Jurassic Giant – Largest marine reptile skeleton ever found in Britain

Dr Mark Evans of the British Antarctic Survey and visiting scientist at University of Leicester said: “I have been studying the Jurassic reptile fossils of Rutland and Leicestershire for over twenty years. When I first saw the specimen’s initial exhibit with Joe Davis, I could tell it was the largest known ichthyosaur from either county. However, it was only after our exploratory digs that we realized it was pretty much full to the end of the tail. In the 1970s, during the construction of Rutland Water, two partial, but much smaller, ichthyosaur skeletons were found, so finding another one of these Jurassic marine reptiles was not entirely unexpected, but the size of the new find was a complete surprise.

The find’s location in landlocked Rutland also piqued the team’s interest. In the UK, Early Jurassic rocks stretch across the country from Yorkshire to Dorset, and most ichthyosaur finds have been made along the coast. Historically, significant fossil discoveries were made inland through quarrying and the creation of new roads, but such discoveries are incredibly rare today, making this new find even luckier.

Dr Evans added: ‘Rutland’s motto, ‘Multum in Parvo’, translates to ‘Much in a little’, so it’s only fitting that we have found Britain’s largest ichthyosaur skeleton in the smallest county of England. This is a very significant discovery both nationally and internationally, but also of paramount importance to the people of Rutland and surrounding areas. If our identification of the ichthyosaur is correct, as a species called Temnodontosaurus trigonodonthis will provide new details on the geographic range of the species as this has not been confirmed in the UK before.

Nigel Larkin, paleontological conservation specialist and visiting researcher at Reading Universitysaid: “The block containing the massive 2m long skull weighs just under a ton (including the fossil, the Jurassic clay it rests in, the plaster of Paris and the wooden splints). The block containing the main body section weighs about a ton and a half. It’s not often that you are responsible for safely lifting a very important but very fragile fossil that weighs that much. It’s a responsibility, but I like the challenges.”

Of the few large ichthyosaurs found in the UK, those collected historically have poorly recorded information, with details of where they were found and their age often completely unknown. This makes the new discovery particularly significant. As part of the team, Dr Ian Boomer from the University of Birmingham took samples of the Jurassic clay surrounding the ichthyosaur and discovered microscopic fossils which helped identify the exact original layer of the ichthyosaur and to determine the age between 181.5 and 182 million years. old.

Anglian Water CEO Peter Simpson said: “Rutland Water has a long list of fascinating archaeological and paleontological finds, but none is more exciting than this.”

“As a water company, we have a role to play in bringing environmental and social prosperity to our region. This is why the correct preservation and conservation of something so scientifically valuable and part of our history is as important to us as ensuring that our pipes and pumps are fit and resilient for the future. We also recognize the significance that a find like this will have for the local Rutland community.

In order to preserve the precious remains, Anglian Water is seeking heritage funding. It will also ensure that he can stay in Rutland where his legacy can be shared with the general public.

Nigel Larkin added: “It was a very complex operation to safely discover, record and collect this important specimen. It involved all sorts of specialties, materials, tools and techniques, but it was completed in 14 .5 days, spread over three weeks. The project removing the plaster coats and then cleaning, conserving and preparing the contents for research and display will take approximately 18 months – once we secure the appropriate funding.”

Not only did the team excavate the gigantic ichthyosaur, but they also unearthed an entire ecosystem of time-trapped Jurassic creatures. This includes hundreds of squid-like ammonites and belemnites, nautiluses, gastropods, crustaceans, and several ichthyosaur vertebrae from other individuals, which together provide insight into the ancient life of this little corner of Rutland. “The site is of international importance. We are excited to see what other secrets will be revealed in the years to come as we undertake our research into the findings,” added Dr Nicholls.

Ensuring every detail of the ichthyosaur was recorded before it was pulled from the ground, ThinkSee3D’s Steven Dey took thousands of photographs of the fully exposed skeleton and created a high-definition 3D digital model, using a technique called photogrammetry. This vital part of the excavation will aid the team’s future research and will also help share the find with the public. The digital model will serve as an important reference when the skeleton is removed from the plaster wraps and cleaned.

“To put this discovery into context for the public. In the world of British palaeontology, discovery means finding a tyrannosaurus rex in the Badlands of America, only this Jurassic giant has been found in a nature reserve in Rutland, of all! It is a truly unprecedented discovery and one of the greatest discoveries in British paleontological history. added Dr. Lomax.

In an exclusive, the excavation of the Rutland Sea Dragon was filmed for the BBC primetime series, Digging for Britain. The episode will be screened on January 11 as part of the final series.

Dr. Lomax and the team of paleontologists will continue to work on researching and preserving this important scientific discovery, with academic papers to be published in the future.

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