Sunday, 9 October 2016

British 'sea dragon' fossils are 'new to science'

By Helen Briggs BBC News
5 hours ago

Scientific detective work on fossils collected in Victorian times has identified two new species of Ichthyosaurs - the giant reptiles that swam at the time of the dinosaurs.

It brings to six the known species of Ichthyosaurus - ''sea dragons'' that ruled the oceans in Jurassic times.

Both fossils were unearthed in Somerset in the 1800s.

One specimen has been on display at Bristol University for decades, under the gaze of countless students.

The other was donated to a museum in Philadelphia, US, by Thomas Hawkins, a well-known Victorian fossil collector.

He amassed a huge collection of marine reptiles from Somerset in the first half of the 19th Century.

Such was the Victorian craze for skeletons of ichythyosaurs - the first was found by Mary Anning on the Dorset coast - that they ended up in museums and collections right across the world.

Palaeontologists Dean Lomax of Manchester University and Judy Massare of Brockport College, New York, examined hundreds of ichthyosaur fossils in Europe and North America, including some that had been kept hidden for decades.

''These are two new species - brand new species to science,'' Dean Lomax told BBC News.

''They show that during the early Jurassic - around 200 million years ago - the ichythyosaur, and specifically this particular type, was a lot more diverse than previously thought.''

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