We had a full house for our fossil hunt at Herne Bay, with 30 attendees joining our foray into the Cenozoic period. Kitted out in hi-vis but otherwise lightly equipped, this family-friendly fossil hunt was ideal for beginners and old hands alike. Fossils are easy to find at Beltinge and require only a sharp pair of eyes and a little patience to find.
Beltinge beach yields fossils from the Palaeocene and Eocene epochs of 56 – 54 million years ago which were laid down in a warm marine climate when the UK was closer to the equator than now and the locality was submerged. Nicky Parslow, our leader on the day, explained the geology of the area and the types of fossils that could be found and how to find them. Nicky brought many examples with her for the group to look at, giving them a good idea of what to look out for and demonstrating the vast variety of shark teeth and diversity of other fossils to be found in this rich location.
The Paleocene rocks of the Thanet Formation are exposed on the foreshore and in the cliffs towards Reculver. The younger Palaeocene and Eocene rocks overlay this and are exposed in the gently dipping strata. At Beltinge, the Beltinge Fish Bed of the Upnor Formation (Palaeocene) is brought down to beach level. West of the car park, the Oldhaven Beds slope towards beach level, exposing the Oldhaven Fish Bed. The fossils at this location erode slowly from the cliffs and the beds which form the beach. Beltinge is renowned for a diversity of fossil shark teeth (around 24 species) as well as marine vertebrate remains such as fish and shark vertebrae, eagle ray and chimaeroid fish dentition and bones and carapace of marine turtles along with rarer finds such as snake vertebrae.
On the date of our visit the tide wasn’t particularly low and the sea has been very calm, meaning that a lot of sand was deposited on the beach and the best search areas were covered by either sea or sand. However fossil hunters should not be deterred as a location like this is so rich in fossils that even a “bad” day will yield finds with a little patience and effort.
The plan for the day was to walk east toward Reculver following the tide out and arriving at the Thanet Formation shell beds as they became exposed so we could see the many bivalves in situ. We’d then return, searching the newly exposed shingle, until we reached the spit below the car park where teeth can be found amongst the mussels and pebbles or can be sieved for by scooping and wet-sieving the sand and shingle to find smaller teeth.
As we proceeded along the foreshore, we searched the gravel and shingle on the foreshore for fossils and soon the group was finding shark teeth and other small fossils.
Continuing onward and outward, as the low tide peaked we reached the Thanet Formation which we were fortunate to find exposed. Here it was possible to observe many bivalves in situ, although on the whole they are too fragile to remove, being supported by silty sand and mud. However, some of the bivalves have become pyritised inside so occasional examples of intact shell over solid centres or the beautiful metallicised casts of the bivalves can be safely collected. Fossilised wood is also common at Beltinge, particularly at the Thanet Formation horizon, although it is very friable and not worth retaining. Pyrite specimens are a little harder wearing but prone to pyrite disease (rust!). Members were able to find and enjoy numerous specimens. Star finds were Victoria Morris’s chimaeroid palate and a rare fossil pine cone found by Aidan Philpott.
Close attention to the areas between the pebbles and the clay on the foreshore began to reveal a greater number of shark teeth. These were larger and better preserved than those found in the shingle, being more newly eroded from the clay, and were predominantly Striatolamia macrota. This is the most commonly found shark tooth at this location and is black in colour and distinguished by striated enamel. However Betty Brocklesby-Sum found the grail shark tooth fossil find – a partial Otodus Obliquus!
We have received several emails with thanks and positive feedback from members who attended the event. We very much enjoyed hosting the hunt and are delighted that members had a great time too! As always, we look forward to meeting you again on future hunts.