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Amateur fossil hunting, inspired by Thurso Stuff

A collection of fossil hunting tools
I posted this photo as a teaser on my instagram: @thurso_stuff

When I started this blog it was a journey of curiosity, an excuse to go walks and learn more about the local area. Who knew it was inspire me to try something new?

When I wrote about the graffiti mural of Robert Dick I discovered he was a biologist and fossil hunter. When on Orkney and speaking to my boyfriend/his parents apparently there were loads of fossils to be had if you knew where to look. Maps came out! Tools were fetched! I’d apparently said the correct thing because after dinner we had plans to go to a beach and find ourselves something really, really old.

marwick bay, a rocky beach with the sea in the background

We went to Marwick Beach on the West coast of Orkney. On the map we had seen there were ‘fish beds’, ideal for finding stuff (apparently). Marwick is beautiful with its rocky shores and rusting ship parts. The parts were remnants of World War One battleships, and Lord Kitcher is said to have died just off the coast of Marwick. The water looked cold, it was the Atlantic Ocean, but we weren’t there for swimming.

The fossil hunting seems to come in 2 stages which me and my boyfriend divided between us. Stage one is to look gor shiny black bits. These are fossilised fish scales.

Here are some examples of ones we just picked up (the one on the left is like a row of fish scales. I was excited about that):

4 grey rocks with flecks of black fossils on them

When you run your finger over them they are smooth and wash up well, differentiating them from dirt.

Once you have found your shiny black bits you can move onto stage 2: hitting the rock with a hammer.

someone breaking rocks using a hammer and chisel

The idea is to put the chisel into one of the seams of the rock (the accumulation of various layers under the sea) and then with a decisive tap break it. We butchered many rocks, those fossils are lost to us. Sorry. But over time and rocks we got better! At one point we even gained an audience.

I was getting better at finding scales; they were everywhere! Then, a bigger one caught my eye. I handed it to my partner in rocks and like the troggs we were we set about it. Tap, tap tap. Tap, tap, well there is a chunk off but… Tap, tap, tap. What is that!

We had struck gold! Well… er… fossilised carbon! We found a bigger chunk of black than on the others and we set about cleaning it. I hucked up some spit and rubbed away, to be told quite rightly that the sea was right there and I should stop being weird.

Once clean it was clear we found a fish! There was a head! There was a tail! And there was stuff beside it too:

a black fish fossil on a grey rock

I was thrilled. We took home our hunk of rock and I plan to display it in my classroom.

I was really happy that my blogging had led to such a fun time out and a brilliant find! There’s a lot to be said for doing some research.

a black fish fossil

Feeling pretty lucky.

I’m desperate to go fossil hunting in Caithness now. Do you know a good spot I could go play with some rocks? Let me know!

the thurso stuff logo

orkney

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