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The monsters of Villers-sur-Mer

Match! Fossil hunters on the beach at Villers-sur-Mer
Match! Fossil hunters on the beach at Villers-sur-Mer

Outrageous arrangements of plants are not a surprise in Normandy.  Towns and villages work hard to be awarded ‘Villes et Villages Fleuris’ status. 

This can range from a ‘distinction’ (window boxes) to the top ‘4 flowers’ award (a creative floral explosion over everything) and rivalry is intense.

So we should not have been surprised the first time we zoomed through Villers-sur-Mer and saw a gigantic leafy Diplodocus on the roundabout calling out to the sea and next to it a baby Diplodocus. All set out with a nice border of red Salvias.  But we nearly broke our necks as we drove by shouting Whaaat?!

The diplodocus family in Villers-sur-Mer
The Diplodocus family in Villers-sur-Mer

This remarkable leap of Norman imagination outstripped any flora and fauna the region had offered so far; why had a little seaside town created dinosaurs?

Fossil hunting at Villers-sur-Mer

Very little research revealed Villers-sur-Mer as uniquely placed on a bed of Jurassic rocks that reach all the way to Dorset.

Millions of years ago less leafy monsters may well have ambled across this very spot and the town is justifiably proud of it’s heritage.

Today you can walk along a sandy beach towards the ‘vaches noires’, ‘black cows’ rocks named by sailors, that sit between cliffs and sea, and with very little effort pick up amazing fossils.

The thrill of discovery

Looking at our postcard it is clear these historic holiday makers are trawling for ‘tiaramas’ and barely noticing the blue skies and smooth sands around them.

Jurassic oysters! Oh sorry, Gryphaea Dilatata Oxfordian...
Jurassic oysters! Oh sorry, Gryphaea Dilatata Oxfordian…

Fossil hunting first became popular in the 19th century, causing many a lively discussion on evolution around the polished bourgeois tables of Europe.

There was also money to be made and local entrepreneurs selling fossils to the English were noticed by the author Flaubert.  His last novel ‘Bouvard et Pécuchet’ features a pair of fossil hunting reprobates who destroy more than they find, still a concern of palaeontologists today.

Handfuls of Lopha gregarea

The Villers-sur-Mer site is unusual as the layers of rock are a mix of Callovian-Oxfordian and Cenomanian.

The result is an amazing range of specimens; sharks teeth, gastropods, echinoderms, brachiopods, bivalves, ammonites, belemnites, sponges and more.

Happy dinosaur at Paléospace de l'Odyssée
Happy dinosaur at Paléospace de l’Odyssée in Villers-sur-Mer

We found huge fossilised oysters and handfuls of scratchy Lopha gregarea.

After choosing a couple of small favourites we left the rest behind for the town’s ‘Paléo walk’ next day.

No digging!

The area is a classified site of scientific interest so no digging, just surface grazing or you may find yourself in big trouble.  The locals are understandably protective of these special cliffs and keep an eye out for fossil cowboys.

Things to do in Villers-su-mer if you don't care for fossils.
Lots to do in Villers-su-Mer if you don’t care for fossils.

Hungry for more?

The Villers-sur-Mer Paléospace-l’Odyssée museum has the best examples of locally found fossils, plus some rather fancier ones from around the world. And here is a handy page that identifies fossils from this beach (we wish we had found this before our visit).

 

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