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Is fossil-hunting unethical?

(24 Posts)
Blu Mon 26-Nov-07 17:06:48

DS (6) is desparate to have a geological hammer and go fossil hunting.

He has been obsesssed with fossils and especially (of course) dinosaur bones for over a year, insists he wants to be a paleantologist, studies fossils in books, can talk in a thoroughly informed way of the geological and atmospheric conditions throughout the various mesozioc era etc etc.

|He is bugging me to go fossil hunting, and wants a geological hammer for Christmas.

There are kits available on the 'net, but when we visited the Science and NH museums on Saturday i asked about children's fossil hunting equipment in thier shop - and was told (in disapproving tones) that they are not allowed to sell anything to do with fossils and only profesionls should have hammers.

I can see that 100s of people hammering away in Dorset is a bit destructive, but there are fossil-finding kits available on the net.

What shall I do?

needmorecoffee Mon 26-Nov-07 17:09:54

I guess its only unethical if you drive there grin
We took the kids fossil huntin the Charmouth and there are big signs saying keep away from the cliffs and not to hack at them. The best fossils are found in the stones where the water meets the beach. Usually pebble sized. The kids spent hours turning over pebbles looking for the glint of pyrites and fossils. No hammering needed. A 6 year old would probably hammer at the larger pebbles and stones.

Blu Mon 26-Nov-07 17:13:35

yes, i would hope that we could find a hint of something without actually doing much hammering.
But DS seems to feel that some hammering is part of the authentic paleantologist approach. He is saving his used toothbrushes for the brushing away of dust and mud, too.

bluejelly Mon 26-Nov-07 17:14:46

It depends what you mean by ethical.
In terms of climate change, can't see it impacting either way!

Threadworm Mon 26-Nov-07 17:16:17

I think that you need to be very careful where and how you do it. There are lots of places where hammering is discouraged.

Then there are a few places like Robin Hood Bay in Yorkshire where you can mooch about on the beach with a high chance of finding fossils in the really soft stuff that seems to be halfway betwen mud and stone -- without using a hammer.

EmsMum Mon 26-Nov-07 17:16:21

I think that using hammers on cliffs should not be encouraged, but that beachcombing to see what you can find in among whatever has already dropped off should be ok - after all, if its not picked up it'll just end up eroded as a pebble, and its already out of its context so presumably lost a lot of its scientific value.

We pick up shelly fossils on the north somerset coast; there are also ammonite imprints maybe 18" diameter that you couldn't pick up if you wanted to but are good to look at.

I'm sure I saw something in the Times last year about kids geological activities down on the Jurassic coast somewhere - they get to excavate fake fossils but sounded like it was properly done and would be more informative than banging away without really knowing what you are doing.

Blu Mon 26-Nov-07 17:31:20

I wouldn't let him hammer at an actual cliff - apart from danger, it would be obvious erosion...and we'd obey any notices about fossil hunting.

I was thinking about the advice not to remove pebbles from beaches, etc (Chesil Beach in particular!!)

Ozymandius Mon 26-Nov-07 17:36:56


Blu Mon 26-Nov-07 17:39:50

ooh, I want to go there straight away!

Threadworm Mon 26-Nov-07 17:44:54

Oh I've been to quantocks head. My mum found a beautiful fossil just lying there. Is it unethical to take a small fossil away? I don't think so.

Ozymandius Mon 26-Nov-07 17:56:41

Fantastic isn't it? I'd definitely encourage an interest like this as much as possible. A healthy outdoor activity with real intellectual value and possibly a lifelong career. What's not to like? And certainly worth a couple of broken pebbles.

Ozymandius Mon 26-Nov-07 17:57:55

egalitarian too - no money involved. And if he finds a baby dinosaur, he can present it to the British Museum as a Bluasaurus.

VeniVidiVickiQV Mon 26-Nov-07 18:18:50

Do you think the frown was more down to a 6 year old being in posession of a hammer?

Obv you know your child is fine to have, but I can see their concern generally.....

Threadworm Mon 26-Nov-07 18:21:08

Surely it's only cliffs that you have to forebear from hammering.

Blandmum Mon 26-Nov-07 18:24:18

The soft stuff that is part way between mud and stone is.......Mudstone! grin

and is great for pulling apart to look for stuff.

Shale is also goo, because you can just pull the layers apart.

Hacking at the cliffs isn't a good idea, but the stuff that is already on the beach will get worn away by the waves anyway.

You can also argue that picking up stones is part of natural human behaviour! doing it in a JCB would make it unethical! ;)

Swedes2Turnips1 Mon 26-Nov-07 18:30:59

Isn't the soft stuff shale?

Blandmum Mon 26-Nov-07 18:33:58

If it is in resonably well defined layers that will 'split open' like the pafes of a book it is shale.

It it is more clumpy and mudlke , it is mudstone

Tamum Mon 26-Nov-07 18:34:48

The person who does the fossil walks in Lyme Regis, who is a serious geologist, also doesn't allow hammers any more. It's not for ethical reasons though, just a combination of it being easier to find fossils in the soft shale stuff that has recently fallen, and eye safety.

Tamum Mon 26-Nov-07 18:35:29

Ooops, soft mudstoney stuff then sorry

Blu Mon 26-Nov-07 20:22:22

I think a hammer with a chisel like bit sticking out of the back might satisfy DS - for prising apart bits of shale and mudstone.

There is a site that sells children's sets, with hammer and eye goggles, but it is £50! Hammers are much cheaper, but where could I get good protective eye goggles for a 6 year old? He would be sensible and do as he was told, with a little hammering.

But I don't want anyone tutting at me.

Enid lives on a fossil-y bit of coast. She might shout at me for coming down From London and using thier cafe shock

But I would be very nnice and not bray at local people, or anything.

Blandmum Mon 26-Nov-07 20:28:57

remember that you can also get some corking cambrian period plant fossils poking round old coal waste tips!

highly eco friendly as you will be helping to remove spoilage from the countryside

EmsMum Mon 26-Nov-07 20:39:30

Some of the kids science experiment kids include goggles.

I think the issue with Chesil Beach is not fossil hunters but people taking away car bootfuls of nice round pebbles to build their drive out of - there was something on R4 about it a while back. Similarly in somerset, the odd fossily pebble or small lump of alabaster is one thing but people carting off enough to make a rockery is probably frowned on.

Mudstones are going to be beaten to a pulp on a beach, you might as well get them first.

MrsBadger Mon 26-Nov-07 20:47:54

Tamum, I was going to recommend the Lyme Regis chap as well

GrandmaDorset71 Thu 09-Jul-15 21:33:33

Re. fossil hunting for children. Dear Mums, please don't worry so much about children learning to use a hammer on the beach. Just make sure that they wear goggles when bashing stones and that you all keep well away from the cliffs. Have the greatest of fun.

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