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Mon May 31, 2021, 01:23 AM

Salvaging Fossils on the Jurassic Coast (hakaimagazine.com)

Photos and text by Tommy Trenchard
May 26, 2020 | 1,700 words, 11 photos

The narrow blue beam of James Carroll’s head torch sweeps methodically from side to side over the gravel and rocks of Charmouth Beach in the county of Dorset on the south coast of England. It’s early January and at 5:30 p.m. already pitch dark, save for the twinkling lights of the town of Lyme Regis in the distance. Abruptly, Carroll stops, bends down, and picks up a dull gray stone the size of a grapefruit. With practiced ease, he hits it sharply with a rock hammer and the stone splits in two to reveal the perfect spiral of a 190-million-year-old ammonite embedded within.

Around 200 million years ago, this shoreline was entirely submerged by a tropical sea. The area was then around the latitude of Morocco, and its warm water supported a rich marine ecosystem filled with everything from ammonites (marine mollusks with a protective coiled shell) to ferocious 10-meter-long reptiles. Over time, the sea receded and the tectonic plate on which England sits drifted northward, but the sedimentary rocks and clay that formed the ancient seabed remained intact.

With each new storm or high tide, those rocks erode away from the steep coastal cliffs, revealing the spectacular remains of creatures that once swam in the ancient sea. The Jurassic Coast, as the region is called, stretches for 155 kilometers through Dorset and East Devon. It has been a World Heritage Site since 2001 and is renowned as one of the most extraordinary fossil-collecting sites on Earth, offering glimpses into an astounding range of geological epochs.

In some parts of the world, all fossils are considered the property of the state, and even where this is not the case, regulations can make it hard for amateur collectors to take part. But on the Jurassic Coast, fossils can be revealed one day and destroyed by pounding waves or swept out to sea the next, meaning that neither landowners nor scientists can hope to save even a fraction. This means the involvement of the general public is key to ensuring the maximum number of fossils are collected for scientific research and public viewing. A progressive collectors’ code formalizes the average person’s ability to gather fossils and has contributed to a massive surge of interest in recent years, further stoked by social media and dinosaur movies.

“The most important thing is that we save the fossils,” explains Phil Davidson of the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre, which was involved in creating the code.
more: https://www.hakaimagazine.com/videos-visuals/salvaging-fossils-on-the-jurassic-coast/

Numerous connections to pioneering amateur paleontologist (before that word was created) Mary Anning, who has been of heightened biographical interest lately -- to the extent that Kate Winslet will be portraying her in a movie soon to be released. I recently read Goodhue's 2004 biography of her, Fossil Hunter, which had a few flaws but also many insights.

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Reply Salvaging Fossils on the Jurassic Coast (hakaimagazine.com) (Original post)
eppur_se_muova May 31 OP
csziggy Jun 1 #1
hunter Jun 1 #2
eppur_se_muova Jun 1 #3

Response to eppur_se_muova (Original post)

Tue Jun 1, 2021, 12:14 AM

1. My husband and I went fossil hunting at Charmouth

We didn't find anything but when I looked at my pictures later I could see a good sized ammonite sticking out of the cliff above where we walked. It was a nice day in October and there were people and families everywhere fossil hunting. One man and his daughter were having very good luck - she'd climb partly up the cliff if she saw something that looked hopeful.

One thing I never expected since I am from Florida with our nice sandy beaches. The "beaches" there are fields of water rounded stones. Very hard to walk across and uncomfortable if you fall, which I did a couple of times.

We also went fossil hunting on the northern coast of the Cornish Peninsula at Kilvie Beach. We found nothing, but a school class came while we were there and they had much better luck finding ammonites. Another fossil hunting place is the Isle of Wight, where we spent our last day in England. The weather was wretched so we didn't even try to go to the beaches to look, but we visited Dinosaur Isle museum and Jurasic Jim Fossil shop.

Mostly I was trying to find fossils for my sister, the fossil hunter. I hope our failure inspires her to got to the UK for fossil hunting - she has an eye for finding things that other people just walk by so I am sure she'd be much more successful that we were.

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Response to eppur_se_muova (Original post)

Tue Jun 1, 2021, 01:19 AM

2. I loved the movie Ammonite, even as a "based on a true story" soap opera.

Paleontology got me back into university after I'd been "asked" to take time off twice.

Someone much like the fictionalized Mary Anning dragged me out of a very deep depression.

Fossils as therapy.


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Response to hunter (Reply #2)

Tue Jun 1, 2021, 11:22 AM

3. Apparently, that's the movie referred to in the article !

I just realized the article is dated 26 May 2020, not 2021 ! So the movie was still to be released when the article was written.

Thanks for your comments. Paleontology was my childhood hobby. By the time I got to college I had other major interests, and apparently you have to be careful which college you pick if you want to study paleontology. I'm sort of trying to pick it up as a hobby again -- hard not to when you live in the most fossiliferous state in the US.

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