During landscaping work being undertaken at the Rutland Nature Reserve near Leicester, workers have found a huge fossilised ‘sea dragon’. The worker who first saw the fossil said: “I saw something unusual poking out of the mud.”
Joe Davis said: “I rang up the county council and I said I think I’ve found a dinosaur.”
It turned out it wasn’t a dinosaur, but the fossilised remains of a ten-metre long sea predator called an ichthyosaur. The fossil is the largest of its type ever discovered in the UK.
“I looked down at what seemed like stones or ridges in the mud and I said this looks a bit organic, a bit different,” Mr Davis told BBC News. “Then we saw something that looked almost like a jawbone.”
A team of palaeontologists were sent to investigate after the Rutland County Council told Davis: “We don’t have a dinosaur department at so we’re going to have to get someone to call you back.”
They concluded it was an ichthyosaur, warm-blooded, air-breathing sea predators not unlike dolphins, that could grow up to 25 metres long. They lived between 250 million and 90 million years ago.
Dr Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist from Manchester University, was brought in to lead the excavation effort. He called the discovery “truly unprecedented”, and due to its size and completeness, “one of the greatest finds in British paleontological history”.
“Usually we think of ichthyosaurs and other marine reptiles being discovered along the Jurassic coast in Dorset or the Yorkshire coast, where many of them are exposed by the erosion of the cliffs. Here at an inland location is very unusual.”
Rutland is more than thirty miles from the coast, but 200 million years ago higher sea levels meant it was covered by a shallow ocean. The remains were excavated in the summer when water levels lowered.
A large block of clay containing the ichthyosaur’s head was carefully dug out before being covered in plaster and placed on wooden splints. The block, weighing almost a tonne, was raised out of the mud and will now be examined further.
“It’s not often you are responsible for safely lifting a very important but very fragile fossil weighing that much,” said Nigel Larkin, palaeontological conservator and Visiting Research Fellow at Reading University. “It is a responsibility, but I love a challenge.”
Anglia Water, which manages the Rutland reservoir, is now looking for funding to enable the ichthyosaur to stay in the area and be enjoyed by the general public.
“A lot of people thought I was pulling their leg when I told them I’d found a large marine reptile at work,” Mr Davis said. “I think a lot of people won’t believe it until the TV programme goes out.”
Palaeontologists will be keen to study the fossilised sea dragon after it was found at the Rutland reservoir, the perfect sample providing the opportunity to study the anumal in depth.
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