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Supply of fresh material
Dangers to consider
Kingsbarns is located on the east coast of Fife in Scotland and
provides an opportunity to find plant remains dating from the
Carboniferous period 335 million years ago. At low-tide the
retreating sea exposes a variety of fossils in situ, in particular
the roots of the Lepidodendron tree (Stigmaria)
which once grew commonly in this part of the world.
Left: Plenty of
parking is available at the beach access point. Right:
The foreshore exposed at low-tide.
Parking is available at the beach car park, from which a small
path leads to the beach (see above-left). Although fossils can be
found throughout the exposures, most are in situ and are best left
for others to enjoy too. Fortunately a small volume of loose
material at the top of the beach provides occasional finds worth
The geology of Kingsbarns
The rocks at Kingsbarns 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
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Where to look for fossils?
Unlike other collecting locations, the fossils at Kingsbarns are
not apparently obvious and visitors will need to spend some time
searching the area to find a productive spot. Fossils can be found
in situ on the exposed foreshore at low-tide and within the eroded
rock face at the top of the beach. During a single visit visitors
are likely to encounter several fossils in situ, in particular roots
belonging to the Stigmaria tree and ripple marks formed within the
Left: Plant fossils
can be found in situ on the foreshore at low tide. Right:
Fossils can also be found within lose boulders where the sea has
eroded the coast.
Due to the low frequency of situ fossils, we recommend leaving them
for others to enjoy; collecting efforts are best concentrated on the
lose boulders and pebbles located at the base of the low-cliff at
the top of the beach.
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 along this stretch of coast are the trunk
and roots of Lepidodendron trees, which appear in situ of the
foreshore. 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 below-left),
from which smaller root appendages grew. Some Lepidodendron species
could grow up to 40 metres; the roots spread horizontally,
indicating humid environments.
Left: A section of
Lepidodendron trunk in situ on the exposed foreshore.
Right: Clearly defined prehistoric ripple marks
exposed at low-tide.
Left: A beach
pebble containing a concentration of bivalve shells. Right:
The impression of a Stigmaria (tree root).
Left: A small
section of tree stem. Right: A heavily sea worn
section of Stigmaria exposed on the foreshore.
Left: A small
section of plant stem. Right: A worn fragment of
Left: A split beach
pebble containing a concentration of plant remains. Right:
The impression of a thin plant stem, possibly a juvenile
Left: A split beach
pebble containing a three part leaf. Right: A
large boulder split in half to reveal a mass of plant remains.
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
Kingsbarns. 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 rocks. 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