180 million-year-old 'sea dragon' remains found in UK
Workers at a reserve made a lifetime discovery while on routine maintenance of a lagoon when they found a "sea dragon", the largest of its kind ever found in the UK.
The gigantic fossilized remains of an ichthyosaur have been found in Rutland Water Nature Reserve in the East Midlands, UK.
According to researchers, this is one of the most important discoveries in the UK, since it represents the biggest and most complete skeleton of its kind found to date, and it dates back to 180 million years.
"It is a truly unprecedented discovery and one of the greatest finds in British paleontological history," Dean Lomax, the excavation leader and a paleontologist and visiting scientist at the University of Manchester, said in a statement.
The specimen, also known as ‘sea dragon’, measures nearly 33 feet (10 meters) in length and has a skull that weighs one ton.
Ichthyosaurs and their origin
Ichthyosaurs are marine reptiles that look very much like dolphins. They were common in the UK until they were extinct around 90 million years ago.
“Britain is the birthplace of ichthyosaurs – their fossils have been unearthed here for over 200 years, with the first scientific dating back to Mary Anning and her discoveries along the Jurassic Coast,” said Lomax.
A conservation team leader who works in Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, Joe Davis, was walking across a drained lagoon with a colleague, Paul Trevor, when he spotted what seemed to be clay pipes standing out of the mud and told Trevor that they resembled a vertebra.
“The find has been absolutely fascinating and a real career highlight,” he said.
Davis was familiar with bones of sea creatures since he had found skeletons for whales and dolphins before while working on the Hebrides, a chain of islands off northwest Scotland.
"We followed what indisputably looked like a spine and Paul [Trevor] discovered something further along that could have been a jawbone," Davis said. "We couldn't quite believe it."
A two-month work, and more
It took archaeologists two months to excavate the fossil in August and September of last year. They are still studying and preserving the ichthyosaur fossil, at an undisclosed location in Shropshire. The process will take between 12 and 18 months.
Scientific papers related to the discovery will be published later in the future, according to the statement, but no timeframe was given.
“We recognize the significance a find like this will have for the local community in Rutland,” Anglian Water CEO Peter Simpson said. “Our focus now is to secure the right funding to guarantee its legacy will last into the future.”
It is worth mentioning that Anglian Water, which owns the area, said it was looking for funds to provide protection for the fossils and show them to the public.
"We're very proud of it, and I know the local community are as well," Regan Harris, Spokesperson for Anglian Water told CNN. "We very much want to bring it back home to Rutland and have it on display for people to enjoy."
It is not the first time ichthyosaur remains have been found at this reservoir in Rutland. Two incomplete and much smaller ichthyosaurs were found during the reservoir’s construction in the 1970s.