The skull of an ancient “sea monster” with dagger-like teeth was discovered in England

The skull of an ancient “sea monster” with dagger-like teeth was discovered in England

In the spring of 2022, Philip Jacobs, an artist and fossil hunter, was walking along the Jurassic Coast in southern England when he came across a snout.

It was about two feet long, complete with teeth, and appeared to have come from an ancient ocean predator known as a pliosaur. When crews returned days later by drone, they found that the snout had fallen from a cliff high above the beach, and the rest of the skull was embedded in the cliff.

One expert said the fossil, more than six feet long, with the skull intact and no bones missing, was the “find of a lifetime”.

“There are some special features about them that we haven’t seen from previous ones that have been discovered,” Steve Etches, a paleontologist who has been collecting fossils for more than 40 years and participated in the excavation, said by phone. Monday. “It is the most complete. So the entire skull is present, and there are no missing bones.”

Pliosaurs were the largest carnivorous reptiles that ever lived, and were at the top of the food chain in the seas of the Jurassic period, Etches said. He added that they were likely solitary hunters who preyed on plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs and other marine reptiles.

“They look like the lions in the Serengeti,” Mr. Etches said of the pliosaurs. “You feel proud of the lions, but also of the thousands of antelopes and everything else. It’s the same Jurassic seas.”

The skull is preserved in the Etches Collection Museum of Jurassic Marine Life at Kimmeridge, about seven miles west of the Jurassic Coast and more than 100 miles southwest of London. Mr Etches said the museum was working to place the skull in a display case for viewing in January.

Pliosaurs lived between 200 million and 65.5 million years ago, and could grow to more than 40 feet long. Thanks to its extremely powerful jaws, huge fins and dagger-like teeth, it can quickly catch prey and crush it into bite-sized pieces, said David Martell, professor emeritus of paleontology at the University of Portsmouth in England, who was not involved in the study. Find. He added: “There was nothing in the ocean that could survive the attack.”

The first pliosaur fossils were found in the 1820s along the Jurassic Coast, and additional discoveries have expanded scientists’ knowledge of the creatures. But almost nothing came close to an intact skull, Dr. Martell said. “First, it’s huge,” he added. “It’s also very well preserved.”

The skull could provide new clues about the pliosaur, which had a nostril that allowed water to flow into its mouth, allowing it to smell and chase prey. Scientists hope the skull will shed more light on this anatomy and, ultimately, on the structure of the ecosystem in the Jurassic seas. More details about the skull will be featured in the documentary “Attenborough and the Jurassic Sea Monster,” which will air on PBS in February.

“We want to compare this ecosystem with other ecosystems, such as Cretaceous ecosystems, and even modern ecosystems, to see if they are built in the same way,” Dr. Martell said. He added that the fact that some vertebrae remained attached to the skull indicates that the rest of the pliosaur may be inside the cliff waiting to be discovered.

Mr Etches is sure of it, but excavating it won’t be cheap: it could cost around £250,000, or about $300,000, which he hopes to raise.

“We really need to extract it,” he said, praising the team of people who helped shed light on the discovery. “They did it for the best possible reasons, for the sake of science, and so that people around the world could benefit from the information we get from it.”

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