i was told at some point very convincingly that i should not take pebbles from the beaches because if everyone did that it would contribute to erosion. each time i’ve been to a shingle beach since i’m confused about that: there seems to be such an abundance of stones, pebbles, shingles, grid, sand and each new high tide brings new ones so that the idea of erosion by collectors seems a bit far-fetched.
so i make a kind of compromise with myself and set a daily pebble allowance of: one. max.
that doesn’t stop me from constantly scanning the ground in front of me as i walk down a beach, the gatherer ancestors crying out loud in my ears (did you know that at some point in the African history cowry shells were the main currency – people with access to a beach must have felt blessed and probably developed obsessive tendencies unless they understood the meaning of enough?).
when i was on the jurassic coast a couple of weeks ago i was very content with the richness of pebbles there – especially when i discovered the beauty of creating beachscapes (see previous post from 24 may) and the joy of looking for round pebbles with a thin red line. on my last day at the small stretch of coast in beer i didn’t look for anything anymore, i had just come down to the beach to say good bye to the sea and all of a sudden saw something very different lying next to my foot. it looked like a fossil but i don’t understand a thing about them so hadn’t paid any heed to finding them – but here it was. beautiful, ancient and unknown. it took me until last week to try and find out what it actually was and i came across the Natural History Museum’s ‘Identification and Advisory Services’. i sent them a photo of my foundling and described it’s size and where i had found it, and within two days received a very friendly email explaining that i had found a fossil sea urchin that’s slightly irregularly heart shaped, a sign that it’s from the Jurassic Period from 180 million years ago.
i’m still absolutely stunned by it and not sure what i find more extraordinary: that i who doesn’t know a thing about fossils found one just when i was absolutely not looking for anything? that this apricot-sized piece of beauty is about 180 million years old, a time-span so large that it doesn’t really make sense to me? or that the Natural History Museum has such a service with such friendly people who are so enthusiastic about people’s queries that they send lots of background information?!?