Fossils teach us about prehistoric life. Along the Jurassic Coast fossils help to show how life adapted and changed as 185 million years slowly passed.
Here we find early dinosaurs and pterosaurs, forests that grew before the first flowers appeared, and giant marine reptiles more powerful and ferocious than any T-Rex.
There are so many amazing fossils along the Jurassic Coast that it would take a long time to go through them all. Below is a summary of the major groups, to give you an idea of how diverse and abundant our fossils are. Take a look at the Fossil Finder database to see some more examples of fossils from these groups.
Lobsters don’t just make a delicious dinner; they also make fantastic fossils. These animals haven’t changed very much over millions of years and would have lived as they do today, scavenging and hunting on the seabed for food.
‘Spiny skinned’ (echinoderm) creatures like starfish and sea urchins are another survivor through time. Their delicate fossils look almost identical to their modern counterparts. Generally they come from rocks that formed in shallow seas. Their cousins, the crinoids, look like beautiful plants when fossilised whole and are sometimes called sea lilies.
Our amazing fish, shark and ray fossils span the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. They help us understand the ancestry of modern fish species alive today.
Some of the most surprising fossils found along the Jurassic Coast are insects. This includes beetles, flies, dragonflies and even grasshoppers.
They are only fossilised in a few rock layers where the sediment was fine enough to preserve their delicate bodies.
Some of the rarest fossils on the Jurassic Coast come from ancient mammals. We only find mammal fossils here from the middle of the Jurassic Period and the beginning of the Cretaceous period and they are generally just tiny teeth! Even so, they are internationally important as evidence of the evolution of mammals.
Molluscs and Brachiopods
Molluscs and brachiopods include some of the most common fossils like clams, sea shells and belemnites and also some of the most beautiful like sea-snails, nautilus and ammonites. Generally they are the remains of marine creatures and so are only found here in Jurassic and Cretaceous aged rocks.
Flowering plants didn’t appear until early in the Cretaceous period, so most of the fossilised plants from the Jurassic Coast are conifers, cycads, tree ferns and horsetails. There is one very famous layer of limestone on the Jurassic Coast where fossil trees are found. We call it the Fossil Forest. It is exposed on the cliffs near Lulworth Cove but was also quarried on Portland in the past. As a result Portland Museum has one of the most important collections of fossil cycads in the world.
Reptiles and Amphibians
The Mesozoic Era is known as the Age of Reptiles, as it is when they came to totally dominate animal life on Earth. The Jurassic Coast is one of the most important sources of Jurassic reptile fossils in the world, including ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, giant pliosaurs and even a unique dinosaur called Scelidosaurus. Along with these creatures there are giant amphibians from the Triassic period and pterosaurs, crocodiles and dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period, all coming from different parts of the coast. Why have one globally important source of fossils when you can have several?
Burrows, tracks and trails are probably the most common fossils on the Jurassic Coast. They can be used to help reconstruct seabed habitats and even provide evidence of the recovery of marine ecosystems after the mass extinction at the end of the Triassic period. Dinosaur tracks are quite common in certain rock layers. You can see some of these on display at the Dorset County Museum.