Next to chewing gum, fossils on Amsterdam streets

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Big-city dwellers have learnt to keep an eye on the ground to avoid stepping into dog poo or chewing gum, but in Amsterdam they might want to look out for something else as well -- fossils.

Fossilized corals, sea lilies and shells can be found all over the city, from small canal streets to the city’s main shopping area, said Annemieke van Roekel, author of a booklet that takes visitors on a guided tour of fossils in Amsterdam.

“We see here the history of the earth on the streets of Amsterdam,” she said.

Wealthy Amsterdam citizens used natural stone containing the fossils for their canal houses in the 17th century, and more recently the city used stones more than 300 million years old on the streets, to preserve their historical character.

In a small street lined with shops in the centre of the Dutch capital, the Oude Leliestraat, Van Roekel points to round white shapes in the Irish bluestone that is used for kerbstones.

“You see cross-sections of very old shells, brachiopods they’re called. They lived in shallow tropical seas ... when they died they were buried in the mud, that’s how the stone developed,” she said.

Visitors to Amsterdam who wish to go fossil hunting can consult Van Roekel’s web site,, for a map of some key spots including pictures.

“Once you know, you can’t escape it. You start seeing more and more,” she said.