Fossil Hunting in Norfolk, England


By Glynn Burrows


I usually talk about quite recent history, from the last couple of thousand years, so this article is a little bit more ancient, as I’m discussing a time when humans were in the area, but they were a species long since extinct.

ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Glynn Burrows shares how you can have an ancient history adventure in Norfolk, England. Watch here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Acast.

The best time of year to look for fossils on the beaches of Norfolk is during the winter, as the beaches are less crowded, and the weather often reveals hitherto hidden items during the tidal erosion of the high tides.

Due to the various dangers of walking on the beaches, it is imperative that you follow some very important safety rules: Make sure that you are allowed to be where you are. (Some areas are privately owned; some are protected, and some areas are restricted access due to safety reasons.) Always find out the tide times and allow plenty of time to get out of the area before high tide. Work as the tide goes out, as it often reveals new finds as well as allowing more time for hunting. Wear sensible clothing and strong boots.

Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged. Do not walk near the base of the cliff edges and NEVER dig into the cliff face. Just pick up the fossils you find lying on the surface. Do not disturb wildlife. Take a bucket for your finds and, if you find something large, or of specific interest, mark it, photograph it, and report it to the local museum service.

Saying all of that, fossil hunting can make a walk along the beach into a real adventure back in time. If you are a beginner, get a book from the library and visit local museums to see their collections. You will soon see what sorts of fossils are likely to turn up on your walk and museum staff will be only too happy to help you to identify your finds if you ask.

Some areas are especially rich in fossils and West Runton is one of our most famous. It was where the Mammoth Skeleton was discovered by two local residents in 1990. They were walking along the beach and noticed a large bone sticking out of the cliff. They contacted the museum service and it was identified as a Steppe Mammoth. The next year, more bones were discovered and, in 1995, a full-scale excavation was carried out.

The mammoth was found to be in a deposit of mud which was laid down around 700,000 years ago and alongside snails, small mammals, such as hyenas, giant beavers, big cats, deer, horses, rhinoceros, and elephants.

The mammoth was a male, around two-thirds of his usual life of sixty years, he stood about 12-13 feet tall at the shoulder and would have weighed around 22,000 lbs., (twice as much as a present African elephant). This species was the largest elephant that has ever lived and the largest ever land animal except for the biggest of the dinosaurs.

The best places to look are in the rock pools and the shingle parts of the beach and you are likely to find “belemnites” and “sea urchins.” The first are shaped like a bullet and are actually from a squid-like creature. The sea urchins look like a starfish wrapped around a pebble.

Other possible finds include amber and mammoth teeth but, while you are looking for long-gone creatures, don’t overlook the ones you find that still inhabit the area. You will find crabs, starfish, anemones, and even the odd stranded fish. Treat all areas and their inhabitants with respect and don’t damage or destroy what is a very delicate and important area of nature.

Man has inhabited some areas of Norfolk since the Stone Age, so you may even discover their flint tools, but do be very careful, flint is exceptionally sharp!

The oldest human footprints outside Africa were found in Norfolk and they are thought to be between 850,000 and 950,000 years old and are thought to have been left by a group of long-extinct human species. They were not, at that time, walking along a beach though. They were walking through a river valley, graced by mammoths, hippos, and rhinos. There were at least five individuals, including children, and one of the men had feet which today would have required a UK size eight (US size 9) shoe.

These footprints are the first direct evidence of people this far North in Europe. There was other evidence, in the form of flint tools, etc., but these footprints are unique at the moment, although local people are constantly on the lookout for more evidence, especially during the Winter months. We often go to the seaside in the Winter, as it helps to blow away the cobwebs, so looking for fossils makes the coastal walks that bit more exciting.

Glynn provides customized, private tours and also helps his clients trace their English family history. Past guests have visited and experienced stately houses and gardens, castles and churches, ruins and villages, birding and wildlife, World War II airfields, and general area taster tours too. Accommodations can be in all types of establishment, from character buildings such as windmills, thatched cottages and castles, self-catering or five star luxury –  just say what you want and it can be arranged. Nothing is too much trouble for Glynn! Visit


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Glynn provides customized, private tours and also helps his clients trace their English family history.

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