The colossal 180 million-year-old fossilized remains of an ichthyosaur have been found in the UK, in what researchers have described as one of the most significant discoveries in the region.
The fossil, which was uncovered by Joe Davis, Conservation Team Leader at Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, is thought to be the largest and most complete skeleton of its sort to have been discovered in the nation to date.
“It is a truly unprecedented discovery and one of the greatest finds in British palaeontological history,” excavation leader Dean Lomax, a paleontologist and visiting scientist at the University of Manchester, said in a statement.
“The find has been absolutely fascinating and a real career highlight, it’s great to learn so much from the discovery and to think that this amazing creature was once swimming in seas above us, and now once again Rutland Water is a haven for wetland wildlife albeit on a smaller scale,” Mr Davis said in a statement.
Although other ichthyosaurs of this type have been discovered in the UK, none have ever been as enormous as the most recent find. The ichthyosaurs first appeared around 250 million years ago and went extinct 90 million years ago.
They were a group of marine reptiles that resembled dolphins in shape, while varying in size from one to more than 25 metres in length.
A group of skilled palaeontologists convened from around the UK carefully excavated the skeleton’s delicate remnants in August and September of last year.
The excavation was led by world ichthyosaur expert Dr Dean Lomax, who has studied thousands of ichthyosaurs and named five new species in the process, along with other marine reptile experts.
Two incomplete and much smaller ichthyosaurs were previously found during the initial construction of Rutland Water in the 1970s.
Archaeologists are still studying and conserving the ichthyosaur fossil and scientific papers about the discovery will be published in the future, according to the statement, though no timeframe was given.