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Supply of fresh material
Dangers to consider
East Wemyss would win few awards for its attractiveness, the
foreshore is littered with bricks, machinery and construction waste
from the neighbouring area. Despite having little in the way of
natural beauty, the foreshore boulders provide an opportunity to
observe a number of carboniferous fossils, in particular sections of
Stigmaria (Lepidodendron tree roots).
Parking is available along
the neighbouring coast road, and access to the foreshore can be made
over the rocky sea defence or through the small boat yard (with
permission). For the reasons described, East Wemyss is best suited
for individual fossil collectors rather than families.
The geology of East Wemyss
The rocks exposed at East Wemyss are not in situ, they are in
fact spoil heaps - manmade accumulations of dumped rock and
rubbish from the surrounding area, probably from the construction of
roads and housing in the last century. During our recent visit we
noted a number of pieces of pottery and machinery lodged within the
many different layers; this is perhaps more of an archaeological
site than palaeontological!
Left: The remains
of a building, buried beneath several metres of spoil but exposed
more recently by the erosive forces of the sea. Right:
More eroded spoils.
The rocks that make up the spoils were formed within an expansive
delta system during the Carboniferous period (Visean stage),
approximately 335 million years ago. Much of the rock exposed today
was formed by sediment (sands and silts), carried and deposited by
rivers across the region. This period represents a great change in
the earth's history, with land plants evolving into large trees and
ferns, and amphibians, reptiles and giant flying insects inhabiting
the humid forests.
The photos above illustrate the nature of the
foreshore and reveal the rocks and rubbish deposited on many
different occasions. The right-hand picture shows a pile of orange
bricks overlying a tightly packed layer of rounded pebbles.
more information about the features and processes controlling
coastal fossil collecting locations
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Where to look for fossils?
Due to the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the exposures,
there's no single place where fossils can be observed in situ,
fossil hunting should be directed towards the boulders beneath the
low-cliff. The accumulation of boulders on the foreshore is the
result of frequent cliff falls, caused by the erosive forces of the
sea, pounding the fragile spoils.
Left: A foreshore
boulder containing two pieces of plant material visible on the
outer surface. Right: A fragment of
Lepidodendron tree root (Stigmaria).
Close examination of the foreshore boulders will reveal
fragments of plant material, although good specimens are less
uncommon. A heavy duty hammer and chisel are needed to split
prospective boulders, some of which contain well preserved pieces of
Lepidodendron roots - Stigmaria.
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
What fossils might you find?
The most common fossils at East Wemyss are fragments of tree
trunk and roots belonging to Lepidodendron. The bark is
identifiable by its characteristic diamond-shaped leaf cushions,
whereas the roots (known commonly as Stigmaria) are covered by a
series of small pits (see photo below-right), from which smaller
root appendages grew. Some Lepidodendron species could grow up to 40
metres; the roots spread horizontally, indicating humid
Left: Roy holds a
split boulder containing a well preserved Lepidodendron
root (Stigmaria) complete with smaller root appendages.
plant root. Right: A small section of tree leaf
Left: A fragment of
plant stem. Right: Another fragment of plant stem.
Left: A small
impression of a plant stem. Right: A split boulder
containing a Lepidodendron root (Stigmaria) and
scattered root appendages.
Tools & equipment
It's a good idea to spend some time considering the tools and
equipment you're likely to require while fossil hunting at East
Wemyss. 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