Sunday, 12 January 2020


Charmouth Nodule; Photo and prep: Lizzie Hingley
The talented Lizzie Hingley of Stonebarrow Fossils found this beautiful chock-a-block nodule on Charmouth beach last year.

The nodule contains a couple of Caenisites turneri, along with some Promicroceras and Cymbites ammonites, but there was also a wee surprise just outside the nodule proper. Look closely and you'll see a very well preserved fish!

When she began to prep this nodule, Lizzie had no idea there was going to be a lovely little fish associated with it. Luckily, she caught a glimpse of it when her pen was just millimetres away. The fish is incredibly fragile but looks complete. I'm not sure which species this little fellow is but he shows nice detail in his preservation. A little over fifty fossil fish species are known from the area, including some early teleost fish— a group that includes over 23,000 living species.

The coast and the cliffs around Charmouth and Lyme Regis are famous for their fossils around the world. These are the same beaches that the famous Mary Anning explored as a youngster years ago and Lizzie and many of the locals walk today, all hunting for fabulous Jurassic finds. The most common fossils along the Jurassic coastline in this area are ammonites and belemnites.

Ammonites were predatory, squid-like creatures that lived inside coil-shaped shells. Like other cephalopods, ammonites had sharp, beaklike jaws inside a ring of tentacles that extended from their shells to snare prey such as small fish and crustaceans. We see and collect their beautiful coiled shells but often forget the squid-like fellow who was living inside.

Some ammonites grew more than three feet (one meter) across — tasty snacks for the giant marine reptiles of the day. Most, though not all, ammonites have coiled shells. The chambered part of the shell is called a phragmocone.  It contains a series of progressively layered chambers called camerae, which were divided by thin walls called septae. The last chamber is the body chamber. As the ammonite grew, it added new and larger chambers to the opened end of the shell. A thin living tube called a siphuncle passed through the septa, extending from the body to the empty shell chambers.

Fish detail, Photo: Lizzie Hingley
Beautiful ammonites can be found along the coast at Charmouth and Lyme Regis in southwestern England. Some are in nodules on the beach, brought in as erratics or washed down from the cliffs. Sometimes the tides do all the work and you find the fossils perfectly prepped out, loose in the beach gravels.

Other Jurassic fossils found here include occasional partial or complete marine reptiles — such as Ichthyosaurus and Plesiosaurus. Fossilized fish, as you see here, also pop up on occasion.

As you travel to Charmouth from the east the coastline changes, from the chalk cliffs west of Poole, through the unique rock formations of Lulworth and Durdle Door, to the 28 kilometres (18 miles) and 180 billion pebbles of Chesil Beach and the Fleet Lagoon. The cliffs at West Bay will be particularly familiar to fans of the television series Broadchurch. To the west of Charmouth there is the Lyme Regis ‘ammonite pavement’ on Monmouth beach, with many exposed ammonites in the rocks. And further west you move into the Triassic red cliffs of Devon and the historic pretty coastal villages of Beer and Branscombe.

Photo and fossil preparation: Lizzie Hingley, Stonebarrow Fossils. She has workshops in Dorset and Oxfordshire. Check out more of her work here:

If you're looking to head to Charmouth, check out the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre. They also have a well-designed website with the local weather and tide tables.  You can visit it here: