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A Basic Introduction To Fossils
Where To Find Them

The map below shows the distribution of different aged rocks in Britain. It can be seen that the rocks tend to become younger as you approach the South and East of the country.

UK Rock Distribution

Wherever you live or visit in Britain there are likely to be fossiliferous rocks nearby. The exceptions are those areas where the rocks are of Pre-Cambrian age (e.g. Northern Scotland) and thus very unlikely to yield fossils; and many parts of Scotland, Wales and the West Country where even though rocks of the right age occur, they are not sedimentary but igneous or metamorphic (i.e. have been formed by intense heat and pressure) and so contain no fossils.

Even if sedimentary rocks of the right age are present they are often totally covered by topsoil or concrete and in order to collect fossils it is important that the rocks are exposed. Fossil bearing rock can often be found along the banks of streams or on the surface of rubbly fields but the two most important types of exposure in Britain are along the coast (in cliffs and ledges, etc.) and in quarries and other man-made excavations. In both places you must always be aware of personal safety. If you intends visiting a quarry it is important to ask permission first. Understandably, this is often not granted (because the rock faces and machinery are too dangerous). On the coast it is very easy to be cut off by high tides, so a knowledge of the tide times is vital. Rock falls are a constant danger where there are cliffs, as are bogs and quicksand. In the course of fossil-hunting it should rarely, if ever, be necessary to climb cliff-faces or approach too near to their bases. There is plenty to find in fallen debris.


What sort of equipment is necessary for fossil collecting? Some fossils occur in very soft clay and sand, and simply need to be prised free (perhaps with a trowel) and then washed. Most fossils, however, are found in harder beds which have to be broken to expose the specimens. To do this one requires a stout hammer; ideally a geological hammer which has a head that is flat at one end and chisel-shaped for splitting rock at the other. In addition, a selection of cold chisels (which can be acquired in most hardware stores) is very useful for more accurate removal of rock. To complete the basic fossil-collecting kit you need some wrapping material (e.g. newspaper), glue for on the spot repairs, a notebook and pen to record exactly where the fossils were found, and finally a stout bag to put everything in.

Geological Hammer

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