sunset!
Lyme Regis: best all rounder Probably the most famous of Dorset beaches, this was where Mary Anning found a dinosaur here at the age of 12 after all!
Charmouth: This is easily the best spot for finding ammonites.
Tips for fossil hunting in Dorset:
Safety: Never ever ever ever ever ever go on the beach whilst it’s raining or has just rained. The reason that there are constantly new fossils to be found is that the cliff is always eroding away and during bad weather, there are often mud slides .
Legalities: Not only is it illegal to use both power tools and hand tools to hammer the cliff, it is also incredibly dangerous and each time you do so, you are risking your life. More tips on safety can be found here.
Be prepared: Always bring your mobile phone and make sure to tell someone when you’ll be back.
Be safe: Never go when the tide is coming in.
Make friends with other fossil hunters: Speak to people. Due to the way that fossils are formed, they are only found in various parts of the beach. If you ask someone about their finds, not only are you likely to see some cool stuff and learn something new, but you are also likely to find out the best parts of the beach to search!
Bring the right tools: Although a lot of websites recommend using a hammer, they mean a specialized fossil hammer, a normal hammer will just shatter the already brittle clay and so instead I recommend using a chisel. The clay is formed in layers like a book and you can often just peel them apart using your hands.
Finally, have fun. Fossil hunting is meant to be a fun hobby! Fossil hunting truly is an art form. Don’t believe me? Go try it for yourself…