Warden is a small village on the north-eastern coast of the Isle of
Sheppey in Kent. Immediately northwest of the village and continuing towards
the west is Warden Point, a pinnacle of eroding
land and muddy foreshore. The following page is based on the 2 mile
stretch of coastline, encompassing Warden Point, between Warden Bay and Eastchurch Gap (Hen's Brook).
Left: The eroding
coastline has disappeared from beneath these military buildings at
Warden Point, leaving them isolated on the beach.
Right: The eroded sediment from the surrounding
area accumulates as deep mud on the foreshore. Care should be taken
to avoid the deepest areas.
Although Warden Point is unlikely to score well in a beauty
contest, the cliché 'beauty is on the inside' is very fitting, as
beyond the surface aesthetics lies a dynamic and exciting
prehistoric history. For centuries the eroding coastline around
Warden Point has provided one of the most
productive areas for the study and collection of fossils from the
London Clay. Among the finds include largely complete crustaceans, nautili, shark teeth
and bones, snake skeletons, bird skulls and a variety of land
sourced fruits and seeds, and much more.
Left: The carapace and left claw of a
Zanthopsis crab protruding from a phosphatic nodule.
Right: A Nipa palm fruit, composed of iron pyrite.
Access to Warden Point can be made on foot from Imperial Drive, at the end of which a small
gravelled car park provides free parking all year round.
Alternatively access can be made across the slumping cliffs at
Eastchurch Gap (click
Left: Parking is available in a car park alongside
Right: From the car park it's a short walk to the
beach and onwards toward Warden Point.
The geology of the Warden Point area
Figure 1: View from Eastchurch Gap, overlooking the cliffs and beach.
The London Clay appears in situ on the foreshore and in the
The London Clay exposed between Warden and Eastchurch Gap (and
onwards towards Minster) encompasses around
a million years of sedimentation, dating from the early Eocene
epoch of the Palaeogene period, 52-51 million years ago (see
geologic timescale). At this time southern England was
located approximately 40°N of the equator, 10°S of its present latitude, comparable to Spain today. The average
annual temperature across
southern England at this time was approximately 23°C, compared with
the present-day figure of around 10°C.
The prehistoric evidence reveals Kent (including the Isle of
Sheppey) lay beneath a warm, shallow sea (<100m), the nearest
significant landmass was perhaps 30+ miles away for much of this time.
As a result conditions on the seafloor were relatively undisturbed,
allowing fine particles of sediment suspended in the water column to gradually
settle; however short-term fluctuations in tidal currents and sea level
introduced sand to the area throughout this time, particularly towards
Life during the Eocene was abundant, the relatively near landmass
was covered by lush tropical vegetation and fringed by a swamp-like
environment, providing habitat for mammals, birds and insects, whilst at sea marine life flourished. The diversity of life is
represented in the fossils found at Warden
which include both marine and terrestrially sourced organisms, the
latter consisting largely of pyritised twigs, fruits and seeds, and in rare
instances insects that were transported by tidal currents. In very rare cases the fossilised remains of birds
and mammals have also been discovered.
Today the London clay exposed on the foreshore and in the cliff
is subjected to intensive scouring by the sea, replenishing the fossil material on
the beach throughout
the year. The photos below illustrate the extent of the erosion over
a 5 year period, between 2004 - 2009. Although the photos are
taken from slightly different angles (exaggerating the extent of the
retreat) it's clear that the cliff base
no longer reaches the further building (X) and that the distance of
(Y) from the cliff face has reduced significantly.
Left: Warden Point
photographed in 2004. Right: The same point
photographed in 2009, just five years later, the cliff has
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Where to look for fossils?
Fossils can be found all year round along the entire stretch of
coast around Warden Point. The eroding cliffs provide the opportunity to find in situ specimens, however it's
generally more productive to spend time
exploring the foreshore and the
wave-washed tip of collapsed cliff sections. The soft London Clay is
eroded by the sea, isolating the more erosion-resistant pyrite
and phosphatic nodules and depositing them on the beach.
Left: Searching for loose fossils among the pebbles on the foreshore.
Right: A Zanthopsis crab carapace preserved
loose phosphatic nodule.
It's worth spending some time searching through the accumulations of
pyrite debris, as a high proportion preserve the evidence
of wood, fruits and gastropods in particular; a few moments in one
spot usually yields several finds. Unfortunately however, pyrite
is highly reactive to the fluctuating humidity present in a typical family home, and consequently it's worth bearing in mind that these
fossils, especially wood and fruits, will begin to decay within a
matter of weeks. To read more about pyrite
concentration of pyrite debris, containing a high volume of fossil
Right: A Nipa palm fruit, found among a concentration of pyrite
At low-tide a large expanse of London Clay is exposed on the
foreshore, providing the best opportunity to discover in situ
specimens. Among the objects of most interest are pale-cream
phosphatic nodules that protrude above the eroding clay. Fossil
material is present in many of these nodules and in a small proportion
complete organisms are preserved, in particular crabs and lobsters.
Left: At low-tide the
in situ London Clay can be explored on the foreshore.
Right: Fossil bearing phosphatic nodules can be found protruding
from the clay.
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?
Below are a selection of finds made over several visits to
Warden Point. The best time to visit is during the winter and spring
or following stormy weather, when the beach has been churned over
and new material exposed. It's usually possible to recover one or
more phosphatic nodules containing partial or sometimes
near-complete crustaceans, however for much of the year Warden can
prove a challenge and good specimens are hard to come by.
Among the most common finds include: pyritised wood and fruits, the
internal pyrite moulds of bivalves and gastropods, and phosphatic
Left: The carapace and left claw of a
Zanthopsis crab protruding from a phosphatic nodule.
Right: The carapace and abdomen on a Hoploparia lobster, preserved as a phosphatic nodule.
Left: A lobster burrow
preserved as a phosphatic nodule, shown alongside a Hoploparia
lobster for illustrative purposes. Right: A partial
Left: An isolated fish vertebra found within slumped clay at the cliff base.
Right: Three fish vertebra fused together, found loose on the foreshore.
Left: Lucinda finds a beach-worn Striatolamia(?) shark tooth among the pebbles.
Right: A selection of shark and ray teeth, fish vertebra and a lobster tail.
Left: A large Otodus shark tooth, found loose on the foreshore.
Right: A second Otodus shark tooth, found loose on the foreshore.
Left: A heavily worn
partial nautiloid, found loose on the foreshore.
Right: The same specimen viewed from the
Left: The internal
pyrite mould of an Orthochetus gastropod, found loose on the
Right: A Eotibia gastropod, found embedded
within the slumped clay.
Left: A small Tectonatica(?) gastropod, found among
loose pyrite debris.
Right: A heavily worn internal pyrite mould of a
Left: A small (7mm) Terebratulina brachiopod, found loose on the foreshore.
Right: The pyritised tubes of the wood boring Teredo bivalve.
Left: A fragment of pyritised drift wood,
found loose on the foreshore. Right:
A pyritised twig.
Left: A fossilised
tree branch of drift wood in situ on the foreshore.
Right: A Nipa fruit, found loose among a
concentration of pyrite debris on the foreshore.
Tools & equipment
Left: Wellies are recommended as the foreshore
varies from pebbles to deep mud. Right: Clothing
suitable for the prevailing weather conditions is essential.
It's a good idea to spend some time considering the tools and
equipment you're likely to require while fossil hunting at Warden Point. 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
Hand lens: A hand lens enables the fossil hunter to enjoy the finer
details of the specimens they find. It's often remarkable how well preserved
some of the most intricate structures can be. We recommend
a lens with x10 magnification that folds away into a metal casing to protect
it from damage.
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 (or wellies): A good pair of walking boots
or wellies will
help 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