Being an unashamed geek and at the age of 48 who still gets excited at the thought of fossils and all things dinosaur (my favourite is a pachycephalosaurus), and dinosaurs with feathers, I booked a fossil walk for us on the Jurassic Coast at Lyme Regis. A fossil walk that ended up with a very surprising find as you can see in our Youtube video below!
Belemnites and Ammonites a plenty wash up on the foreshore at the beach at Lyme Regis. Paddy, our fossil walk guide, has been coming out here for 48 years and cannot remember a time when his fossil walks have not come back with a a fossil find. Lyme Regis is famous for its fossils with Mary Anning finding the sea monster, Ichthyosaurus, which means fish-lizard in Greek. Although it resembles a dolphin, the rows of razor sharp teeth suggest that life in the Mesozoic ocean was tough, not exactly Flipper the friendly dolphin. We were not going to be disappointed.
You can see the layers of rocks formed between 250 million and 65 million years ago from the Mesozoic era in three geological periods, the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. Layer upon layer of sediment formed over millions of years and we are specifically looking at Blue Lias limestone and shale layers famous for its ammonites. And above our heads, a huge ammonite in one of the layers, sat there quite happily for all those millions of years.
The best fossils are on the beach after a storm, not in the rocks and we are positively encouraged to take away finds from the beach. Otherwise they’ll be washed away, eroded and lost forever. Its illegal, and dangerous to go hammering at the rock face, and a little uncouth.
Stepping on to the beach at low tide for our fossil walk, I immediately find a belemnite, a squid like creature with a bullet shaped body, and it is this part that we find commonly on the beach as a fossil. Personally I’m after nothing less than a complete fossil of a an Ichthyosaur, Mrs Cook is probably happy with her own fossil, me. But honestly, I’m delighted to have stepped onto the beach and find something straight away. Paddy suggests that we might find the vertebrae parts of an Ichthyosaur on our walk along with ammonites, crinoids, Devil’s Toenails and perhaps even coprolite (fossilised poo!).
Carrying on with our walk, we learn it’s easy to pick up stones that look like fossils but are called beef rock, mainly because they look like beef, the white crystal line running through looking like beef and definitely not a fossil. There are plenty of rocks around with the impressions of ammonites and we also learn that weight is more important size when it come to finding fossils on the beach. Amongst the metal pieces washed up on the foreshore are pieces of iron pyrite, fools gold, when suddenly, Eureka! We start to find complete ammonites made up of iron pyrite, not just bits of ones, sat there glistening in the sand. Spotting fossils is a skill and we start to get our eye in.
Ammonites are the most widely known fossil, and with the amount we are seeing, it feels as though at one time you could have placed your hand in the sea and scooped up a handful. When ammonites were around, Britain was part of the giant supercontinent of Pangea, much warmer and nearer the equator with shallow seas. These relatives of the modern day Nautilus became extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs 65 million years ago and all that remain today are the chambered coil shells that we see lying around us. Amongst our collection we also find crinoids, smaller than the ones we have locally in the Peak District, and fossilised wood.
The Exciting Find
But the most surprising find was made by Sam, with myself and our fossil guide Paddy walking over her find completely missing it. Sat there in the sand, a small disc like object that turns out to be a medieval coin! A complete unclipped coin from Edward 1st, minted in Lincoln in either 1280 or 1281. A silver Long Cross Penny from the reign of Edward 1st! Edward Longshanks, hammer of the Scots. A penny for your thoughts indeed, we do wonder what tales this coin could tell us and where it travelled. It’s a superb find. Our guide Paddy has never found a complete coin in all his years of doing these walks. Everybody in our group was eager to see the coin and Sam laps it up, it’s not about the value, it’s about the thrill of the find. I’m proud and jealous and now she thinks she’s Indiana Jones. It is a superb find and we are both made up, making the day even better.
For our last part of the day we race the tide to visit Monmouth Beach to go and see the ammonite pavement also known as the ammonite graveyard. This layer of grey rock is famous for its large ammonites, some up to 70 cm wide from 199 million years ago. There are hundreds of them here and suffice to say you can’t hammer them out of the ground, leave them for other people to enjoy, we certainly did.
You can book a fossil walk at the Lyme Regis Museum here