Hastings (Part 3): When Dinosaurs Roamed

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Ken Brooks (UK)

The beach from Rocka-Nore to Pett Level is rich in fossil evidence. Even the most insignificant fossils are important because they provide clues that enable us to reconstruct the ancient environments of this area. Between 100 and 140 million years ago, much of southern England was covered by lakes and lagoons. Rivers flowing from the London area and the west deposited great quantities of sand and silt on extensive flood plains. Molluscs, fish and freshwater sharks lived in the lakes and rivers, while the land was dominated by crocodiles, turtles and dinosaurs.

Fig. 1. The Hastings coastline today.

Eventually, their fossilised shells, scales, teeth, bones and footprints were preserved in the layers of sediment. Carbonised plants, such as horsetails, ferns, cycads, conifers and tree ferns, indicate that the summers were hot and dry (with frequent fires), followed by wet and humid conditions in wintes. Millions of years later, when Africa collided with the European plate, southeast England was pushed upwards into a vast dome-shaped structure, known as the ‘Wealden anticline’. Since then erosion has removed many layers of rock and exposed the sandstones and clays which now form the cliffs between Hastings and Pett.

Fig. 2. Hastings during the Lower Cretaceous (© Stuart Handley).

Bones and footprints of Iguanodon are among the most common dinosaur remains, although other very interesting fossils have recently been found in the Hastings area. These include the spines and vertebrae of Polacanthus, a tooth from Baryonyx and quillwort plants still in their growth positions. Articulated skeletons are very rare because most animal remains would have been torn apart by scavengers and then perhaps washed into rivers or lakes by rainstorms. The moving water would eventually deposit the bones, scales and teeth some distance apart.

Fig. 3. Crocodile vertebra.
Fig. 4. Shark vertebrae.

The real fascination of fossil hunting is the discovery of a bone, shell or plant that has remained hidden in the rock for many millions of years. There is also the possibility that you might discover a new species (which could be named after you).

Map reference
Rock-A-Nore (Hastings), Sussex (OS map 199. BGS sheet 320/321. Grid ref. TQ 831 095)
The other articles in this series are as follows:
Hastings (Part 1): Field trip from Rock-A-Nore
Hastings (Part 2): Geology and fossils
Hastings (Part 3): When Dinosaurs Roamed

Further reading

Early Cretaceous Environments of the Weald, Guide No 55, by Alistair Ruffell, Andrew Ross and Kevin Taylor, The Geologists’ Association, London (1996), 81 pages (softback), ISBN: 0900717882.

English Wealden fossils, Palaeontological Association Field Guide to Fossils No 14, edited by David J Batten, The Palaeontological Association, London (2011), 769 pages (softback), ISBN: 9781444367119.

Geology and Fossils of the Hastings Area, by Ken Brooks (2nd edition), Ken & Diana Brooks (2014), 76 pages (softback), ISBN: 9780957453050.

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