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24 September 2014

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Paul Newton
Paul Newton

Discovering dinosaurs and finding fossils

Paul Newton is the manager at The Dinosaur Farm Museum on the Isle of Wight. He gave us some helpful tips to get you started on your hunt for fossils and dinosaur bones on the Island...

Where to find fossils
On the Isle of Wight almost any beach will have fossils of some sort or another.  On average the cliffs surrounding the Isle of Wight erode at a rate of about one metre every year which means a lot of rocks fall down on to the beach revealing their hidden treasures.

Brook Beach
The beach near Brook Chine

Depending on where you go you’ll find different kinds of fossils. Some beaches have so many fossils in them that you almost fall over them!  Others you could look around for months and not find a thing so you have to have more specialist knowledge about the area – that all comes with experience, which of course takes time.

Where to find dinosaur remains
There are two places on the Isle of Wight. One is along the south west coast of the Island and one is a small stretch near Sandown called Yaverland.  Other places have more sea creature fossils - ammonites, seashells, sea urchins, crabs and lobsters.

Foot cast
Dinosaur foot cast at Hanover Point

Hanover Point is a great place to see dinosaur foot casts.  These are impressions of dinosaur footprints cast in rock.  At first glance they look just like a bog-standard boulder, but on closer inspection you’ll see the distinctive three-toed outline of a dinosaur footprint.  The casts fall out of the cliffs as they erode, but before you think of hunting down one of these for your mantle-piece be warned – it is an offence to remove these from the beaches as they are protected by the National Trust.

How to identify a fossil
If you’re scanning a beach and see something that looks unusual, pick it up  - it may well be a fossil! Dinosaur fossils are jet black because of the minerals that have seeped into them and they will have a honeycomb texture. The next stage is to get books about the area that will give you some pointers. 

Dinosaur Bone
Dinosaur Bone

If you think you've found something, come into the local museums to get it identified.  If it turns out to be something of scientific significance it would be an advantage for the specimen to be available to view – either as a loan or donation to one of the museums. 

What to do if you think you’ve found dinosaur remains: 
Contact the local museums or the local authority for advice and help – don’t try to dig it out with a spade!  Fossilised bones are very brittle and can easily be damaged.  There are also legal implications about digging in cliffs because the land is owned by someone and you need to get permission by the land owner before you go digging. There’s also a geological code of practice that people abide by.  You can get details of the code from the Geologists' Association.

last updated: 25/05/05
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