For thousands of years the Lyme cliffs have crumbled and fallen, revealing great numbers of fossils which have been washed out of the crumbling rock by the sea. In the days before palaeontology, people picked up these oddly shaped ‘stones’, seeing them as curiosities of nature, but until the early 19th century there was no scientific interest or understanding.
Lyme Regis was a centre for early pioneering palaeontologists, including Mary Anning, Henry de la Beche, William Buckland and William Conybeare. See Mary Anning and the men of science.
The ‘Lias’ rock at Lyme was being quarried from the sea ledges in the early 19th century, mostly for making cement which would set underwater. This exposed large areas for fossil hunting.
George Roberts wrote in his Dictionary of Geology (1839) under the entry for Plesiosaurs:
“The great depository is Lyme Regis: the reason is, that a greater extent of Lias is there acted upon by the tide, and men, who break up the ledges; and so enable Miss Anning to perambulate a fruitful superficial extent of three miles long by one eighth of a mile broad.”
An overview of the palaeontological research at Lyme Regis Museum is available for download: Lyme Regis Museum Fossil Research (PDF, 350KB)