I started fossil hunting in my 60s — now I have more than 2,000 pieces

In this photograph, taken near Weymouth in southwest England, on the Jurassic Coast, I’m handling a 153-million-year-old Pliosaurus kevani vertebra. This is a large piece, but many of the fossils I collect are shorter than a centimetre.

Fossil hunting involves a lot of kneeling on the foreshore. One must be curious, determined, patient and have some physical fitness. This coastline is a graveyard: many fossils have been found here in the past 200 years, and it’s possible that the area was once a migratory route with abundant food for predators.

I’ve not had a typical research career: I completed a degree in the natural sciences in 1965, then taught biology in Ghana and the United Kingdom. I had four children and spent much of my life bringing them up. When I retired at 60, I realized I had time for palaeontology. I have now collected more than 2,000 fossils from parts of the Jurassic Coast around Weymouth.

My passion is not so much finding specimens as contributing to research. I have donated mesofossils (fossils deriving from plants) to the UK Natural History Museum for research into conifer evolution. I have also donated 21 fossil teeth from marine vertebrates to Claude Bernard University Lyon in France for analysis. Researchers want to use them to compare the body temperatures of two groups of marine crocodile with the ambient ocean temperature. That would help them to infer whether either group would have been able to thermoregulate — and so adapt to a global sea-temperature decline at the Jurassic–Cretaceous boundary around 145 million years ago.

Now, my eyes are deteriorating and I need to pass my knowledge on. I’ve co-authored a book and work with online groups and citizen scientists. I do wonder how much longer I will be able to clamber around the rocks to the fossil site. It’s a little dangerous at my age — I will celebrate my 80th birthday this year — but I have no intention of stopping.

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