West Bay Discovery Centre, West Bay, Bridport, DT6 4EN.

Buried in Time Exhibition: Discovering history beneath our feet

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Our latest exhibition. ‘Buried in Time’ , tells the story of the area’s history through an amazing selection of fossils from the Jurassic era and marks the 20th Anniversary of the Jurassic Coast becoming a World Heritage Site.

West Bay itself, is situated around a third of the way along the ninety-five miles of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. This stretch of coast’s unique value led to it being designated a World Heritage Site in 2001; from Exmouth in the west to Studland in the east you can view geology that spans a period of over a 186 million years of time. As you move from west to east the rocks are generally younger. Between Eype and Burton Bradstock, they are between 185-165 million years old and were formed in shallow seas, much like the Caribbean of today. 

cliffs at West Bay

The cliffs running from Eype’s Mouth towards West Bay are primarily clay in formation. At West Bay the iconic orange-yellow Bridport Sand takes over. It is amazing to think that the sediments that formed West Bay’s East Cliff took around 800,000 thousand years to build-up on the seabed.

Further east, in the direction Burton Bradstock, the curiously-named Inferior Oolite forms a narrow bed the top of the cliffs. This limestone is the most astonishing demonstration of how a bustling ecosystem consisting of ammonites, belemnites, bivalves, brachiopods, sea urchins and sponges, thrived in the warm waters and was then transformed into fossils. Amazingly it is thought that across the planet there were more than 10,000 individual species of ammonite, but not one persists today.

Fossils help us look through time and understand our planet’s history. All were once living, breathing creatures. When they died soft parts of the body rotted away. The body was covered by mud, sand or silt. Over thousands and millions of years more sediments were deposited on the layers below, squashing them and turning them into rock. While this was happening, mineral-rich water seeped into the harder fossil remains, turning them to stone.

Fossil hunting in this area is not easy and best left to the experts but the Buried in Time exhibition contains a selection of high quality specimens of the fossils,  loaned by collectors and the Bridport Museum, along with a re-creation of the seabed from the Jurassic age. It also tells the stories of three geologists whose early fascination with the fossils found in the West Dorset area led to a life-long interest that contributed to scientific knowledge. There is also a “touch table” of fossils to get closely acquainted with the look and feel of fossils and practice their fossil identification skills along with dinosaur and fossil colouring sheets to keep younger visitors entertained. We have also produced a leaflet called Discover the Geology around West Bay which has been generously funded by the Curry Fund.

The Buried in Time exhibition is running at the West Bay Discovery Centre until the end of October 2022.

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