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THE CLIFFS OF BLACK COWS, THE PALEONTOLOGICAL SITE OF CALVADOS

It was on the beach at Villers-sur-Mer that the Norman paleontological adventure began! The site of the Vaches Noires cliffs is famous for its fossils from the beginning of the 1716th century. It was here that Father Charles Bacheley (1795-XNUMX) discovered the first dinosaur remains found in France. These cliffs owe their name to the sailors, who when approaching the coast used them as a landmark and found that the large pieces of black chalk that fell on the beach looked like cows.

The site is classified as a natural area of ​​ecological, faunistic and floristic interest of type I. The thickets of the cliffs are a nesting place for several protected bird species, in particular the green woodpecker and the water hen.

© Julien Boisard
© Julien Boisard

140 million years ago, during the Jurassic period, the region was covered by a tropical sea. Qualified today as a paleontological deposit, these cliffs were formed by the accumulation of sediments deposited by this sea, hence the presence in number of fossils of marine reptiles, shark teeth, ammonites ...

Today, the cliffs rise up to 100m above sea level and are composed of a succession of layers of clay, marl and chalk, which makes it possible to discover fossils dating from several eras and to note the evolution of fauna and flora since the Jurassic.

Since 1995, they have been protected and access is prohibited because of the risk of landslides. For safety reasons, fossil collection is only allowed at the foot of the cliffs, which is the best place to find them because during the high tide, the waves make fossils appear in large quantities.

To preserve and share with the public the discoveries made on the cliffs, the Paléospace, a museum dedicated to local paleontology, opened its doors in 2011.

© Julien Boisard

FOSSIL HUNTING WITH BLACK COWS: THE ESSENTIAL MATERIAL

To go hunting for fossils, it is important to be well equipped, but above all, you have to pay attention to the hours of the tides so as not to find yourself stuck at the foot of the cliff by the rising tide.
Timetables are available at the tourist office and on the Internet.

Bring a large bag to put your fossils, rubber boots, comfortable clothes that fear nothing, a small pick or hammer and a chisel to unhook the chosen pieces stuck in the rocks, and an anorak for them. rainy days.
For the more knowledgeable, a small bottle of white vinegar makes it easy to differentiate between white rocks and limestone.

To learn all about the use of white vinegar among paleontologists, go to the Paléospace or on one of the guided tours.

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