Searching for fossils around Compton Bay

Many people call the Isle of Wight ‘Dinosaur Island’, because it has the richest source of dinosaur remains in Europe. In fact the best place to go looking for fossils on Dinosaur Island is on our coast, in Compton Bay.

Why are dinosaurs found at Compton Bay on the Isle of Wight?
Around 125 million years ago this coast was a series of muddy lagoons, and dinosaurs roamed far and wide. They left their footprints in the mud, and sometimes when they died, their bones became fossilised.

When the sea water and strong waves erode the soft cliffs around Compton Bay, remains of dinosaurs that have been trapped for those millions of years suddenly fall down onto the beach. So far over 20 different species of dinosaur have been found here, and some of these have been found nowhere else in the world.

What should we look for?
Don’t miss the large three-toed footcasts of Iguanodon at the base of the cliffs just to the east of the car park. These are between 1 and 2 feet (300–600mm) across. They are stone now, but were formed when mud and sand filled footprints left by the dinosaurs.

Different things are being exposed all the time. The best place to look for fossils is on areas of the beach recently uncovered by the tide, amongst the loose gravel and stones. Fossilised dinosaur bones are most commonly black and shiny, with a honeycomb texture. Dinosaur teeth are sometimes found around here too, looking just like huge black teeth.

It is more common to find examples of lignite, which is fossilised wood. This is also black but it is less dense and there is no honeycomb pattern. Lignite leaves a black mark when scraped on a stone, whereas fossilised bones and flints don’t. Long ago, lightning storms caused forest fires and the charred tree remains were washed down rivers to the coast, they eventually ended up in the cliffs here as wood fossils.

Your safety and responsible searching

  • The cliffs are unstable and rocks can fall at any time, so don't try to climb them or sit too close
  • The best time to go looking for fossils is at low tide, but do keep an eye on the tide and don't get stranded
  • Rocks covered by the tide can be very slippery, so take great care
  • Leave the footcasts for everyone to enjoy
  • Never use tools such as hammers
  • No digging – we protect the cliffs and beach and our permission is needed for serious investigations
  • If you find anything that looks very interesting in the cliffs, leave it in place but photograph it and then report it so that it can be properly investigated and recorded

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

Happy searching.