In February 2021, while landscaping in the Rutland Water Nature Reserve in England, Joe Davis discovered something strange in the mud.
“I called the city council and I think I found a dinosaur,” he told the BBC News.
It is not a dinosaur. But it is the fossil remains of a ten-meter-long sea hunter known as Ichthyosaur. And it is the largest of its kind ever discovered in the UK.
“There were ridge-like bumps in the mud. It felt a little organic, a little different,” Davis told the BBC News. “Then we saw something almost like a jaw.”
The city council said they did not have the dinosaur department, but were going to find someone and check and contact him.
So a team of ancient researchers brought it to this place and they decided it was an ichthyosaur – a kind of warm-blooded, air-breathing sea-hunter, not like dolphins. They can grow up to 25 meters in length and lived between 250 million and 90 million years ago.
Dean Lomax, an archaeologist at the University of Manchester, was hired to lead the excavation team. He called the discovery “unprecedented” – because of its size and completeness – “one of the greatest inventions in British ancient history”.
“Usually ichthyosaurs and other marine reptiles are thought to have been found off the coast of Jurassic in Dorset or off the coast of Yorkshire, many of which are exposed by cliff erosion. Here, locally, this is quite unusual,” he says.
Rutland is about thirty miles off the coast, but 200 million years ago at high sea levels the area was covered by shallow seas.
A ton of skull
When the water level of the Rutland Reservoir dropped again in the late summer of 2021, a team of ancient researchers came to excavate the fossil. Special attention was paid to the removal of the massive skull.
A large clay with the head of an ichthyosaur was covered with plaster and carefully removed before being placed on a wooden support.
Nearly a ton volume will now be explored in more detail.
“You are not often responsible for safely lifting the most important but most fragile fossil of such weight,” said Nigel Larkin, an archaeologist and visiting member of the University of Reading. “It’s a responsibility, but I like the challenges.”
Anglian Water, which manages the Rutland Reservoir, is now seeking funding to stay in the Ichthyosaur area and be appreciated by the general public.
“A lot of people thought I was joking when I told them I had discovered a big reptile,” Davis said. “I think a lot of people will not believe this until it’s on TV,” he said on the BBC’s Ticking for Britain show in the UK this Tuesday (11).
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