Visit to Lyme Regis

With the first of the May day Bank holidays approaching, some members of the Everything Dinosaur team took the opportunity to visit Lyme Regis in Dorset, part of the “Jurassic coast”.  This part of the coastline of East Devon and Dorset has held UNESCO World Heritage Site status since December 2001.  This stretch of beach and cliffs extends for approximately 95 miles, explorers can travel back in time to the Triassic on the Devon side, with the spectacular red sandstone cliffs laid down in a desert environment at places like Orcombe Rocks.  As visitors head eastwards the geological formations exposed on the coast become progressively younger, in fact if you were to travel along the entire length of the UNESCO site you would eventually reach Old Harry Rocks, the fabulous chalk stacks, formed as the sea works its way into weaknesses in the chalk strata.  These were formed at the end of the Mesozoic, during the Cretaceous period which ended 65 million years ago.

In essence, visitors can experience 185 million years of the history of the Earth on this part of the south coast of England.

For Everything Dinosaur staff, a few days in and around Lyme Regis was planned.  With the cancellation of the Fossil Festival, they had a some days in the calendar already booked to visit the area, so why not spend the time visiting old fossil hunting friends and doing a bit of fossil hunting on the beaches themselves.

Before setting out to explore Monmouth beach (to the east of Lyme Regis), the team visited  the grave of Mary Anning.  Mary Anning (1799-1847) lived all her life in Lyme Regis, she was a pioneering fossil collector, perhaps she could be regarded as the world’s first professional fossil collector.  The continual slipping and erosion of the sea cliffs around the town exposed fossils all the time and in 1810, when Mary was only 11 years old she helped collect one of the first articulated specimens of an Ichthyosaur.  In 1824 she discovered the first articulated Plesiosaur and four years later she found the remains of the first British Pterosaur.

Her discoveries were sold to many institutions and wealthy individuals and although largely shunned by the male dominated world of science during her life time; her work in the fields of palaeontology and geology is now recognised and she is held in high regard.

Mary died in 1847, her grave can be found on the landward side of the little church (St Michael’s church) which sits on a hill overlooking the beaches and the Philpot museum, which was built on the site of Mary’s house and fossil depot.

The Grave stone of Mary and her brother Joseph Anning

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The engraving is hard to make out now, like most things in and around Lyme Regis the writing has suffered from erosion.  The inscription reads:

“Sacred to the memory of Joseph Anning who died July 5th 1849 aged 53 years.  Also of three children who died in their infancy also of Mary Anning sister of the above who died March 9th 1847 aged 47 years”.

The churchyard is well worth a visit, it is very peaceful and quiet and an appropriate place to reflect on how our knowledge of the world has changed since Mary’s time.

We have written a number of articles about Mary Anning, click on the link below to read an article written on 9th March this year, the anniversary of her death:

In Memory of Mary Anning

Her true memorial is the collection of fossils which are on display as national treasures in places such as the Natural History museum in London, many specimens are still used in research today.

Sometimes, whilst we are scanning the beach for fossils we get asked by tourists why after 200 years of fossil hunting are there still fossils to be found?  This part of the Jurassic coast is being constantly eroded by storms and high tides. The cliffs surrounding Lyme Regis are very unstable and many landslides occur.  These natural forces are constantly depositing fresh material on the beaches.  If the shoreline was not constantly searched any fossils recently exposed would soon be destroyed by the natural processes that exposed them.

Over the weekend, our team members explored Monmouth beach to the east of the town finding one or two nice Ammonite fossils.  About 3/4 of a mile outside the town visitors to the beach at low tide can see the famous “Ammonite Graveyard” an area of Blue Lias pavement that is full of fossils of Ammonites, mainly from the genus Coroniceras.  There are two main theories put forward as to why such a large number of one type of Ammonite are found fossilised together, perhaps this is fossil evidence of a mass death after mating.  Alternatively, the “graveyard” could have been formed as a result of a local extinction event, perhaps an algal bloom occurred changing the environment and killing off this one type of Ammonite, the bodies of the dead and dying creatures settled together in a still, shallow area of sea and became fossils producing the spectacular fossil bed that can be seen today.

The Ammonite Graveyard on the Foreshore of Monmouth Beach

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture shows a small section of the famous Ammonite graveyard on Monmouth beach, these fossils can be found in the Blue Lias pavement that is exposed at low tide.

It is certainly an awesome sight, occasionally the odd fool hardy visitor will try to remove a fossil.  It is virtually impossible to do so without destroying the specimen, these fossils are best left in situ so that everyone can enjoy them.

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