Searching for fossils around Compton Bay

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The Isle of Wight is sometimes referred to as ‘Dinosaur Island’ because it has the richest source of dinosaur remains in Europe. The best place to go looking for fossils is on our coastline in Compton Bay.

Why here?

Some 125 million years ago this coast was a series of muddy lagoons where dinosaurs roamed. They left their footprints in the mud and their bones gradually became fossilised when they died.

As the soft cliffs around Compton Bay erode because of water and wave action, dinosaur remains that have been trapped for millions of years fall down onto the beach. Over 20 different species of dinosaur have been recorded here, and some have been found nowhere else.

What to look for?

Don’t miss the large three-toed footcasts of Iguanodon at the base of the cliffs opposite the Thimble sea mark.

Fossil bones are most commonly black and shiny with a honeycomb structure. Dinosaur teeth are sometimes found, too.

Lignite (fossilised wood) is also black but less dense with no honeycomb. It leaves a black mark when scraped on a stone, whereas bones and flints don’t. Lignite is the commonest fossil on the beach. Lightning caused forest fires and the charred tree remains were washed down rivers to the coast.

Responsible collecting and your safety

  • Leave the footcasts for everyone to enjoy
  • Do not use tools such as hammers
  • No excavation – we protect the cliffs and beach so our permission is needed for serious investigations
  • Leave in place but report any significant finds to ensure that they can be properly recorded
  • The cliffs are unstable and rocks can fall at any time, so do not attempt to climb or sit too close
  • Rocks covered by the tide can be very slippery: take great care
  • Keep an eye on the tide, and remember the best time to go looking is at low tide

Find out more

See the Dinosaur Isle and DinoWight websites for much more about geology and the dinosaurs themselves, and who to contact if you find something really interesting.

Happy searching.