Yorkshire's Jurassic Park
On the Yorkshire coast rocks from the Jurassic period (dating back 150-200 million years ago) are exposed for all to see, in a series of spectacular cliffs and bays. This continuous exposure of rock has made the Yorkshire coast popular with geologists for generations. It was here, in the early days of geology, that many secrets of the earth’s history were discovered.
Rocks on the Yorkshire coast tend to become younger as we go from north to south down the coast.
The Lower Jurassic and creatures from the deep
Around 200 million years ago, at the beginning of the period we now call the Jurassic, this region was covered by sea. An extensive ocean covered the whole of Europe and was home to a great variety of marine life. Many of these creatures are preserved in the mudstones and thin limestones that were deposited on the ocean floor. Ammonites are common and occasionally the bones of one of the great marine reptiles that swam in these seas are found.
The Middle Jurassic and dinosaur footprints
The ocean receded from this area by the time of the Middle Jurassic, around 170 million years ago. The region became a coastal area with deltas, scrub and forest. The sandstones and mudstones formed in this period contain plant remains and the traces of land animals as well as marine fossils. Dinosaurs left their mark here too in the form of footprints and the occasional bone.
The Upper Jurassic and tropical seas
The sea invaded this area again in the Upper Jurassic period, around 150 million years ago. This was a warm, shallow sea. Most of the fossils from this time are of animals living on the sea bed preserved in gritstones, limestones and clays.
From Scarborough a series of faults pushes rocks of the Middle and Upper Jurassic next to each other creating headlands and bays such as those at Filey.
The changing coast
The landscape of the Yorkshire Coast has been shaped over millions of years. Some of the processes are extremely slow – take the formation of rock from sand deposited at the bottom of the sea for example. It takes time.
However, some processes are surprisingly fast. The rocks of the coast bear evidence of landslips, underwater slumps and other changes that happened millions of years ago but took only a matter of days to have their effect.
These changes have not stopped – the sea is still battering away the coastline while sand is being brought by rain and rivers and laid on the sea bed. Geology goes on working.
Hunting for fossils can be fun and enormously satisfying, if you follow a few simple guidelines to ensure that you stay safe.
The cliffs on the Yorkshire coast are prone to erosion and rock falls. The frequency of these can increase following periods of extreme weather, including heavy rain, cold, heat and very dry spells. Stay a safe distance from the base of cliffs at all times.
The best time to search for fossils is following a storm, usually in the autumn or winter. Heavy seas break up rocks and wash new material onto the beach. There's no need to hammer at cliffs, hunt amongst the stones and shingle along and below the high tide mark. Once you get your eye in, you'll spot plenty of finds.
Do not risk tides. Always check tide times before you visit a location. Leave as the tide starts to come in.