Secrets of prehistoric Warwickshire sea monster are revealed
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.”
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