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No. 26 Hunt for fossils and bones

Admiring fossils in the Geological gallery at Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire
Admiring fossils in the Geological gallery at Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire | © National Trust Images/Trevor Ray Hart

Embark on a time-travelling expedition and uncover clues to the secret life of animals and plants from the past. Who knows, you may even 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’.

Keep safe

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.

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 seashore 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 – you’ll often discover the best fossils loose on the ground.

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.

A child's hands cup a collection of belemnites, bullet-shaped sandy-coloured fossils
Finding belemnite fossils in the chalk beds at West Runton and Beeston Regis | © National Trust Images/Rob Coleman

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?

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 the rules of the local area to see if you’re allowed to keep what you find. Let your nearest visitor centre or museum know if you uncover something special.

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