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Excavating the Rutland ‘Sea Dragon’ Fossil

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What first seemed like a pipe in the ground has revealed itself to be a rare paleontological find: A large and surprisingly complete ‘sea dragon’ fossil. The ichthyosaur, an extinct marine reptile that thrived during the Mesozoic, Late Triassic, and Early Jurassic periods, was found at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve.

The video above, shared by the Stamford Mercury, is an introduction to the Rutland ‘Sea Dragon’ fossil from the Anglian Water team. They manage the Rutland reservoir. More from their site:

“The ichthyosaur is thought to be the biggest and most complete skeleton of its kind found to date in the UK, and is also thought to be the first ichthyosaur of its species (Temnodontosaurus trigonodon) found in the country. It is approximately 180 million years old, with a skeleton measuring around 10 metres in length and a skull weighing approximately one tonne.”

The video above includes Dr. Dean Lomax, a paleontologist and ichthyosaur expert with a YouTube channel chock-full of informative videos about fossils. The excavation was also helmed by conservator Nigel Larkin, with marine reptile specialist Dr. Mark Evans and vertebrate palaeontologist Dr. Emma Nicholls.

Rutland Sea Dragon fossil from above
Temnodontosaurus means ‘cutting-toothed lizard‭’ and as Sir David Attenborough explains, “people thought it was some kind of monster.” In a longer version of this 2019 video, he continues: “They thought it was a kind of cross between a reptile and a fish, so they called it a ‘fish lizard,’ or ‘sea dragon.’”

excavating the rutland 'sea dragon' fossil
Read more about the marine reptile from Anglian Water:

“Ichthyosaurs first appeared around 250 million years ago and went extinct 90 million years ago. They were an extraordinary group of marine reptiles that varied in size from 1 to more than 25 metres in length, and resembled dolphins in general body shape. 

“The discovery is not the first at Rutland Water, with two incomplete and much smaller ichthyosaurs found when we initially constructed the reservoir in the 1970s. It is however the first complete skeleton we’ve ever found at Rutland Water.”

an up-close look at the tail
preparing the fossil for excavation
The silent video below shares 12 minutes of excellent b-roll, scenes of the excavation from the ground and from a drone’s eye view. To help visualize its size, London’s Natural History Museum notes that the animal is “about double the height of a giraffe.”

TEACHING RESOURCES
• View a 3D model of the Rutland specimen from ThinkSee3D on SketchFab.
• Mary Anning: the unsung hero of fossil discovery, a NHM profile of the woman who discovered the first ichthyosaur.
• Why is a Marine Reptile not a Dinosaur?, a pdf from Leicester Museums.
• What is a Fossil?, an AMNH Activity for Grades K–4
• What Makes a Dinosaur a Dinosaur?, an AMNH Activity for Grades 5–8

Be sure to watch this next: Temnodontosaurus, the Jurassic ‘Sea Dragon’.

Then enjoy more videos about fossils and excavations:
• Mary Anning, the greatest fossilist the world ever knew
Life, death, and discovery of a plesiosaur
How was the Suncor Borealopelta ankylosaur excavated?
• Woolly mammoth remains discovered in a Michigan field
• A kid discovers a 32-million-year-old fossilized nimravid skull

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