Forgotten Doncaster fossil is 189 million year old sea creature

An icthyhosaur.

An icthyhosaur.

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A fossil left gathering dust in a Doncaster museum for three decades has turned out to be a new species of reptile from 189 million years ago.

Palaeontologist Dean Lomax uncovered the remains of the extinct marine beast while working at Doncaster Museum back in 2008.
Now years of painstaking research have confirmed that the remains are that of a previously unknown species of ichthyosaur - and the findings have now been published in an esteemed science journal.

Dean, 25, was working with the University of Manchester when he discovered the fossil - now dubbed Fizzy - buried away within the collections of Doncaster Museum in Chequer Road.

He instantly realised it was an icthyosaur - and then set about finding out as much as he could about the animal, even down to what the creature had eaten for its last meal.

He said: “We could see tiny hook-shaped features that were actually the hooks from the tentacles of squid. So we know what its last meal was.”

His findings have now been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Mr Lomax worked with Professor Judy Massare, from the State University of New York, comparing the specimen’s fossilised bones with those of almost 1,000 other ichthyosaurs in museums in the US and Europe.

As part of the research one of the bones was taken to the Royal Veterinary College, University of London, where it was CT scanned by Professor John Hutchinson.

It is the first new Ichthyosaurus identified for almost 130 years.

The sharp-toothed marine reptiles swam in large numbers in the seas around Britain at the time of the dinosaurs and scores of examples of the fossils have been discovered in England.

The Doncaster specimen was unearthed in the rocks of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast near Lyme Regis in the early 1980s and then brought north where it lay largely untouched before Dean’s discovery.

The new species has been named Ichthyosaurus anningae - in honour of Mary Anning, the British fossil-hunter who discovered the first ichthyosaur on the Dorset coast in about 1811.

Added Dean: “It is an honour to name a new species, but to name it after somebody who is intertwined with such an important role in helping to sculpt the science of palaeontology, especially in Britain, is something that I’m very proud of. In fact, one of the specimens in our study was even found by Mary herself! Science is awesome.

“This discovery shows that new species, and not only ichthyosaurs, are awaiting discovery in museum collections. Not all new discoveries are made in the field.”

Coun Bob Johnson, Cabinet Member for Culture and Tourism, said: “It’s wonderful that a new species has been discovered in Doncaster and some fantastic work has been done on this project.

“Fizzy is part of our fantastic fossil collection that visitors have said they want to see more of.”