Along the seafront at Edinburgh, Carboniferous rocks yield fossil plant remains, crinoid stems and shells. Most of the best beds have been over-collected, but there are still lots of fossils to be found.
♦ Head onto the Edinburgh Bypass (A720) until it ends at a large junction. Here, take the A199 to Edinburgh city centre. Then take the B6415 along the seafront to Joppa Shore.
♦ Park along the road and walk over the grass embankment, where you will see a small wall. You can climb over this and walk along the concrete slipway.
♦ Ref: 55.94949°N, 3.08690°W
FIND FREQUENCY: ♦♦♦♦ – Fossils from this site are quite common, but the brachiopods and crinoids can be poorly preserved and worn.
CHILDREN: ♦ – Due to the small climb over the wall at Joppa Shore, we cannot recommend this location for families.
ACCESS: ♦♦♦ – Joppa Shore has good parking nearby and, being in Edinburgh, has plenty of shops, cafes and so on.
TYPE: – Fossils at Joppa can be found on the foreshore.
This site is a SSSI, so do not hammer the strata and collect only from loose material.
The most common finds at Joppa are plant stem remains, although you can also find crinoids and brachiopods. Most of the crinoids are quite worn and the brachiopods are also poorly preserved. The best beds are to the east, but these have mostly been over collected.
All of the fossils can be found on the foreshore, where there should be plenty of loose material. Search the pebbles and loose shale, which has been washed away from the foreshore exposures.
The shore can be walked from either direction, if you walk to toward the east (from Portobello) you are walking up sequence, that is, the rocks are getting younger in the direction you walk. You will initially notice that the beds of rock are tilted to the east at a 45 to 60 degree angle. Originally, they were deposited almost horizontally, this tilt is the result of tectonic forces.
The rocks along the shore run horizontally.
From Portobello, walking east along the shore, the rock sequence is as follows:
Lower Limestone Formation was formed 322-331 Mya and is of Pendleian age, from the Silesian (Upper Carboniferous)
Limestone Coal Formation from the Clackmannan Group was formed 322 to 326 Mya and crops out on the shoreline. It is of Pendleian age from the Silesian (Upper Carboniferous)
Index Limestone 322-326 marks the top of the Limestone Coal Formation and is so named because it indicated that the valuable coals lay underneath
Orchard Limestone 318 – 322 is a pale to dark grey, fine-grained, argillaceous, crinoidal, bioclastic, locally shelly limestone from the Arnsbergian of the Silesian (Upper Carboniferous). It is part of the Upper Limestone Formation. These are the oldest rocks seen here and consist mainly of shallow water marine mudstones and siltstones. The only coal in this formation is generally present as thin seams and is unprofitable. Underlying the rocks visible here is a sandstone which was extracted from Joppa Quarry and used for local building stone.
Passage Formation, again from the Clackmannan Group, formed 312 to 322 Mya can be seen, consisting of thick sandstones. The base of this bed can be seen furthest out to sea at low tide. Within this formation, there are limited marine bands, which contain some fossil shells. Mudstones are interbedded with the sandstone becoming more dominant up section to the east. The sandstones represent river deposits, and the mudstones fossilised flood plain deposits. There are occasional marine units in the form of thin limestones with iron ribs. There are no limestones or coal in the Passage Formation but rootlets and fireclays (fossil soils) are present. Fireclays have been worked locally, generally as an additional product during coal and sandstone quarrying, to be used for pipes and firebricks.
The rocks of the Passage Formation are from the Arnsbergian from the Silesian (Upper Carboniferous)
Castlecary Limestone. This is a 4- metre thicjk layer of white or pale to dark grey, medium- to fine-grained, crinoidal, bioclastic, locally dolomitic limestone, interpreted to be of marine origin, and containing algal nodules. This is where most of the fossil bivalves, brachiopods and crinoids come from. The Castlecary Limestonecan be traced across Scotland and indicates a period of relatively high sea level. The marine fossils show this rock was formed in shallow water. Rocks are from the Arnsbergian from the Silesian (Upper Carboniferous)
Scottish Lower Coal Measures Formation, formed 312 to 313 Mya. The seam here was over one metre in thickness but was dug away long ago. Here, remaining dark grey mudstones may contain fossil shells and plant material. It is from the Scottish Coal Measures group. These are the youngest rocks at Joppa Shore forming the base part of the Lower Coal Measures. Sandstone from river deposits is the dominant rock type seen, although some coal seams ranging from a few cm’s to over 1m thick are present. The coal seams are mostly covered now by silt and sand, but occasional glimpses of coal can be found uncovered. You can also find some dark grey mudstones which are flood plain and lake deposits. Freshwater fossils and plant remains can be seen in some units. The Seven Foot Coal marks the base of the formation. although as it is now dug away only the underlying rooted beds can now be seen.
Common sense when collecting at all locations should always be used and prior knowledge of tide times is essential. You can get easily become cut off by the tide here. Note that access to the shore is difficult, because you have to climb over a wall to get to the shore.
A splitting pick is very handy at this location. You will also need plenty of paper to wrap up your finds.
Most of the fossils can be found by searching the loose material on the foreshore. This is a SSSI, so hammering is not permitted at this location.
This site is an SSSI. This Special Site of Scientific Interest, means you can visit the site, but hammering the bedrock is not permitted.
Scotland’s fossil resource is at risk of abuse and damage, and so we must all safeguard and managed fossil collecting to ensure its survival for future generations. For this reason it is VITAL you read and adhere to the Scottish Fossil Code for ALL sites in Scotland.