Dorset’s Jurassic Coast is any budding palaeontologist’s paradise. The World Heritage Site spans 95 miles of coastline, stretching from Exmouth in Devon to Dorset’s Studland Bay. Cliff erosion has gradually revealed 185 million years of Earth’s history, including an abundance of fossilised plants, molluscs, insects and reptiles. If you’re staying at the charming Acorn Inn or Summer Lodge it’s just half an hour’s drive to Charmouth Beach, the gateway to the Jurassic Coast and one of the best places to go fossil-hunting in Dorset.
If you fancy exploring the geological wonders and ancient history of Dorset’s rugged coastline, here are some essential tips on how to become a fossil-hunting expert.
Get Kitted Up
No respectable palaeontologist would be without the correct tools to hunt for ancient ammonites. First and foremost, you’ll need a small geological hammer to gently remove earth and matter from around the fossil, taking care not to disturb the surrounding land. Then, be sure to take safety goggles to protect your eyes, durable transparent bags to transport your fossils in, a camera to document your finds and their location plus a notebook to record them.
Only collect loose fossils you find on the floor, amongst sand or pebbles, in rock pools or low tide. Chipping away into a cliff face or digging deep into the ground only harms the landscape.
While searching for fossils on unpredictable terrain, it’s important to be mindful of the environment and its potential hazards. Stay away from sheer cliff edges, and go out at low tide only. When on the beach, avoid getting close to sheer or near-vertical cliff faces in case of falling rocks.
Where to Look?
The best places to find fossils along Dorset’s Jurassic Coast are underneath boulders, where you’re likely to find them trapped between pebbles and under loose shingle on the beach. There are plenty of rocky stretches from Charmouth to Weymouth to explore.
What to look for?
Some of the most common fossils found are ammonites; the spiral shaped whorls resembling a snail. An ancient marine mollusc living around 100 million years ago, they’re easy to find and identify. ‘Devil’s toenails’ resemble a fossilised claw but were once sea-bed dwelling oysters. Belemnites are bullet-shaped squids related to modern-day cuttlefish, but are 66 million years old.
Take a Guided Expedition
Fossil hunting first-timers would benefit from a guided expedition to be shown the ropes when it comes to discovering timeworn geological treasures. Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre organise these and you’ll learn how to identify fossil types as well as the best ways to locate them.
Love your Labels
Once you’ve made some exciting discoveries it’s time to record your growing collection. Be sure to label your finds with their full scientific name (i.e. ‘Macrocephalites sp’), the type (i.e.: left jaw bone), the date you found it, and the location you found it.
Hunt in Winter
Choppy seas and rougher weather make for great fossil hunting opportunities as they expose what’s beneath the top layers of sand and earth. The day after a storm is the perfect time to go on a search for fossils.
If you’ve been inspired to delve deeper into our remote past by hunting fossils, a stay at the charming Acorn Inn or Summer Inn in the picturesque village of Evershot makes the perfect base to explore Dorset’s Jurassic Coast.