Discovery of giant sea dragon in British midlands among 'greatest finds'

The excavation of the remains will feature on BBC Two’s Digging For Britain tonight at 8pm.
Discovery of giant sea dragon in British midlands among 'greatest finds'

Undated handout photo issued by Anglian Water of palaeontologists working on the Ichthyosaur skeleton found at Rutland Nature Reserve. Picture: Anglian Water/PA Wire

SCIENTISTS have hailed one of the “greatest finds” in palaeontological history after the largest fossilised remains of a prehistoric “sea dragon” were discovered in the British midlands.

The ichthyosaur, approximately 180 million years old with a skeleton measuring around 10 metres in length and a skull weighing approximately one tonne, is the largest and most complete fossil of its kind ever found in this part of the world. It was discovered by during a routine draining of a lagoon island at a reservoir called Rutland Water in February 2021.

The first ichthyosaurs, which are called sea dragons because they tend to have very large teeth and eyes, were discovered by fossil hunter and palaeontologist Mary Anning in the early 19th century.

Ichthyosaurs, which were marine reptiles, first appeared around 250 million years ago and went extinct 90 million years ago, varying in size from one to more than 25 metres in length and resembling dolphins in general body shape.

The remains were dug out by a team of expert palaeontologists in August and September.

Two incomplete and much smaller ichthyosaurs were found during the initial construction of Rutland Water in the 1970s. However, the latest discovery is the first complete skeleton.

Dr Mark Evans said: “I’ve been studying the Jurassic fossil reptiles of Rutland and Leicestershire for over 20 years.

“When I first saw the initial exposure of the specimen with Joe Davis I could tell that it was the largest ichthyosaur known from either county.

“However, it was only after our exploratory dig that we realised that it was practically complete to the tip of the tail.”

He added: “It’s a highly significant discovery both nationally and internationally.”

Nigel Larkin, a specialist palaeontological conservator, said: “It’s not often you are responsible for safely lifting a very important but very fragile fossil weighing that much.

“It is a responsibility, but I love a challenge. It was a very complex operation to uncover, record, and collect this important specimen safely.”

The excavation of the remains will feature on BBC Two’s Digging For Britain tonight at 8pm.

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