Fresh Thoughts #83: How To Find A Fossil (in the UK)

Rocky Beach

Last week, I went fossil hunting with my son.
I thought I knew what to expect.
A fingertip search along the seashore using every forensic and detective trick I've learnt in cybersecurity over the past 20 years.
I was wrong.
Very wrong.

Finding Fossils in the UK

Like all novice fossil hunters, we had questions.
How do we find fossils?
What secrets and dark arts are there?

Well - it's surprisingly simple.
A three-point plan.

1) Fossils only form underwater - when a deluge of sediment traps an animal without oxygen. So, the first thing to look for is the blue-ish grey mudstone.
This came in the form of roughly 100,000 grey pebbles strewn all over the beach.

2) Most fossils are found in stones the size of an ice hockey puck or a McDonald's hamburger. I'm still trying to figure out why, but those are the rules.

3) The big one - you can tell a fossil is in a rock...
...when part of it is sticking out.

That's the big secret.
There's no point in cracking open a rock unless you can see part of a fossil sticking out before you start.

With this simple plan, we started our hunt.
And after three hours of picking up hundreds of rocks, I found… nothing.
Absolutely zero.
I suck at fossil hunting.

In contrast, my son made regular trips to offload his haul into my rucksack.
The final tally was 27 fossils, including belemnites, full ammonites, an ammonite burger, and many ammonite sections.

I started to explain this away...
He is closer to the ground than me...
And doesn't wear glasses...
So he can see fossils sticking out of rocks more easily.
There are things that others are better and more suited to doing.

This made me think - If I really wanted to get a fossil, how would I do it?

Build, Buy or Partner?

It's a question I've asked hundreds of times over the years.

Should we build it ourselves, buy it or partner?
For this unique feature... [build it]
For this design work... [partner]
For this IT infrastructure... [buy]

When working with engineers and creative folk, the bias is always to say, "Build it ourselves".
But this is rarely a good idea, and lessons are often learnt the hard way.
Maybe a failed project or loss of meaningful time and investment...
In this case, it was a forehead that resembled a Stop sign.

I could partner...
My son seems effective at finding fossils.
But... it is always a lucky dip.
Sometimes, you strike it lucky. Other times, not so much.
Add in all the other upfront investment...

That leaves buying fossils.
Off the shelf.
I know exactly what I will get - before I pay for it.
There's no luck.
It's just a transaction.

If I really wanted a fossil - that's what I would do.
The uncertainty is taken out of the situation.

Fossils are like IT infrastructures.
They're not special or unique.
So, buying a fossil is the way to go.

But - of course - my son has already started planning our next fossil hunting trip.

Next summer - I will be Head of Logistics for our fossil hunting mission.
But I won't be fossil hunting.
I will wander along the shoreline, thinking about my next purchase from the local fossil shop.

September 18, 2023
3 Minutes Read

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