CHARMOUTH JURASSIC PARK 2006
On Saturday 14th January 2006 a stretch of 100ft-high cliff collapsed, depositing an estimated 750,000 tonnes of black clay and rock on to the beach at Charmouth. It was the biggest landslip for 30 years, and the bonanza that fossil hunters had been waiting for.
This stretch of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, a world heritage site, was the birthplace of palaeontology but pickings have been relatively lean in recent years. Now the fossil hunters have vast mounds of material to search through — enough, they say, to keep them busy for years.
As soon as the cliff slumped into the sea on Saturday — trapping 17 holidaymakers on the beach (subsequently rescued by the coastguards) - the fossil hunters were putting on their boots and picking up their geological hammers, defying warnings from coastguards of the possibility of further falls and the danger of getting trapped in the sticky mud that flowed “like lava” from the cliff.
The fossil-bearing rocks will be easier to find when a series of high tides this month washes away the soft clay surrounding them, but most are too impatient to wait that long.
There is stiff competition among the serious collectors for the most productive seams. They watch in wry silence as the amateur palaeontologists bash away at stones that are no more likely to contain fossils than gold.
Plesiosaurs - marine reptile up to 5m long
Ever since 12-year-old Mary Anning pulled an ichthyosaur out of the mud in 1811 and kickstarted the whole palaeontology lark, the country around Lyme Regis has been dinosaur-central. The crumbly cliffs of the Jurassic Coast turn up an endless supply of fossils, from nightmarish monsters to sweet little seashells, and in the summer draw an endless supply of diggers seeking evidence of the ephemeral insignificance of human life, or just something nice for the mantelpiece. Less crowded in the out of season months, the coast is still favoured with more than its share of sunshine and a pub that’s a pleasure to visit whether you’ve been up to your elbows in the Mesozoic or not.
Ammonite - spiral shell of sea creatures, from less than 10cm to larger than 30cm diametre.