Fossils

Fossils are the preserved remains or traces of prehistoric animals and plants found in sedimentary rocks. A fossil could be a bone, a shell or leaf but it could also be a footprint or burrow. In fact, any preserved evidence of the activity of prehistoric life on the planet could be considered a fossil. There is no clear definition of how old something has to be to be classified as a fossil but it's fair to say that anything older than 1 million years is a safe bet.

The fossils of the Jurassic Coast come from rocks that formed between 250 and 65 million years ago. This part of Earths history is known as the Mesozoic Era – the 'middle ages' of life on Earth - and is split into to three geological periods:

  • Triassic
  • Jurassic
  • Cretaceous

The Jurassic Coast is designated a World Heritage Site partly because the rocks form an almost complete record of the Mesozoic Era. The fossils trapped in those rocks are the record of life during that time, giving us glimpses at lost habitats, vanished ecosystems and the slow evolution of life on Earth. This is one of the most exciting stories from the Jurassic Coast and, with new discoveries made almost every year, it is one that is still developing.

Fossil Finder

The Fossil Finder is a database of almost 1,000 fossils from museums in Dorset and East Devon. Most specimens were found on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.

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Where to find fossils

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The best place to look for fossils is on the beach at Charmouth. There is a great Visitor Centre there which offers guided fossil walks and shows you how to find fossils on the beach.

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Beach Safety and The Fossil Code

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Be safe while you're on the beach, walking along the coast path or collecting fossils.

The Fossil Collecting and Beach Safety Guide leaflet and the full Fossil Collecting Code are also available to download.

 

Read more: Beach Safety and The Fossil Code

The Mesozoic world

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The vast time scales involved in Earth's history are difficult to grasp. The time spiral below is one way of showing the major events in the evolution of life. The Mesozoic Era is the time that fossils from the Jurassic Coast come from.

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How fossils are formed

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Fossils are the preserved remains or traces of prehistoric animals and plants found in sedimentary rocks. A fossil could be a bone, a shell or leaf but it could also be a footprint or burrow.

Read more: How fossils are formed

Weymouth Bay Pliosaur

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This fossilised skull is one of the largest and best preserved examples of a Pliosaur ever found in the world.

Read more: Weymouth Bay Pliosaur