Getting Ahead with an Ichthyosaur
Local Fossil Enthusiast Benefits from Lyme Regis Landslip
In May 2008, the beach area between the towns of Lyme Regis and Charmouth on the Dorset coast had its worst landslide in over 100 years. The cliffs in this area are extremely dangerous and landslides are common. It was hoped that a number of new fossil specimens, possibly some marine reptile remains, could have been uncovered and for one hard working amateur fossil hunter, the landslide led to them finding a huge ichthyosaur fossil skull.
Ichthyosaurs (fish-lizards), were the most completely adapted of all the marine reptiles to a life in the sea. These animals had streamlined bodies and four paired flippers, Fossils of these reptiles have been found with preserved embryos inside the bodies, or even while they were giving birth – proof that these animals were viviparous (gave birth to live young).
Devon based, local fossil enthusiast, Mike Harrison spent the last two years searching for parts of the giant ichthyosaur skull having first found a shard of fossilised bone after the Dorset landslide. In total he recovered a number of pieces of the skull and has managed to piece the 1.5 metre skull together, like an enormous prehistoric jigsaw.
Mr Harrison, said that he had spent as much time as he could on the beach looking for the fossil remains and then he slowly but surely put the skull back together, using his kitchen table to store the 25 stone head.
Remembering the start of his ichthyosaur jigsaw puzzle, Mr Harrison commented:
“Within a week or two of the landslide in May 2008, I found the first piece of the skull. From then on it was a race to find the rest of it which I did after six months hard work. There were twenty-one pieces which were quite large, around 18 inches by 2 feet.”
A Museum Exhibit Showing an Ichthyosaur Jaw
Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur
We at Everything Dinosaur pay tribute to Mike for his sterling efforts. After all, if Mike had not recovered the fossil bones, they would have been eventually destroyed by abrasion and erosion forces on the beach. Mike has been photographed with his amazing fossil find. He is shown behind his ichthyosaur fossil, a fossilised ichthyosaur paddle is in the foreground. The skull certainly looks exquisite even the sclerotic ring of bone in the orbit of the skull has been found. This overlapping ring of bone helped support the eyeball at depth and may have aided vision by allowing sophisticated focusing of the eye lens in a marine environment.
Commenting on the teeth in the long jaws, Mr Harrison stated:
“Some of the teeth have broken off but the roots are still there. So this may suggest that the dinosaur died of old age, or that it couldn’t feed itself. They would have had around 150 teeth.”
When asked about his domestic arrangements, after all, not many households have a 190 million year old ichthyosaur skull in the kitchen, Mike said:
“I’ve been storing the pieces in a spare room, but now it’s on the kitchen table so it’s been TV dinners for a while.”
For Mike Harrison this is the find of a life time and it is certainly the biggest specimen that we are aware of to have come out of the May 2008 landslide.
The discovery has been registered with the Charmouth Heritage Centre and will then be sent to a museum.
Palaeontologist Phil Davidson said:
”It’s fairly common to find small isolated bones on the beach, but to find such an enormous skull is very rare. The time and effort Mike put into finding it, going back again and back again after the landslide is incredible.”
We would like to add our congratulations to Mike Harrison . The specimen looks superb and we know just how hard it is to put one of these Jurassic “jigasauruses” together. Team members were actually on beach at Lyme Regis the day before the landslide, fortunately the slip occurred at high tide and at night so no people were hurt when it happened. We have been teased a little and “blamed” for the landslide, but it was not our fault, besides we are far too sensible to risk going to near the cliffs, we know just how dangerous they are.
We have just added a new ichthyosaur model into the Everything Dinosaur model range, this ichthyosaur has an ammonite in its mouth, great to see a model so strongly associated with Lyme Regis and the Jurassic coast.
Carnegie Collection Ichthyosaurus Model
To view the models and replicas of marine reptiles: Safari Ltd. Wild Safari Prehistoric World.