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Bexhill's Dinosaurs

The rocks on which Bexhill is situated are about 130 million years old and were formed in a geological period called the Lower Cretaceous. They contain the fossilised remains of the plants and animals that inhabited a radically different landscape. The sea was not where it is today. The area was mostly a freshwater flood plain dominated by rivers, lakes and swamps. There appears to have been a dry season and a wet season. The temperature would have been much higher than it is today and fossil charcoal suggest that forest fires broke out occasionally. Floods during the wet season would carry into the lakes and rivers bones that had been lying on the ground. These remains were sometimes preserved as fossils.

Vegetation consisted of coniferous trees, cycads, ferns and fern-like plants. There were as yet no deciduous trees and no grasses. Fossil plant debris is very common in the rocks exposed on the beach at low tide. Examples of amber, fossilised tree sap, have been found in Bexhill. As yet no specimen has contained preserved insects. However, remains of insects have been found in the rocks on the beach. As well as the fossilised plant remains, waterlogged wood, roots and nuts are sometimes discovered. These are from a submerged forest that dates back to the Bronze Age, some 4,000 years ago.

Dinosaurs would have dominated the landscape. Most of the fossil remains that can be identified belonged to Iguanodon, a 5 to 10 metre long plant-eating dinosaur.

iguanodonIguanodon could walk either on its hind legs or on all fours, the preferred method of walking probably depending on the size and speed of the animal. The three middle fingers of its hands were used as toes when it was walking on all fours and each ended in a blunt hoof. Its thumb was modified into a sharp spike that may have been used for self-defence. Its little finger was dexterous and was probably used instead of a thumb for grasping food to bring it up to its mouth. Iguanodon had many grinding teeth at the back of its mouth for chewing the tough plants that it ate, but it had no teeth at the front of its mouth. Instead it had a strong beak for biting off a mouthful of food.

Remains have been found of large meat-eating dinosaurs such as Megalosaurus. This was about the same size as Iguanodon and walked and ran on its hind legs, balanced by its tail. It had sharp, curved teeth for killing its prey, probably Iguanodon, and for biting off chunks of meat. Its fingers and toes had bird-like claws for hunting.

Teeth of Baryonyx have been found in Bexhill. This was a meat-eating dinosaur similar to Megalosaurus but with a crocodile-like head and large curved claws on its hands. It is thought that Baryonyx hunted and ate mostly fish but, like a crocodile, would have eaten larger animals if the opportunity arose.

There are also bones of the armoured, plant-eating dinosaur Polacanthus. This animal walked on all fours and relied on its spiky armour, rather than speed, as a defence.

Bexhill is famous for the fossil dinosaur footprints sometimes exposed on the beach. Most of these footprints have been attributed to Iguanodon but Megalosaur prints are occasionally found.

In the lakes and rivers of the flood plain were crocodiles, turtles, fishes, freshwater sharks, crustaceans and molluscs. On land there were insects and small mammals, while the skies were still the domain of flying reptiles called pterosaurs.

Some examples of local dinosaur fossils are on display within the museum.


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