One thing Charles and I have in common is our love for fossils and minerals. Since we’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors during our travels, we’ve made it a bit of a mission to choose our destinations based on what can be found there.
In Australia, we gathered handfuls and handfuls of beautiful quartz and moonstone specimens. Now that we’re traveling through Europe, we’re trying to go on similar excursions.
While searching through forums, Charles got a tip that a pretty nondescript tractor trail about an hour north of Montluçon was home to belemnites and ammonites. We gathered our gear and headed north!
This is where we found them!
The tractor trail was near a dead-end road in the middle of nowhere, and walking the length of it only took about five minutes. Nevertheless, we started searching. The wheels of tractors had dug about one foot deep in the mud all the way up the trail, and the persistent rain turned these into small streams. Not 30 seconds went by before Charles found his first specimen! Within the first five minutes, we each had a small handful of belemnites.
Charles using the strainer to search for fossils
We often travel with foldable shovels and something we can use to strain out smaller bits of sand and rock. This helps us dig into the clay and then wash all of that clay away to leave us with the specimens.
Belemnites are an extinct order of cephalopods that existed during the Mesozoic era (about 252 to 66 million years ago)! They were squid-like creatures that became extinct roughly when the dinosaurs did. The fossils that can be found are the rostrum – the harder part of the body that acted as a counter-weight to the head and tentacles during swimming. The rest of these squid-like creatures were too soft to be preserved in fossil form.
Left: ammonite, Right: belemnites
Although this area was covered in belemnites, we were able to find three small specimens of ammonites. Ammonites were similar to a modern nautilus and existed around the same time that belemnites did. The fossils that can be found today are their coiled shells. The one shown here is thought to be from the Early Jurassic period!
After about three hours of fossil hunting, we left with smiles on our faces and pockets full of fossils. It’s places like these – the ones we ordinarily wouldn’t give a second glance to – that often hold the best secrets.
Tips for finding fossils
- Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty! We were covered in mud by the time we left. It also helps to wear high muck boots.
- Carry a foldable shovel and a device to strain. The size of the holes in your strainer will be determined by what you are searching for. You typically want holes large enough to get rid of items that are smaller than what you are searching for, but not large enough to lose valuable specimens.
- Set up your strainer so that there is room underneath for water to flow through. Find a spot in the water or clay that looks as though rocks and other specimens have gathered there. Use your shovel to place a few scoops of clay/rocks into your strainer. Pour water over the strainer until you are left with only rocks, minerals and fossils.
- You can then pick through to find the best pieces!