(No, not the Scottish government!)
Scotland isn't exactly a hotbed of fossils discovery but a little exploration and observation in the right places and you could find something interesting enough to get your name in the papers - and don't forget that if you discover a new species never found before you get the privilege of giving it a scientific name!
Scotland is quite lucky, fossil-wise, since fossilised examples of extinct lifeforms can be found representing species from as recently as the extinction of the dinosaurs a mere 65 million years ago all the way back to what is believed to be the earliest-known land-living creature from 428 million years ago (the amateur fossil hunter who found that specimen had the honour of having it named after him). In fact, some people reckon that Scotland is the best place in the world to find very early pre-dinosaur invertebrates!
|Photograph by John Allan/Geograph UK CC-BY-SA 2.0|
There are quite a few places in Scotland where your chances of finding fossils are good. The south of Scotland, with its good transport links and road system, is particularly handy since this closest to where most of Scotland's population live and some excellent fossil specimens have been found south of the central belt (that highly populated area lying roughly between Glasgow (Scotland's biggest city) in the west and Edinburgh (Scotland's capital city) in the east. The north of Scotland takes a bit more effort to reach. Distances are greater and the road network is not as comprehensive as it is further south but this has the advantage that there are rather less people around!
The islands also have their fair share of fossils and the current hotspot for dinosaur fossils is the Isle of Skye where bones and footprints (like the one picture above) have been found - not in any abundance but important in that there have been a number of ''first finds'' and links between time periods which have added to our understanding of dinosaur evolution.
|PD image from Wikipedia|
So where's the best places in Scotland to find fossils?
Well, it depends on what you're looking for. If you get excited by the thought of great big ferocious dinosaurs then the Isle of Skye is probably your best bet but if you are more interested in finding some really old fossils from well before the dawn of the dinosaurs then you could do worse than head for the east coast (where the oldest land-living fossil was found).
All up and down the eastern coast of Scotland you stand a pretty good chance of finding fossils - which, as far as I am concerned, is lucky because my home is in the Ancient Kingdom of Fife on Scotland's east coast (just north of Edinburgh) and there is a good place to find fossils a short 15-minute drive from where I live!
The section of coastline around the small fishing village of Crail (see on map) is one I know well and I have walked that area many times and I have stood and marvelled at some of the fossils to be found on the shore. None of them are particularly impressive - there are no teeth, no claws and no massive jawbones here - and indeed you could walk past them if you didn't know what they were but they are nonetheless interesting once you find them. I have never actually photographed any of Crail's fossils but Discovering Fossils/Crail is a website which illustrates some of the fossils to be found in that area including the tracks of this 4-foot millipede-like beastie Arthropleura:
|Image by Spencer Wright/Wikipedia CC-BY-SA 2.0|
and this fossilised tree stump on the shore line (it's bigger than it looks - about a metre in diameter at the top):
|Photograph by Callum Black/Geograph UK CC-BY-SA 2.0|
There are many other fossils to be seen in this area and no doubt there are many others waiting to be found elsewhere - will you be the one to find them? If you do decide to go fossil hunting either in Scotland or in your local area then you should adhere to the Fossil Code - a short list of ''do's and don'ts'' pertaining to searching for and collecting fossils. This particular code is specific to Scotland but it's a good guide for fossil hunters everywhere.
HUNTING FOSSILS AT CRAIL
This short video will give you an insight into what it's like to go hunting fossils on a seashore environment and how easy it is to find fossils once you ''get your eye in'' and know what to look for.