Dinosaur & Fossil Hunting
Find a piece of the past.
Did you know that the Isle of Wight offers some of the best chances of finding dinosaur fossils in the UK? Once upon a time, the grounds of this “Dinosaur Island” were part of a big river valley complex situated at the latitude of North Africa, where prehistoric creatures roamed the leafy lands and hid in rivers, ponds and swamps. Today, fossil hunters scour the island’s shores in search of relics of a long-ago time, while guided tours can help fossil enthusiasts search for paleopathological treasures.
Download our Guide to Fossil Hunting
What to pack, where to look, what to expect…everything you need to know about finding fossils on the Isle of Wight is in our handy guidebook. Download it and use it as your fossil-hunting companion.
What To Look For
Dinosaur bones are most often found on the Isle of Wight’s west coastline between Compton and Atherfield, and at Yaverland beach on the east coast. One of the easiest to find is a grey rock embedded with seashells – these are strewn all over the beach and require no digging. You are also likely to find fossilised wood from the forest that once stood at Hanover Point – it looks just like coal and is often layered with ‘fool’s gold’, a mineral called iron pyrites that looks like crystals of gold. They will gradually decompose into a green dust when exposed to the air, but it looks quite exciting when you first see it – especially for children.
You can also find fossilised oyster shells here on the beach. They look just like the oysters of today but are much larger, harder and often embedded in the clay or rock. They work themselves out and get taken out by the sea, washing up on the beach and looking suspiciously like common oysters until you pick them up and feel their weight. Sometimes you will find two or three stuck together.
Dinosaur bone fossils do also fall out of the cliffs and end up in the sea. The abrasive action of the other stones they get tumbled with in the sea batter these bones into fossil ‘pebbles’ that can be recognised by their consistency. They will be black or brown with evidence of the honeycomb of holes within the bone that will have filled with minerals – sometimes iron pyrites.
Look along the edge of the cliffs at the things that have just emerged or at the low water mark where new things will have been washed up by the last tide. Anything in between is likely to have been checked by other fossil hunters, and there are a lot of them on the Island.
Fossil Hunting Dos and Don’ts
- Anything above the high water mark is owned by the landowner, and for most shoreline locations, that is the National Trust.
- It’s illegal to dig fossils out of cliffs without the owner’s permission. Some guided walks have made previous arrangements with landowners, so you may have a chance at digging.
- Isle of Wight’s southwest coast is designated SSII and no digging is allowed.
- Picking up fossils on the beach is generally permitted, but be mindful of the quantities you collect. Loading up buckets and wheelbarrows is not acceptable.