It's the largest of its kind to have ever been discovered in the United Kingdom: a massive sea monster, buried discretely among a deserted reservoir. "It is a truly unprecedented discovery... one of the greatest finds in British palaeontological history," excavation leader Dean Lomax recalled. But perhaps the most startling part? How the historic discovery first came to be. Here's what went down...
It all started in 2021, when naturalists Joe Davis and Paul Trevor went for a stroll across Anglian Water and the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust reserve. Only as they made their way through the site, which was being drained at the time, something soon caught Trevor's eye: pieces of clay pipes, popping out from the sticky mud. Little did he know what he was really looking at. As he hailed over his colleague for a closer look, soon everything became clear. "We followed what indisputably looked like a spine and Paul [Trevor] discovered something further along that could have been a jawbone," Davis recalled. "We couldn't quite believe it."
Sure enough, after months of excavating, it turned out they were in the presence of an Ichthyosaur - something nobody in the entire United Kingdom had ever seen before. "It's the most complete and larger than any dinosaur skeleton ever found here, so it's a mega-find for so many reasons," paleontologist Dean Lomax, who led the excavation, recalled of the ancient sea dragon. Spanning over 32 feet in length and boasting a skull as heavy as 1 ton, the fossilized creature made for one of ancient civilization's most daunting predators. "During this time period, it would have been right at the top of the food chain. It's an ultimate apex predator, perhaps one of the biggest animals in the sea worldwide."
According to further research, the ancient creature is said to have roamed Earth's waters roughly 180 million years ago. "The first ichthyosaurs found in the Jurassic Period were a couple of meters long, between five and 10 feet, whereas this ichthyosaur, and others that have been found but are less complete, are the first that are real Jurassic giants," Lomax noted. "It's an interesting way of looking at the historic evolution of ichthyosaurs." Check out BBC's Digging For Britain for more details on the remarkable finding. And, of course, stay tuned.