Se­crets of pre­his­toric War­wick­shire sea mon­ster are re­vealed

Warwickshire Telegraph - - NEWS - By FIONNULA HAINEY

SCI­EN­TISTS study­ing the fos­silised re­mains of a pre­his­toric sea mon­ster found in War­wick­shire have re­vealed its se­crets for the first time.

The pre­his­toric crea­ture, named the ichthyosaur, roamed the seas al­most 200 mil­lion years ago.

A fos­sil of its skull, which is nearly one me­tre in length, was found on Fell Mill Farm in Ship­ston-on-Stour in 1955.

Now sci­en­tists at the Univer­sity of Manch­ester have stud­ied the fos­sil to re­veal even more about the in­cred­i­ble crea­ture.

Us­ing cut­ting-edge CT scan­ning tech­nol­ogy, the team of sci­en­tists have been able to dig­i­tally recre­ate the en­tire skull in 3D.

It is the first time a dig­i­tal re­con­struc­tion of a skull and jaw­bone of a large ma­rine rep­tile has ever been made avail­able for re­search pur­poses and to the pub­lic.

Al­though thou­sands of ichthyosaur fos­sils have been un­earthed in the UK, the one found in War­wick­shire is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant and un­usual be­cause it is three­d­i­men­sion­ally preserved - and con­tains bones of the skull that are rarely ex­posed.

Un­miss­able op­por­tu­ni­tyPalaeon­tol­o­gists Dean Lo­max and Nigel Larkin first be­gan study­ing the skull as part of a project at the Think­tank Sci­ence Mu­seum in Birm­ing­ham, where the ichthyosaur skele­ton is cur­rently on dis­play.

Lo­max, the lead au­thor and one of the world’s lead­ing ichthyosaur ex­perts, ex­plained: “The first time I saw this spec­i­men I was puz­zled by its ex­cel­lent preser­va­tion.

“Ichthyosaurs of this age (Early Juras­sic) are usu­ally ‘pan­caked,’ mean­ing that they are squished so that the orig­i­nal struc­ture of the skull is ei­ther not preserved or is dis­torted or dam­aged.

“So to have a skull and por­tions of the skele­ton of an ichthyosaur of this age preserved in three di­men­sions, and with­out any sur­round­ing rock ob­scur­ing it, is some­thing quite spe­cial.”

The ichthyosaur was orig­i­nally iden­ti­fied as a com­mon species calledIchthyosaurus com­mu­nis, but af­ter study­ing it closer, Lo­max was con­vinced it was a rarer species.

Based on var­i­ous fea­tures of the skull, he iden­ti­fied it as an ex­am­ple of an ichthyosaur calledPro­to­ichthyosaurus prostax­alis - the largest species of the spec­i­men known so far.

Co-au­thor Nigel Larkin added: “Ini­tially, the aim of the project was to clean and con­serve the skull and par­tially dis­man­tle it to re­build it more ac­cu­rately, ready for re­dis­play at the Think­tank Mu­seum.

“But we soon re­alised that the in­di­vid­ual bones of the skull were ex­cep­tion­ally well preserved in three di­men­sions, bet­ter than in any other ichthyosaur skull we’d seen.

“Fur­ther­more, that they would re­spond well to CT scan­ning, en­abling us to cap­ture their shape dig­i­tally and to see their in­ter­nal de­tails.

“This pre­sented an op­por­tu­nity that couldn’t be missed.”

The skull isn’t quite

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