No. 26 hunt for fossils and bones

A girl holding up a pebble with a fossil in it on a beach in Yorkshire

Embark on a time travelling expedition and uncover clues to the secret life of animals and plants from the past. Who knows, you may discover a dinosaur. Fossil and bone hunting is mammoth fun for all the family - and it's No. 26 of our '50 things to do before you're 11¾’.

Let’s get hunting

Fossilised animals and plants can be as teeny tiny as a seed, or as gigantic as a tyrannosaurus leg bone. They can be found anywhere – even in your garden – but they’re most easily spotted near the sea shore on beaches, under rocks or by rivers. A great place to look for fossils and bones is on the Jurassic Coast (the clue is in the name), which stretches from Devon to Cornwall.

Once you’ve found a good place for your fossil and bone hunt, keep your eyes peeled for signs in the rocks of plants and animals that once lived on the earth. There’s no need to break open stones or use a special hammer – the best fossils are often discovered loose on the ground.

" I like doing rubbings of fossils and bones, and investigating where they come from and what creatures they may have once been."
- Kai Bickley

Investigate your find

So, you’ve found a fossil – now it’s time to take a closer look. Feel the weight and shape of the fossil with your hands. What do you think it was? Are there any parts missing? What lines and detail does it have? You could make a rubbing of the fossil with paper and a crayon, draw a picture or take a photograph for a memory book.

Where has it come from?

Fossils and bones are often washed across the sea, so your discovery may have travelled many miles. Use your imagination to think about the sort of land that it once lived in. Where in the world do you think it came from? How old do you think it is? And what other animals and plants did it live alongside? Ask your friends for their ideas too - it could make for a great story.

Surprise treasures

While you’re hunting for fossils and bones, don’t be surprised if you come across other treasures from the past. Experts look for natural and man-made clues in the ground to put together the jigsaw of our history. What can your discoveries tell you about the people, animals and landscapes that lived before you?

Searching for fossils and other treasures on the beach.
A family hunt for shells and fossils on a sunny beach.
Searching for fossils and other treasures on the beach.

Building a collection

It’s great to build your own fossil collection and it’s often perfectly fine to take small fossils and bones home with you. But it’s always best to check with the local area rules to see if you’re allowed to keep what you find, and let your nearest visitor centre or museum know if you uncover something special.

Make sure you check with an adult before you set off on your time travelling adventure and keep clear of any unstable rocks or cliffs.