Experience: I found a 480-million-year-old fossil in my garden

I love digging in the back garden; I’ve been doing it for ages. When I was younger, I hoped to reach other countries, or at least get to my neighbour’s back garden. During lockdown me and my mummy started digging in the flowerbeds together.

Sometimes, I’d dig for pottery and stuff, but I’ve always wanted to find a fossil. I like finding out about the past. At school, my favourite subject is history. I’ve been watching Andy’s Prehistoric Adventures on CBeebies since I was three (I’m now six) and I’ve seen lots of YouTube videos of a guy who searches for megalodon teeth. I knew I had a good chance of finding a fossil, because my house was built on a muddy, limestone substrate, in Walsall, which means millions of years ago, my garden wasn’t my garden at all – it was a coral reef.

On 22 March, it was a sunny day. I came back from school, got changed and went outside. I asked Dad if I could dig in my favourite spot, by the yellow bush near our house, where we had planted potatoes and onions, but he told me not to, because he’d just moved a tree there and it was establishing roots. I went to the back garden instead, taking Dad’s old brown wooden spade with me. I dug a pit, about a foot deep, which didn’t take very long, when I found a ball of mud with something pointy sticking out the top. I ran into the kitchen screaming. I was so excited. I knew it was a fossil.

At first, I thought it might be a deer’s tooth or a goat’s claw. When Dad washed the mud off, we saw that it had lots of bumpy, wavy lines; we both thought it looked like one of the sea anemones, from the fish tank in his office, but with a horn.

Dad and I have moved on to the lawn. Mum tells us to stop digging up the garden, but it’s fun
Dad sent a video to the Fossil Finds UK Facebook group, which we had joined after a visit to Lyme Regis last year (there are lots of Jurassic fossils there). People replied saying it had the markings of a horn coral from the Palaeozoic era, which is the very beginnings of life on Earth. I had found one of the oldest fossils in England.

We looked in my books and online for more information, and my dad spoke to the Lapworth Museum of Geology in Birmingham. We typed our postcode into a British Geology Survey search where you can find out what you’re standing on – ours is the oldest substrate in the area, with lots of clay and limestone, but it’s unusual to find anything so close to the surface. Experts told us that my horn coral lived between 415 million and 480 million years ago. There weren’t even proper fish or sharks then.

I like to imagine it was yellow, orange, green and blue, and I think the wavy lines were its tentacles. If we dig a bit deeper, I think we’ll find there were thousands of animals once just swimming around and around where my garden is now.

I’ve become pretty famous since I found my fossil. Reporters came to interview me, and on the last day of term I showed my horn coral to my class, and they watched me on the news. My family in India and Canada have seen me on TV, too.

Before the horn coral, the only fossils I found were shark teeth in a National Geographic kit that my aunt got me. More recently, in Lyme Regis, we found a plesiosaur femur from the early Jurassic period, so I think we’re quite lucky diggers.

I know lots about fossils now. I know that they’re the imprint of a dead animal. From one bone, you can learn what it belonged to, when it was born, when it died, and how many more bones you might find in its skeleton.

Dad and I have been doing more digging since our find. We’ve moved out of the flowerbeds and on to the lawn. Mum tells us to stop digging up the garden, but it’s fun.

We’ve found stone blocks with hundreds of tiny imprints from coral and crinoids (little sea animals with feathery tentacles). I found a block at my granny’s house, too, which is exactly 48 seconds’ walk away. We’ve got 11 pieces in total, but the horn coral is our biggest.

When I grow up I want to be a paleo-archaeologist, so I can study rocks and find out where they came from. I want to make a display cabinet for my finds and, one day, I hope to turn my garage into a mini museum and make it free for people to visit. I’ve got to ask my mum first, though.