Pisces: Giant fossil “sea dragon” found in Britain

“I called the county council and said I thought I had found a dinosaur,” said Joe Davis, who works at the Rutland Nature Reserve. During redevelopment work at a shelter site in February 2021, he had spotted something strange protruding from the mud.

He was not a dinosaur. But it was the fossilized remains of a 10-meter-long marine predator called a fish lizard. And it was the largest of its kind ever discovered in the United Kingdom.

“I looked down at something that looked like rocks or ridges in the mud and I said it looked a little organic, a little different,” Mr Davis told BBC News. “Then we saw something that looked almost like a jaw.” The council told Mr Davis: “We do not have a dinosaur department in the Rutland County Council, so we need to find someone to call you back.” A team of paleontologists came to take a closer look.

Photo: ANGLIAN WATER

They concluded that it was a fish lizard – a kind of warm-blooded marine predator that breathes air and does not look like dolphins. They could reach a length of 25 meters and lived 250 to 90 million years ago.

Dr Dean Lomax, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester, took the lead in the excavation. He described the discovery as “truly unprecedented” and – due to its size and completeness – “one of the greatest finds in British paleontological history”.

Rutland is more than 48 miles from the coast, but 200 million years ago the highest sea level meant that the place was covered by a shallow ocean. When the water level at that point in Rutland dropped again in the late summer of 2021, a team of paleontologists came to excavate the remains. Particular attention was paid to the removal of the huge skull.

A large volume of clay containing the fish lizard’s head was carefully dug up before being covered with plaster and placed in wooden splints. The boulder, weighing almost a ton, was pulled out of the mud and will now be examined further.

“It is not uncommon to be responsible for the safe lifting of a very important but very fragile fossil that weighs so much,” said Nigel Larkin, a paleontological conservator and visiting researcher at Reading University. The responsibility is huge, but so is the challenge.

Anglian Water, which manages this part of the Rutland Shelter, is now seeking funding to enable the fish lizard to remain in the area and be enjoyed by the general public.

Photo: ANGLIAN WATER

Source:

www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-59915689

Main photo: MATTHEW POWER


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