Go Fossil Hunting In London

By M@ Last edited 92 months ago
Go Fossil Hunting In London

The stones of London are teeming with antediluvian life. On your lunch break, you might have brushed against a creature from millions of years ago, or trodden on fossilised shells twice as ancient as any dinosaur.

Some of the most impressive examples can be found in the white Portland stone used for the construction of many of London's grandest buildings. The example above comes from the BBC's New Broadcasting House, whose leading wall has the most concentrated collection you're likely to see.

Economist Plaza in St James's, meanwhile, is overloaded with the ghosts of ancient life. Its steps heap fossils like an arcade penny pusher.

Round the corner, Green Park tube station is something of a monument to primordial sea creatures. The surface structure is built from Portland stone. Its fossilised inhabitants were locked in the rocks of Dorset for 150million years until finally revealed to the tourists of Piccadilly. They form an archaic sandwich around the artwork of John Maine, who recreates the stretched snails on a magnified scale.

St Paul's Cathedral holds still earlier forms. Trapped within the red Swedish limestone of the main steps, one finds the long, segmented shells — orthocones if you'd like the technical term — of ancient squid things. These creatures swam through the primordial seas 450million years ago — twice as far back in time as the earliest dinosaurs. (Incidentally, and dentally, a time before any creature had evolved teeth.)

Around the corner, the modern Paternoster Square development makes much use of Portland stone. It is a piazza that is dressed and decorated with millions of long-dead creatures.

Similar forms can be found on the outside of the De Beers building in Holborn. This large complex contains billions of pounds worth of diamonds, but it holds other ancient treasures on its facade stones.

And then there's Waterloo Bridge. Look carefully at the coping stones along the edge and you'll notice countless remnants form the Jurassic era. What looks like chipped concrete is, in fact, the petrified shells of marine life, including oysters and bivalves. The shells are all smashed up, suggesting that we're witnessing the result of a natural disaster, such as a tsunami.

Once you become aware of London's stonelife, you'll see it everywhere. There's even a website to help you track down further examples. London Pavement Geology offers an annotated map that not only shows you where to find fossils, but also provides information on the types of architectural stone. London might be a city of just 2,000 years, but its building blocks predate our species.

Last Updated 06 July 2016