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?
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 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.
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.
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