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Jurassic ichthyosaur fossil excavation at Charmouth beach

16 November 2004

An intriguing fossilised ichthyosaur has been excavated from the beach at Charmouth, near Lyme Regis.

Ichthyosaur illustration

Although there have been numerous fossil marine reptile specimens found over the years, this is only the second to be found from the lower Pliensbachian stage (195-190 million years ago) of the Jurassic period.

Dr Paul Davis of the Natural History Museum discovered the fossil while leading a dig with the West Sussex Geological Society. The half-skeleton was excavated by a team from the Natural History Museum and the Lyme Regis Museum and experts believe it could also be a new species.

Ichthyosaur excavation at Charmouth beech

Paul Davis says, ‘I was walking along the shoreline away from the rest of the group when I spotted a row of vertebra on the flat rock ledges and I immediately recognised it as part of the backbone of the ichthyosaur. I was amazed to see it there, as I knew that only one other ichthyosaur fossil had ever been found in this rock layer. We had to wait until the low tide returned before we could excavate the fossil so it was a real thrill to finally see what is only the second from this period to be found.’

Ichthyosaurs lived 220-65 million years ago and looked like modern-day dolphins. They are marine reptiles so their closest living relatives are snakes and lizards. Fossil ichthyosaurs 220-195 million years old are commonly found, particularly along the Jurassic Coast (the Dorset and East Devon Coast UNESCO World Heritage Site) and several ichthyosaurs that are around 185 million years old have been found on the North Yorkshire coast.

The fossil is now at the Natural History Museum where it will be cleaned by the world-class Palaeontology Conservation Unit and studied by scientists from the Museum and other institutions. It's also hoped the specimen will go on display at the Museum's Fossil Roadshow in Lyme Regis from 8 to 10 April 2005.