The Isle of Wight is the richest source of dinosaur remains in Europe. Around 125 million years ago, this coast was a series of muddy lagoons. Dinosaurs 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, dinosaur remains often fall down onto the beach. So far, fossils from over 20 different species of dinosaur have been found, some of them unique to this area.
Where to spot fossils
The best place to search for fossils is between Brook Bay and Compton Bay at low tide. Look in loose gravel and stones on parts of the beach recently covered by the sea. You may find:
- Fossilised dinosaur bones – they’re usually black and shiny, with a honeycomb texture.
- Dinosaur teeth – these look like huge black teeth.
- Fossilised wood – this is also black but less dense, without the honeycomb pattern. If it leaves a black mark when you scrape it on a stone, it’s fossilised wood, not a dinosaur fossil.
There are large three-toed iguanodon foot casts at the base of the cliffs just to the east of Compton Bay car park at Hanover Point. At 30-60cm across, they’re hard to miss.
Stay safe around the cliffs
- The cliffs are unstable and rocks can fall at any time, so don't climb them or sit too close.
- The best time to go looking for fossils is at low tide, but make sure you don't get stranded.
- Wet rocks can be very slippery.
- Please leave the foot casts for everyone to enjoy.
- Never use tools such as hammers.
- No digging allowed – the cliffs are unstable and permission is needed for serious investigations.
- If you find anything that looks very interesting in the cliff, please leave it in place. Take a photo and report it so that it can be properly investigated and recorded.