An island’s story…

An island 130 million years in the making….

The Isle of Wight is a world famous fossil hunting location! It might be small, but our island’s past stretches back deep into geological time! The diverse geology and palaeontology of the Isle of Wight yield fossils and finds spanning 130 million years, from the early Cretaceous to the end of the last Ice Age.

Our island’s geological history tells us an important story…

Explore this story below and travel through 130 million years!

Floodplains of the Dinosaurs – 130,000,000 years BP

130,000,000 years ago the ‘Isle of Wight’ is a very different place. It is the early Cretaceous period and a large river flows across what is now southern England. The river deposits sediments on a vast floodplain, with wetlands, rivers and forests. These sediments will one day become the Wessex Formation, the richest dinosaur-bearing rocks in Europe and the oldest rocks on the Isle of Wight!

Dinosaurs like Iguanodon, Mantellisaurus and Hypsilophodon browse the floodplain vegetation, stalked by theropods such as Neovenator, Baryonyx and Eotyrannus. The armoured Polacanthus trundles by and the titanic sauropods pass through on their seasonal migrations.

Greensand Seas: 120 – 105,000,000 years BP

Sea levels rise and the floodplains of southern England slip beneath the waves of a shallow coastal sea! The coastal seas now dominate our region depositing sands and clays that will in time become the Greensand groups!

Giant uncoiled ammonites cruise the surface waters, alongside ichthyosaurs, predatory fish, sharks and nautili! Pterosaurs swoop overhead, and the remains of plants and dinosaurs wash out to sea from nearby islands.

Chalk Oceans: 100 – 65,000,000 years BP

The sea level continues to rise. Land is so far away the only sediment building up is the microscopic remains of plankton raining down from the surface waters. Most of Europe lies beneath this open chalk sea.

Large predatory sharks and marine reptiles prowl the open waves, along with ammonites, nautili and shoals of fish. In the dark and very alien world of the chalk seafloor, sea urchins and sea sponges dominate the landscape.

Tropical shores: 50 – 38,000,000 years BP

The mesozoic world of dinosaurs, pterosaurs and the age of reptiles has ended with the KT extinction event! Its now the Palaeocene/Eocene epochs and mammals are now diversifying to dominate the planet. The Earth’s climate is very warm, with tropical rainforests blanketing the Earth from nearly pole to pole!

The Isle of Wight is beneath a shallow tropical sea surrounded by low-lying river deltas, home to lush wetlands and rainforests. A myriad of sharks, rays, fish and other exotic marine life such as sea turtles call these waters home. Early whales cruise the deeper waters offshore and the nearby wetlands are infested with crocodiles, turtles and ancient mammals.

The Wight Everglades: 34,000,000 years BP

Sea levels are falling. Its the Late Eocene/early Oligocene epochs and the northern Isle of Wight is part of a low-lying sub-tropical coastal plain home to wetlands, swamps, rivers and lagoons, very similar to the modern Florida Everglades. The climate is still very warm but the world is beginning to cool down towards a more modern climate.

The wetlands are home alligators, turtles, fish, birds and a diverse array of bizarre mammals, including primates, hornless rhinoceroses, bear-dogs, ancient camel and horse relatives and Entelodonts a group of carnivorous pig-like predators the size of a bison.

Error 404 – Geology not found!: 30 – 1,000,000 years BP

Its the Miocene and Pliocene epochs, but where are the rocks and fossils? The sediments laid down here during this time no longer exist, if they existed at all! Uplift is increasingly affecting our region as rocks are driven upwards, and eroded down by the elements, destroying or preventing any evidence of life here being preserved.

Evidence of this uplift and folding can be seen in the vertical Eocene strata at Alum and Whitecliff Bays, the rocks here have been folded 90º! The modern hills in our region are slowly taking shape.

Flint, fire and ice: 100 – 11,000 years BP

Its the last ice age and the Isle of Wight is part of a vast freezing tundra landscape. Ice sheets are repeatedly expanding southwards, sometimes as far south as London! Bison, reindeer, wild horse and woolly mammoth roam the windswept plains, alongside bears, cave lions, wolves and hyena! The English Channel and the Solent don’t exist, for the moment they are large river valleys.

Hardy Neanderthals hunt the herds and follow the rivers, producing flint tools. 40,000 years ago a new species arrives, Homo sapiens! We are here, but not for long. 20,000 years ago the climate becomes too harsh to support most life, humans and wildlife are driven away.

14,000 years ago reindeer return, followed by nomadic tribes of reindeer hunters. Temperatures are warming and boreal forests start to expand. Mammoths and many ice age megafauna now face extinction. Human hunter-gatherers adapt to the new forested landscapes.

The birth of an island: 11,000 – 2,000 years BP

The ice sheets retreat and sea levels rise, but the Isle of Wight is still part of mainland Britain. Modern forests and wildlife expand across the landscape. At first bands of Mesolithic hunters roam the warm forests, hunting deer, boar and wild cattle.

6,000 years ago pioneering Neolithic farmers cross the English Channel from France in skin boats, bringing farming to the Isle of Wight. The Bronze Age Beaker People come soon after and construct ancient barrows across our landscape to honour the dead! Humans control the environment and are paving the way for our modern world.

5,000 years ago the Solent River is flooded by rising sea levels. Our modern island is finally born after 130 million years!

2,000 years ago the sandals of Roman soldiers land our shores. The Roman Empire is here, and our prehistoric story comes to an end.