Penarth Fossil Hunting

One of my Christmas presents from Karen this year was a fossil hunting kit comprising of a geological hammer, chisels and a stiff canvas bag into which I can stash my finds. Although in jest I think she is already worrying that it could be a gift that she might regret. 

We’re lucky here in South East Wales to live close to many beach areas where fossils are abundant. We’ve come across a few while walking =sections of the Wales Coastal path finding shells, ammonites and even dinosaur footprints. Not of which we were able to bring home, carrying heavy rocks on a 12 mile stomp along the coast is not top of my list of activities. So where did we go first? A quick 10 m minutes on the internet and flicking through my library suggested Penarth as the closest and most likely place where we would find something. OK it may not be Jurassic Park, but it will do for me. What can you expect when Steven Spielberg does come for tea when invited?

Bright pink boulders of pink gypsum that have fallen out of the cliff face as it erodes.

20 minutes later we whipped into the last parking place on the seafront and were sitting having a cup of coffee on Penarth Pier. Well you have to  prepare properly for an expedition wrestle with the elements. Fossils have been found all along this part of the coast, including dinosaur teeth, gastropods and ammonites. However in 2014 two brothers, Rob and Nick Hanigan, hit the jackpot so to speak, when they  found the fossilised bones of a dinosaur. That had fallen out of the cliff face onto pebble and boulder beach below. The remains represent approximately 40% of the skeleton and it turns out to be a genus and species of dinosaur. It has been named Dracoraptor hanigani. Which loosely translates as ‘Dragon Thief, from Dracoraptor and hanigani honours the two  brothers. The fossil was found in early Triassic rocks, and associated with marine animals suggesting that the body was originally washed out to sea where it sank. Its occurrence close to the base of the Blue Lias Formation (Lower Jurassic, Hettangian) makes it the oldest known Jurassic dinosaur and it represents the first dinosaur skeleton from the Jurassic of Wales. It is now on display at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.

The cliffs to the east of Penarth showing the different layers of sedimentary rocks and the rock falls that occur regularly along here.

The cliffs back the pebble beach of Penarth is fascinating to look at. The almost perfect cake layers of different types of rocks. The old rocks are red mudstones initially deposited in a temporary lake on the edge of a desert during the late Triassic and early Jurassic period. These are followed by a series of green and yellow mud stones, deposited in shallow brackish water then later on in a shallow sea. Higher up a layers of black shale, thin limestones, mudstones then  sandstones. All of these have different fossils, and it was from these  layers that had fallen to the shore that Aunty and I hoped to find something interesting.   

What may be Liostrea. One of the bivalves, somewhat similar to Oysters today. These were by far the most common fossils we came across, and these were the only ones we could lift.

Walking over the large pebbles, or should they called small boulders, was not easy. Especially as receding tide left the shore slippery with mud. We kept well away from the cliffs themselves, with evidence of frequent and possibly recent cliff falls, our initial attempts at palaeontology was accompanied by regular sounds of small stones tumbling down to the beach. 

Karen found a couple of these, probably Chlamys, scallop relative. It looks very similar to smaller scallops that can be found on the beaches today.

To say that there were a few fossils would be very much an understatement. So many of the pebbles and boulders showed evidence of fossilised remains. Though it took a while to find something we could pick top and carry. It turns out that Aunty should be retitled as “Fossil Finder in Chief”. The best finds were down to her alone and after an hour we staggered back to the car with our finds. Not sure what we are going to do with them though. If we’r e not careful the garden will become a rock garden.

28 Dec 2019

2 thoughts on “Penarth Fossil Hunting

  1. You should come over to England Paul …the Aust cliffs are just on the other side of the bridge. However my favourites are the Somerset coal measures …Radstock sort of area. Just outside Bristol there is Dundry quarry, Portishead is also great. Best Terry.


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