One of the many large ammonites at Lyme Regis beach
|Image source: BBC|
|Ichthyosaur reconstruction, source|
My two and four year old children get excited about dinosaurs the way only young children can , which makes fossil hunting a fun activity for the whole family. Collecting and identifying fossils also helps them to learn about history, evolution, and think about the fact that dinosaurs are extinct (all big concepts for young minds). They also love collecting rocks, and my firstborn has her own rock collection.. Anyway, I believe the dinosaur fascination goes something like this:
|Seems accurate, no?|
|Nautiluses feeding on bait, image source|
There are now six living species of nautiluses (try saying that out loud without snickering!) and thanks to abundant fossil records we now that nautiloids have not evolved much during the last 500 million years. Their shells are clearly well adapted, as well as beautiful, and easily preserved in cliff faces and rock. Nautiluses may also be in danger from overfishing, although no protection exists for them at present.
|Black Ven, found along the Jurassic Coast|
The most famous fossil beaches in England are on The Jurassic Coast in East Devon and Dorset, the Isle of Wight and the east Coast of Yorkshire. Since I live in Devon, I tend to frequent The Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. If you're able to get there, Charmouth on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast is ideal for first-timer fossil hunters, as the beach is abundant with ammonites and belemnites that are around 190 million years old - you just need keen eyes and a bit of patience to find them. Jurassic squid and dinosaur bones can also be found, although a guided walk is the best way to learn to identify them, at least initially.
Generally the best sites to fossil hunt are coastal, but if you can't get to the sea easily there are other excellent geological sites worth exploring: check out this guide by the UK Fossils Network to find an area that is near enough to visit - or somewhere to take a fossil finding holiday!
When to Go
You might expect fossil hunting to be the perfect summer activity, and certainly there are treasures to be found year round, but best time to go hunting is actually between November and April. Winter storms help to expose previously hidden fossils,
Be mindful of the tide when you're out there, though: Charmouth for example becomes inaccessible when the tide is fully in. Lyme Regis is a good place to go at any time, and is also my favourite location to take children since it's near toilets and food sources, whereas Charmouth is a hilly walk from both. It's always good to read up on a location before going out there with children, and take along a notepad of tidal times.
What You'll Need
|A chisel can be useful for getting a better look at small fossils|
|Fossil hunting instructions are often stated on site|
I try not to go on any expedition with my children without taking along relevant books for them. Books help to develop interests and understanding, enrich learning experiences, and what more can I say, they're books! (I love books.) At the moment our favourites to take fossil hunting are The Fossil Girl by Catherine Brighton, and Stone Girl Bone Girl by Laurence Anholt. Both of these books are about Mary Anning, one of the world's best-known fossil hunters, but each book tells a slightly different story about her life, which is why they're current favourites: the discrepencies lead to questions about what the truth is. Mary was born and raised in Lyme Regis on the Jurassic Coast, where she found and excavated a complete ichthyosaur as a child, in 1810/11. She went from living in poverty to becoming a renowned geologist, and is therefore a fascinating person to learn about.
|Reading about Mary Anning and her fossils|