Saturday, 9 April 2016

Fossils in Scotland

(No, not the Scottish government!)


Dinosaur signboard near the village of Staffin
When thinking of fossils and fossil hunting Scotland doesn't immediately spring to mind but some exciting discoveries have been made here ranging from dinosaur bones and footprints on beaches to some of the oldest fossils ever found anywhere in the world.

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!


Dinosaur footprint fossilised in rock
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!

ISLAND HOTSPOT

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.


Trilobite fossil like this one can be found in Scotland
PD image from Wikipedia
Trilobites similar to the one pictured here can also be found in many places in Scotland and although (due to their age) such fossils tend to be fragmented rather than whole it must still be an exciting find - to hold something which was last living many millions of years ago.

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:

Artists impression of a giant millipede
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):


Fossil tree stump on the shoreline with Crail village in the background
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.




14 comments:

  1. Have visited Ireland and England, hope to add Scotland the next time! Funny title! -

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    1. You would be made most welcome by this ''old fossil''!

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  2. My son is a dinosaur hunter. He is studying for his Phd

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    1. I hope he does well in his chosen field.

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  3. Wow, a 4 foot millipede! That would be some fossil. Where I live at many fossils are found of the Native American settlements along the rivers and in the fields.

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    1. It's a scary-looking creature. Wouldn't want to meet it on a dark night!

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  4. Scotland looks like such a beautiful place Bill! I'd love to visit someday, the fossils look amazing.

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    1. Come on over - we don't bite and neither do the fossils!

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  5. I want to go there so much. It looks neat!

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    1. I think Scotland is a great place to be - but then maybe I'm biased!

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  6. It's been too long since I last visited Scotland, and fossil hunting is on my nerdy bucket list, so that's a very interesting post Bill!

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    1. After doing research for this post I am now in a better position to recognise fossils if I happen to come across any.

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  7. I have always been in awe of fossils, Tony has found many around these parts of ferns in rocks. I want to visit Scotland one day, you have made me more and more interested with every article you write.

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    1. Hope you get the chance one day. You would be made most welcome.

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