Along the southern coast of England, midway between the towns of Dorchester and Exeter, lies the seaside town of Lyme Regis. Like many English towns, its history reaches back centuries, including a royal charter dated in 1284. The town remained an important port until the nineteenth century, and today, it is a popular tourist destination.
On June 5, 2007, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of Lyme Regis and its surroundings. In this image, deep blue indicates water and green indicates vegetation. Bare ground and paved surfaces appear in shades of beige and gray. The landscape around the town is lush, interrupted by the occasional plot of cultivated land. The gray-hued town sprawls away from the coast in a spider-like fashion.
A harbor wall known as “The Cobb,” extends out from the beach into the water. It doubled as a breakwater to protect the town from storm surges. Like the town itself, this harbor’s history spanned centuries, and it was mentioned in writing in 1328. The Cobb, however, experienced damage and destruction several times. In the fourteenth century, it was swept away, along with numerous boats and houses, only to be rebuilt afterwards. What storms could not do, growing ship sizes eventually did; by the mid-nineteenth century, this harbor was too small to accommodate larger ships, and Lyme Regis’ importance as a port city declined.
Lyme Regis has also become well known for fossils. The town actually sits on the side of a steep hill that descends to the beach. As a result, the area suffers the occasional landslide, but such landslides can reveal ancient skeletons. Likewise, the sea erodes fossils out of the seashore cliffs. Lyme Regis fossils date from the early Jurassic Period, roughly 190 to 200 million years ago, and include animals that lived in or near an ancient ocean. Nineteenth-century collectors such as Mary Anning found fame digging fossils including ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs (marine reptiles) and fossil mollusks.