Joe Davis, who works for the nature reserve, said he rang Rutland county council when he thought he had found a dinosaur.
During landscaping work, Joe uncovered something odd just under the surface substrate. Upon closer inspection, the ‘something’ was not a dinosaur but the fossilised remains of a 10-meter-long sea creature called an Ichthyosaur. This specimen being the largest of its kind ever found in the United Kingdom.
Initially, Joe assumed the fossilised creature to be stones or ridges in the mud however thought the material looked too organic. Through further excavation, Davis later discovered what looked “almost like a jawbone.”
Rutland Council informed Mr Davis that they did not have a dinosaur department and would have to get someone to give him a call back regarding his prehistoric find. A team of palaeontologists were brought to the site to inspect the remains more closely.
It was determined that it was definitely an Ichthyosaur, a warm-blooded and air-breathing sea predator similar to modern-day dolphins. Living exclusively in water, Ichthyosaurs gave birth to live young, with some specimens found to have unborn foetuses fossilised with them. They lived in the Mesozoic era between 250 million and 90 million years ago and could grow up top 25 meters in length.
The first ever Ichthyosaur fossil was also discovered in Britain by Mary Anning over 200 years ago.
At the head of excavation efforts was Dr Dean Lomax from Manchester University. He described the discovery of a specimen as large and as complete as this one “truly unprecedented” and “one of the greatest finds in British paleontological history”.
He went on to say –
“Usually we think of ichthyosaurs and other marine reptiles being discovered along the Jurassic coast in Dorset or the Yorkshire coast, where many of them are exposed by the erosion of the cliffs. Here at an inland location is very unusual.”
The Rutland excavation site is over thirty miles away from any modern-day coastline, however 200 million years ago, the much higher sea levels meant the area was covered in a shallow ocean.
Rutland Reservoir water levels are carefully managed to ensure the conditions for surrounding wildlife. Whilst the discovery was made in February 2021, palaeontologist had to wait until late summer 2021 to continue excavation of the remains.
Particular care was taken whilst the skull was removed due to its sheer size and covering of clay and mud. It has since been covered in plaster and wooden splints to provide structural support to the skull which weighed almost a tonne.
Nigel Larkin, a paleontological conservator and research fellow at the University of Reading, said –
“It’s not often you are responsible for safely lifting a very important but very fragile fossil weighing that much,” and “It is a responsibility, but I love a challenge.”
Funding is now being sought by Anglia Water which manages Rutland Reservoir, to ensure the Ichthyosaur can stay in the local area to be enjoyed by and to educate the general public.
Joe Davis expressed that a lot of people did not believe him when he told them of his discovery and that he reckons a lot of people won’t believe him until they see the TV programme due to be released this Tuesday.