It was a field day out on a Dorset beach for fossil and souvenir hunters, where a Jurassic Coast cliff landslide revealed hundreds of prehistoric fossils from about 65 million years ago.
A week ago, a massive land mass in the village of Charmouth went collapsing into the sea and brought to the surface the ancient remains of ammonites, or sea creatures now extinct. These sea mollusks, valued for their complex spiral shells, went extinct the same time that dinosaurs did.
The remains varied in size, measuring a few inches across or spanning a couple of feet in size. There were also fish and aquatic reptile fossils within layers of mud from millions of years past.
‘Biggest Fall’ In Years
"It's the biggest fall I've seen down here for years, if not the biggest,” said Tony Gill of the Charmouth Fossil Shop in an interview, recalling that he looked across the beach and realized it looked “very different” when the fossils first appeared.
Gill added that the landslide, which needs the tide to come in and wash all the remaining clay, was so massive that it would take a number of years for the larger blocks from the collapsed cliff to be eroded by the sea.
This seems to be good news for those who want more prehistoric fossils, whether locals or visitors traveling from far-flung areas to get their fossil-hunting fix.
“We’ve been here about 20 years and we have not seen anything on this scale before,” Gill said. However, he added that there’s probably a one-in-a-thousand chance of landing a big fossil.
Fossil Hunters Warned: Do Not Risk Your Life
Ancient fossils are a cool thing to own, but hunters are forewarned: do not risk life and limb for that ideal specimen.
According to Maritime and Coastguard Agency campaigns coordinator Joanne Groenenberg, the recent substantial rainfall puts some cliffs and cliff edges at risk of instability and crumbling.
People are warned to be cautious when walking across the cliffs’ top and bottom sections when taking a stroll during the holiday season. They are also asked to avoid hammering into the cliff and its rocks, but instead pick up specimens found lying on the beach.
It is also best to inform the Charmouth Heritage Coast Center for any significant discovery.
Fossil Hunts Around The World
In recent fossil sightings around the world, the remains of a 25-million-year-old flightless bird was spotted on Vancouver beach in Canada. The rare fossil, found in good condition, was identified by scientists as an unknown type of plotopterid, an extinct species that lived in the North Pacific from the late Eocene to the early Miocene periods.
In Red Deer Cave in southwest China, a recently discovered leg bone fossil was believed to be of an early human species that may have lived longer than previously thought and may have even existed along with modern human beings into the Ice Age.
The partial femur found in China exhibited characteristics linking it to the most ancient human evolutionary chain members, such as being small, narrow-shafted and with very thin outer shaft layer.
Not all experts agreed with the findings, but the authors themselves believed that as in any other case of fossil analysis, more work needs to be done to build a convincing case.
Photo: Kyle Taylor | Flickr