At a time when women were expected to stay at home, several women were making scientific breakthroughs that gained them the respect and admiration of their colleagues. Mary Anning's skill at finding and collecting fossils helped develop the new subject of palaeontology. Mary Buckland's drawings helped spread this knowledge and led us to a new understanding of where we came from.

Look at the students' sheet to find the instructions for this activity.

Or download a pdf of the instructions here.

Curriculum Links 


Working Scientifically


Lower key stage 2 Year 3


Geographical skills and fieldwork


 Scottish Curriculum



SCN 2-01a


Planet Earth - Biodiversity and interdependence


SCN 2-17a

Materials - Earth's materials

Social Studies


SOC 2-07a

People, place and environment


Describing  the major characteristic features of Scotland's landscape and explaining how these were formed. 


SOC 2-12a

People, place and environment


Comparing local area with a contrasting area outwith Britain, investigating the main features of weather and climate, discussing the impact on living things.

The animals and plants that became the fossils that Mary Anning picked off the beach lived in a very different world to the one we know now.  These creatures lived around 200 million years ago in what is known as the Jurassic Period.


At that time, all the land on Earth was clumped together in a 'super continent' - like in the picture above.  The tiny bit of land that would eventually become Britain was mostly covered in water, and was much farther south than where it is now.  Over millions of years, these continents started to break up.  It would take another few hundred million years before the world started to look as we know it now.

The rocks in the south of England were made during the Jurassic Period, with rivers carrying grains of mud towards the sea and dropping it on the sea floor.  Over time, these layers of mud built up and were squashed and heated until they turned into rock.  The ocean levels rose and fell, and this rock ended up high out of the water, making up the cliffs near where Mary Anning lived.


What type of rock are the cliffs made of?

cereal in jar_300Download a pdf of the instructions here.

These rocks are called sedimentary rocks, but there are different types of sedimentary rock depending on the type of grains that make it up.

You will need...

Lots of different breakfast cereals, choose some small, medium and large ones, e.g. Cheerios, Rice Krispies, completely crumbled Weetabix
Several glasses or jars
Some sugar

What to do...(1)

1.  Pour about 5cm of one of your cereals into a glass.  Repeat this, using different types of cereal in different glasses.

2.  Pour a spoonful of sugar on to the top of each of them. Try not to pour too much down the side of the glass.

3.  Watch as some of the sugar makes it to the bottom of some of your glasses, while in others it gets stuck near the top.


What is going on?

jurassic coast_300The breakfast cereals are just like the different grains found in different sedimentary rocks.  Rocks like sandstone have big grains.  Water (represented by the sugar in your experiment) can flow fairly easily through these rocks.  They are said to be more 'permeable'.  Rocks with smaller grain sizes, like shale, do not let water through as easily.  Shale is made from fine grains of mud.

Another type of sedimentary rock is made under the sea, when tiny shelled sea creatures like coral die and drop to the sea floor.  These shells build up, become squeezed, and eventually become rocks called limestone or chalk.

The cliffs where Mary Anning found her fossils were made of layers of shale and limestone.


What to do...(2)

1.  Take another glass and pour in 2cm of your smallest sized breakfast cereal.

2.  On top of this, add 1cm of your medium sized cereal.  (Pop in a shell at this stage if you have one!)  Then add some more of the smallest cereal.  Keep repeating with layers of the medium and smallest sized cereals until you have filled the glass up to the top.

These different layers are just like those in the cliffs where Mary Anning searched for her fossils.