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Dinosaur hunting on the Isle of Wight by Paleontologist Kieran Satchell

Fossil Coast Drinks Co is pleased to introduce Kieran Satchell as a guest blogger for this week’s #FossilFriday. Kieran is a graduate of the University of Plymouth with a passion for paleontological science communication and has volunteered with the Jurassic Coast Trust since 2018. Read about Kieran’s recent visit to the Isle of Wight where recently two of Europe's largest ever land-based dinosaurs of the Cretaceous called spinosaurids named the 'riverbank hunter' and 'hell heron' were discovered.

Kieran Satchell with an early Cretaceous Neovenator a genus of carcharodontosaurian theropod dinosaur.
Kieran Satchell with a Neovenator

What better way to kick off this blog than a post about dinosaur hunting!? Last Christmas my wonderful partner surprised me with a planned trip to the Isle of Wight with my best friend, who is also a palaeontologist.

Dan is the reason why I've pursued this career path, as during my second year of university I bumped into him, after not seeing him since secondary school. Dan was studying palaeontology at the time which made me extremely envious, questioning my own decision to pursue animal biology. This resulted in me redirecting my studies and efforts towards palaeontology, and well, the rest is history!

Image of Riparovenator and Ceratosuchops holotype material
Riparovenator and Ceratosuchops holotype fossils

With our significant others also along for the trip, we set off on the 9th of July, heading for an Airbnb in Shanklin. We spent our first day (Sunday 10th) at the Dinosaur Isle Museum, where Dan and I were absolutely in our element. Upon entering the main hall, we were immediately drawn to the preparation lab, which had a glass display for visitors to watch and observe the day-to-day activities of the lab technicians. The lab technician working approached and slid back the glass doors, allowing us to have a better look and also become acquainted with him. The gentleman's name was Alex and he was extremely knowledgeable about the palaeontology of the island (As you'd expect from someone working in a dinosaur lab). Alex knew our contact Dr Jeremy Lockwood, a PhD student and palaeontologist working at the Dinosaur Isle Museum.

Jeremy had agreed to meet us on Monday to take us fossil hunting on Compton Bay, but more on that later. Alex pointed to one of the workbenches, there was the most recently published fossil material on a dinosaur which is presently thought to be Europe's largest terrestrial theropod dinosaur, an un-named spinosaurid.

Image of Dan searching through the Cretaceous upper greensands on Yaverland beach
Dan fossil hunting on Yaverland beach.

After finishing our conversation with Alex, we took to the main hall to indulge in the magnificent fossils on display.

It was extremely exciting to be able to finally see the Neovenator material, as I'm particularly interested in this dinosaur with it being a close relative of the North American Allosaurus (Although recently also European). However, perhaps even more exciting was being able to see in person, the recently discovered Spinosaurid fossils; Riparovenator and Ceratosuchops.

My contact Jeremy Lockwood was one of the co-authors of the research paper published on these spinosaurids, and they're extremely important in helping our understanding of the origins of this particular group of dinosaurs. After watching my partner frantically finish a crayon drawing of a dinosaur in prompt to one of the kid's interpretive signages, we left the museum and headed to Yaverland beach. Alex had informed Dan and me that Yaverland had been yielding dinosaur bone fossils quite a lot recently, so we headed off with high hopes.

Whilst we found many mollusc death bed assemblage blocks, we were unsuccessful in finding any dinosaur bone. I felt this was partly due to some doubt that we were even in the right place, as the beach was extremely sandy and full of tourists sunbathing, so we felt rather out of place fossil hunting. However, the stratigraphy of the cliffs clearly indicated we were in the right place, as they were Upper Greensand beds dating to the Late Cretaceous. We admired the fault line between the brown sandstone and the white chalk cliffs before deciding to try our luck at Shanklin beach.

Unfortunately, we didn't have much luck either at Shanklin. We were especially cautious as the cliff face was crumbling in places as we walked past, which made for an extremely unnerving atmosphere. Some passers-by warned us that only half an hour ago a large section came down, which we had only been rummaging through 5 minutes prior to their approach. I managed to find a large fossil oyster before we decided to journey back and meet our significant others, who were nursing drinks at the nearby Steamer pub.

The next day we awoke with excitement and optimism, with us meeting experienced palaeontologist Dr Jeremy Lockwood later that afternoon at Compton Bay. Jeremy had generously offered to take us along the beach for a fossil hunt and teach us about the local geology.

We arrived at low tide which was around 14:30 and met up with Jeremy in the car park. Jeremy was extremely knowledgeable and spared no details in explaining the geological layers we were observing. We firstly ventured left from the car park and headed down the beach towards where the iconic dinosaur footprint blocks are situated.

Iguanodon footprints at Compton Bay
Iguanodon footprints at Compton Bay

The footprints were spectacular, covered in bright green seaweed which I felt added to their beauty.

They were tridactyl footprints, meaning they had 3 toes, most likely belonging to Iguanodon. Dan and I took photos of the footprints and even posed next to them before moving on to search through the shingle on the beach.

I searched through every rockpool, with unrealistic yet optimistic hopes of finding a Neovenator tooth, which in my mind, was the best fossil I could realistically hope to find.

Unfortunately, my efforts were to no avail, so Jeremy decided it was time to go back on ourselves and travel down the right side of the car park towards Hanover Point. Down this end of the beach, Jeremy pointed out sections of the cliff where he and colleagues had collected various dinosaur fossils, such as the remains of the latest theropod thought to be the largest in Europe. We scanned the shingle, and lifted boulders and rocks but unfortunately still no dinosaur fossils.

Kieran Satchell with Dr Jeremy Lockwood
Kieran Satchell with Dr Jeremy Lockwood

The day was getting on and Jeremy had to be back later that afternoon for a meeting, so we started taking a slow stroll back towards the car park. Although it had been a fantastic day, I just couldn't help but desperately search for just even a fragment of dinosaur bone.

In my mind, it seemed like such a shame to be in prime dinosaur hunting territory but come back empty-handed. The opportunity was there, I just couldn't give up!

As Dan and Jeremy continued back to the car park, I trailed behind as I scanned the shingle of the beach whilst we walked. Suddenly, my eyes saw it, there was no doubt about it, dinosaur bone!

Piece of dinosaur bone, likely Iguanodon
Piece of dinosaur bone, likely Iguanodon

I finally found a piece! I shouted ahead to Jeremy "I FOUND SOME". Jeremy inspected the piece and cheerfully confirmed it was indeed dinosaur bone. Thrilled would be an understatement, as I fist pumped the air in celebration of my find.

To many, a small tumbled piece of dinosaur bone wouldn't make for much of a prize, but for me, it was more than enough. Beautiful honeycomb structures could be seen at each end, with an orange colour filling them.

I did feel a little bad as my friend Dan hadn't been quite as lucky, but he expressed that finding fossils was not quite as important to him as the adventure and learning experience.

I greatly admire his outlook, as I too wish I could be content with coming away empty-handed, but alas, I am a materialistic individual.


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