Charmouth fossils - how to find fossil ammonites on Charmouth beach
Fossils at Charmouth can be hard to find and it can be very frustrating, but below I will show you how I have found some great Charmouth fossils. After years of hit-and-miss success, it is surprisingly easy to find some really interesting fossils at Charmouth, and above all, the method is safe.
Its’s winter as I write this and as the winter storms approach thoughts start to lean towards fossil hunting on the Dorset coast and the hunt for those beautiful iron pyrite ammonite fossils associated with Charmouth. I say, ‘as winter approaches’, because it’s at this time of year that the coastline along Dorset takes a pounding from the winter storms. It’s this winter pounding that causes the landslides, churns up the beach and removes the layers of sand that have built up over the summer months and once this winter process starts there is no telling what you might find.
I have been collecting fossils for many years, ever since my parents would wake me up at the crack of dawn and drive me to Lyme Regis and Charlmounth. Both towns being historically known for great fossil hunting.
I like fossil Hunting at Charmouth rather than at Lyme Regis and this is due to the fossils you can find, the ease of finding the Charmouth fossils and the ease as to which you can gain access to the beach. There is also the Charmouth heritage centre, a cafe and a fossil shop right on the beach front. The Charmouth heritage center and the fossil shop display some truely amazing fossils, and I mean amazing, well worth a look.These points make Charmouth a very popular place to locate fossils and it can get busy, but rest assured, with some practice, luck and putting in the time you will find fossils at Charmouth.
Charmouth beach itself is extremely long and does get cut off by most tides. This is especially true after new rock falls, as the fallen rock and mud stretches across the beach and cuts off access as the tide rises.
In summer the sand builds up along the beach and the soft clays between the Limestone bands hardens. This along with the sun bathers and the lack of rough weather means that summer fossil hunting at Charmouth can be a fruitless task. (I have found fossils at Charmouth during the summer, but it can be VERY hard work)
Autumn and winter are by far the best months for finding Charmouth fossils and if bad weather continues into spring the fossil hunting season is extended. It is simply a matter of the rough winter weather stirring up the beach and chipping away at the cliffs. The rain from the winter storms also causes the clays and mud to move and slip down the cliffs onto the beach. All this action exposes fossils for the avid collector.
Charmouth fossils - how I find them!
Many of you might be suprised as to how I find the fossils I do at Charmouth, but it is a very simple and safe process. For many years I would travel to Charmouth beach in search of fossils. My bag would be filled with the various tools for splitting the many boulders I would come across.
Finding the ammonite fossils within the many boulders on the beach at Charmouth can be fantastic and as you split the boulder to reveal an ammonite that you are the first human to see, is fantastic. To do this you need to recognise the boulders that fall from the correct horizon in the cliffs that hang over the beach. This takes time, knowledge, practice and a lot of luck. I am not going to concentrate on this method in this hub, but will highlight a much easier way of finding Charmouth fossils.
It was out of frustration that this method of fossil hunting started to produce some lovely finds for me. A method that a number of professional fossil hunters were using and are still using to this day.
Searching the tide line at Charmouth beach
Searching the tide line at Charmouth beach and the edge of the mud flows in winter is the method I use and believe it or not, this method has produce some great fossil finds for me at Charmouth beach. This might seem an overly simple way to find fossils on Charmouth beach and a method that you would think useless with all the other fossil hunters on the beach. It's not, but once I also thought that this was a fruitless exercise and often watched other fossil hunters walking the beach with theirs heads down thinking they were wasting their time.
Using the tide line area along the beach is a simple and VERY effective way to collect Charmouth fossils, but they are two main rules you need to apply to be successful.
Firstly, it needs to be stormy, the worse the weather the better and this increases your find rate greatly. This is because the unsettled weather pounds the beach with the rough wave action churning up the sand and clays to reveal the fossils, which have fallen from the cliffs and mud flows and been buried in the beach.
Always wear boots but be prepared to get a little wet and always keep one eye on the waves as they can race up the beach, fill your wellington boots and knock you off your feet.
As mentioned, the wave action churns up the beach and as the sea water flows back down the beach, the action deposits any fossils on the beach. You have to be quick to pick up the fossil before the next wave hits the beach and washes it away.
It can be a great way to find fossils at Charmouth and after winter storms I have found it a very successful method, with a number of great fossil finds.
Secondly, start when the tide is high on the beach and as the tide starts to back off the beach, follow it down the sand. Regular visits to the beach will show you the best areas to concentrate on. These areas can change each winter depending on the rock falls and the flows of mud onto the beach. Using the tide line and the wave actions from the winter storms can be a great way to discover Charmouth fossils and you never know what will turn up.
Look out for the lumps of iron-pyrite
The winter storms also deposit a lot of other material including iron pyrite. Always check these lumps of iron pyrite as many contain small ammonites as seen in the picture below. This particular iron pytite fossil is about 6cm across with few beautiful golden ammonites. Like many of my finds these were collected as seen and just washed under water.
Can you see the ammonites in the images below - washed out by the wave action on the beach
Many of the fossils I find are picked up off the beach and need nothing more than a rinse under the tap. Can you see the ammonites in the pictures below. Both of the pictures show an ammonite that has been washed out of the sand by the wave action, waiting to be picked up.
Charmouth can produce more than ammonites
Charmouth can produce some fantastic finds, as the video below highlights.
Charmouth, situated near the old town of Lyme Regis, cliffs are made up of Jurassic sea bed material
Do you go fossil hunting at Charmouth?
Fossils can make great gifts
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© 2011 Jonathan Grimes