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The best place to find fossils in Kent: Including Sheppey, Folkestone, Herne Bay, Thanet and Dover

There's a scene early on in Monty Python classic the Life of Brian when the title character and his mum (played, of course, by Terry Jones ) go off to watch someone be stoned for blasphemy.

"Stones, sir?" offers a street trader keen to provide the necessary ammunition in exchange for a couple of shekels.

Chances are you'll not find this along the county's coastline...
Chances are you'll not find this along the county's coastline...

"Nah, they've got a lot there, lying around on the ground," says Brian's mother.

"Oh, not like these sir. Look at this. Feel the quality of that. That's craftsmanship."

"Aah, all right. We'll have two with points and a big flat one."

And in many ways it's a little like going to one of the county's museums to look at their fossil collection.

Because while the chances of finding a perfectly formed dinosaur skeleton while strolling along a Kent beach preserved over millions of years is probably as likely as being hit by a meteorite on the said same trip, a glimpse at the creatures which once roamed this planet really are just lying around on the ground.

If you set your sights on a Jurassic Park-style discovery, you may be disappointed, but there's plenty to find along the county's coastline
If you set your sights on a Jurassic Park-style discovery, you may be disappointed, but there's plenty to find along the county's coastline

The trick is to know just where to look.

And the good news is that Kent is rich in prehistoric remains when it comes to fossil hunting .

Courtesy of its chalk and clay constitution, the county's rock formation over the years has allowed the creatures which once swam in the tropical oceans which lapped over our countryside to be covered by the sediment necessary for fossils to form.

What's more, when cliffs crumble and the waves along our coastline constantly change the rocks which lie along it, many places have become a mecca for those wanting to connect to a time when, pardon the cliché, dinosaurs ruled the world. If not earlier.

While geology is not something many of us have an in-depth knowledge of, it's often worth just being alert to how a fossil is formed - and thus where in the county the best places to look are.

You can make some fine discoveries with a keen eye and a bit of patience
You can make some fine discoveries with a keen eye and a bit of patience

So before we get to the 'where to find them' bit, let's just take a brief moment to remind ourselves of the basics - and why what we pick up is not, as if often thought, the bones of a pre-historic creature.

In short, when an animal dies it falls either to the ground or the bottom of the ocean. And in Kent's case, water covered much of the area.

The soft parts of the animal either rot away or are eaten by other animals. By the time only the teeth and bones remain, it starts to disappear from view as mud, silt or sand cover it.

Then imagine that process continuing for millions of years - a constant building up of sediment which, over time, creates such enormous pressure they turn into sedimentary rock - such as clay or chalk which are prominent around Kent's coast.

During this process, water seeps into the bones and teeth, depositing minerals and turning them into stone.

A fossil hunting expedition in Folkestone
A fossil hunting expedition in Folkestone

Fast forward many millenia and as cliffs crumble, waves crash upon rock, mines and quarries are harvested, the remains of this animals, now fossilised, provide us with a fascinating glimpse of the county's earliest occupants.

So as we continue to find ourselves in an era where being outside surrounded by fresh air and wide open space is, literally, good for our health, where are the best places in the county to bag a fossil or two? This list is not exhaustive, but a good starting point...

Folkestone

Gault clay may not be much to look at on first sight - a gungy grey in colour - but it a fossil-hunters friend and Folkestone is where it can be found in abundance.

A blend of clay, mudstone and siltstone, it was deposited around 100 million years ago and is characteristic of a marine environment at the time.

Folkestone's The Warren is rich in prehistoric remains
Folkestone's The Warren is rich in prehistoric remains

And with the vast majority of fossils coming from the remains of sea creatures, a landslip at Folkestone Warren cracked open a rich vein of fossils which, as Monty Python point out, can literally be found lying around on the ground.

Equipped only with some eagle eyes, making your way down to the beach will lead you to fossils a-plenty.

A popular find are ammonites - with their distinctive curled shells proving a classic 'look' for the fossil hunter, young or old. But keep probing the clay or along the foreshore and you'll find plenty more to take back and identify.

Best of all, the every changing conditions of the cliff and the churning of the coastal waters means fossils are being revealed each and every day. Just keep an eye on the tide which can catch you out if you're not careful.

In fact, the lower greensand - the rock which sits below the gault clay - has even revealed a footprint of a dinosaur (the fossil forming by sediment falling into the mould left by the footprint and thus preserving it).

Ammonite fossils are popular and in abundance
Ammonite fossils are popular and in abundance

Sheppey

All hail London clay when it comes to fossil collecting . Formed through forests on land and shallow warm waters lapping the coast, it may not shout 'Sheppey' at you, but millions of years ago things were rather different.

Today, that clay is giving up its secrets as cliff erosion scatters plenty of fossilised remains along the coast

One of the most common finds among the shingle on the beaches between Eastchurch and Warden are tiny sharks' teeth - thus making it a popular one for children. Although care needs to be taken due to the sinking mud which has claimed many a piece of footwear.

Fossilised trees , leaves and nypa palms (today native of the likes of Vietnam and Thailand) can easily be found, along with prehistoric crabs, nautilus shells, snake skeletons and occasionally bird skulls.

The shark teeth collection of Fred Clouter, of Minster, Sheppey
The shark teeth collection of Fred Clouter, of Minster, Sheppey

In short, there are pretty rich pickings and Warden Point is a collector's favourite spot.

What's more, as some rather high profile cliff collapses have demonstrated in recent times , more remains are being uncovered.

Herne Bay

If prehistoric sharks teeth float your boat, then look no further than sunny Beltinge, near Herne Bay.

In fact it's such a popular spot for finding the dental remains of a creature which swam in the once tropical waters it pulls in visitors from across Europe.

Shark teeth can be found littering many of our beaches
Shark teeth can be found littering many of our beaches

For those keen to take advantage of the lack of foreign fossil hunters at the moment, then get down on the beach and head towards Reculver.

Even richer pickings are to be found during spring tides when the waters recede even further and more of the little critters are up for grabs.

Just don't expect to find a Jaws-size toothy-peg though - they're more often than not little things but satisfying, none the less, to discover.

Thanet

Sea urchins and sponges of the prehistoric era more your thing? Then happy days could be yours off Thanet's dramatic coastline.

Fish skulls can sometimes be found around our coast
Fish skulls can sometimes be found around our coast

The chalk which makes up the cliff between Broadstairs and Joss Bay often cough up a host of fossils as can Pegwell Bay and Kingsgate Bay.

Most are washed out of the chalk by the sea so can be found on the beach - belemnites are often lurking...they look a bit like a bullet, but are in fact, the bones of an extraordinarily old squid.

They may not be in quite such abundance as Folkestone or Sheppey - so pack patience as well as eyes - but persevere and you'll come face to face with something which last breathed its last more than 100 million years ago. And surely that deserves a little commitment?

Dover

Samphire Hoe is a bit of a funny old place. Created as we know it today by the earth dug out for the Channel Tunnel , it sits just below the white chalk cliffs - and, as we know, a chalk cliff is not only made up of the remains of tiny creatures over the years, but also capable of housing some very fine fossilised remains.

There's plenty lurking in those famous white chalk cliffs of ours
There's plenty lurking in those famous white chalk cliffs of ours

And it is the chalk which is exposed which provides plenty of interesting remains to be found.

From brachiopods (clam-like creatures) to corals, ammonites and those pesky sharks' teeth, plenty have been found.

But, as ever, care is advised near the cliffs.

An easily overlooked fossil imprint of a crab	Picture: Discovering Fossils
An easily overlooked fossil imprint of a crab Picture: Discovering Fossils

As for identifying what you've found? There are plenty of resources online and there's a handy app from the National History Museum which is free to download called Fossil Explorer which helps identify fossils depending on where you are when you find them.

Happy hunting!

For support, advice, events and all things to do with parenting in Kent, visit My Kent Family here .

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