Durlston Bay is much less publicised for its fossils than many
other locations along the Dorset coast, despite yielding some very
good specimens over the years. Good finds are reliant on recent
cliff falls, at which time visitors to the area can hope to find a
range of fossils. It's worth noting that this is not a family
destination, aside from the heightened risk of cliff falls, the type
and volume of fossils is more suited to experienced fossil hunters.
Left: Parking is
available in the surrounding roads. Right: Access
to the beach is made beneath the Coast Guard tower.
Local roads on the hill-top provide plenty of parking and easy
access to the coast. Follow the public footpath down the grassy
hill until you reach the Coast Guard tower at Peveril Point, from
here it's possible to climb over the rocks to the foreshore.
The geology of Durlston Bay
Durlston Bay represents a transition between the Jurassic and
the Cretaceous periods. During this time a large lagoon stretched
along the coast; on the land were large numbers of dinosaurs and
mammals, and in the shallow waters were crocodiles, sharks, fish and
Detailed stratigraphy of Durlston Bay
in 2007, adapted from Dr Ian West's stratigraphic diagram
The close proximity of the land and sea gave rise to brackish water
(saltier than fresh water, but not as salty as seawater), this is
evidenced by concentrations of the freshwater pond snail
Viviparus, interspersed with the salt water mollusc Corbula.
Much of this page is dedicated to the fossils found within the Upper
Purbeck Beds, which date from approximately 140 million years ago.
Where to look for fossils?
Fossils can be found from the moment you step on to the beach and
continue for several hundred meters to the south. Because many of
the fossils are small it's necessary to pay close attention to the
rock surfaces for even the slightest sign of a fossil within.
During our recent visit a large portion of the cliff had collapsed
only a few days earlier, depositing a large volume of fresh material
on the beach; therefore it's worth mentioning that the abundance
portrayed by the following photos is not representative of the
Left: Taking a
moment to become familiar with the surroundings. Right:
A recent cliff collapse deposits fresh Upper Purbeck rock on the
Left: Fragments of
the Upper Purbeck Beds packed with fossils. Right:
Close-up of the fossil bearing rock.
Occasionally fossil rich sections of the Upper Purbeck Beds are
deposited on the beach, these are known to contain some truly
excellent bones and teeth. Experienced fossil hunters will be able
to identify these fragments by the concentration of small pieces of
fossil wood, bones, shells etc. Breaking these rocks apart is a
tough job, but persistence may pay off. Although this technique is
recommended, we'd ask inexperienced visitors to avoid hacking apart
the foreshore sporadically!
On his website, Dr Ian West describes
the Upper Purbeck as representing '...the marginal deposits of a
lake with pond snails, freshwater bivalves and ostracods, where
plant debris and remains of fish and crocodiles were washed into the
shallow marginal areas.' For further reading please visit
As with all coastal locations, a fossil hunting trip is best timed to coincide
with a falling or low-tide. For a relatively low one-off cost we
recommend the use of Neptune Tides software, which provides
future tidal information around the UK. To download a free trial
Alternatively a free short range forecast covering the next 7 days
is available on the BBC website
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What fossils might you find?
The most commonly found fossils are teeth belonging to fish and
crocodiles, although the latter is significantly less abundant.
Other finds include bivalves, fragments of turtle carapace,
crocodile scutes and isolated fish bones.
concentration of small bivalves. Right: A small
tooth, presumably belonging to a Hybodus shark.
Left: A splendid
crocodile tooth (Goniopholis?). Right:
Left: A partly
damaged root of a crocodile tooth (Goniopholis?). Right: Close-up.
Left: A small
crocodile tooth (Goniopholis?). Right:
Left: A fragment of
turtle shell. Right: A large fragment of turtle
Right: A fragment of
a shark's fin-spine (Hybodus). Right:
An isolated fish skull bone.
Left: A boulder
surface containing dozens of tiny fish teeth (Lepidotes). Right: Close-up.
Left: A fragment of
turtle carapace. Right: A second fragment of turtle
Tools & equipment
Left: A hammer,
chisel and strong bag are essential for fossil hunting. Right:
A robust pair of walking boots are recommended.
It's a good idea to spend some time considering the tools and
equipment you're likely to require while fossil hunting at
Durlston Bay. Preparation in advance will help ensure your visit is
productive and safe. Below are some of the items you should consider
carrying with you. You can purchase a selection of geological tools
and equipment online from
A strong hammer will be required to split prospective rocks. The
hammer should be as heavy as can be easily managed without causing
strain to the user. For individuals with less physical strength and
children (in particular) we recommend a head weight no more than
Chisel: A chisel is required in conjunction with a
hammer for removing fossils from the rock. In most instances a
large chisel should be used for completing the bulk of the work,
while a smaller, more precise chisel should be used for finer work.
A chisel founded from cold steel is recommended as this metal is
especially engineered for hard materials.
Safety glasses: While
hammering rocks there's a risk of injury from rock splinters
unless the necessary eye protection is worn. Safety glasses ensure any splinters are deflected away from the eyes. Eye
protection should also be worn by spectators as splinters can
travel several metres from their origin.
Strong bag: When considering the type of bag to use it's worth setting aside
one that will only be used for fossil hunting, rocks are usually
dusty or muddy and will
make a mess of anything they come in contact with. The bag will also
need to carry a range of accessories which need to
be easily accessible. Among the features recommended include: brightly coloured,
a strong holder construction, back
support, strong straps, plenty of easily accessible pockets and a rain cover.
Walking boots: A good pair of walking boots will
protect you from ankle sprains, provide more grip on
slippery surfaces and keep you dry in wet conditions. During your
fossil hunt you're likely to encounter a variety of terrains so
footwear needs to be designed for a range of conditions.
For more information and examples of tools and equipment
recommended for fossil hunting
or shop online at
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Protecting your finds
It's important to spend some time considering the best way to
protect your finds onsite, in transit, on display and in storage.
Prior to your visit, consider the equipment and accessories you're
likely to need, as these will differ depending on the type of rock,
terrain and prevailing weather conditions.
wrapped in foam, ready for transport. Right:
A small compartment box containing cotton wool is ideal for
separating delicate specimens.
When you discover a fossil, examine the surrounding matrix (rock)
and consider how best to remove the specimen without breaking it;
patience and consideration are key. The aim of extraction is to
remove the specimen with some of the matrix attached, as this will
provide added protection during transit and future handling;
sometimes breaks are unavoidable, but with care you should be able
to extract most specimens intact. In the event of breakage,
carefully gather all the pieces together, as in most cases repairs
can be made at a later time.
For more information about collecting fossils please refer to the
following online guides:
Fossil Hunting and
Conserving Prehistoric Evidence.
Join us on a fossil hunt
Left: A birthday party with
a twist - fossil hunting at
Right: A family hold their prized ammonite at Beachy Head.
Discovering Fossils guided fossil hunts reveal evidence of life that
existed millions of years ago. Whether it's your first time fossil
hunting or you're looking to expand your subject knowledge, our fossil
hunts provide an enjoyable and educational experience for all. To find