Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni


Species

R. cramptoni

Author

Carte and Baily, 1963

Classification

Sauropterygia
Eosauropterygia
Eusauropterygia
Pistosauroidea
Pistosauria
Plesiosauria
Rhomaleosauridae
Rhomaleosaurus

Age

Toarcian, Early Jurassic

Formation

Hildoceras bifrons zone, Alum Shale, Whitby Mudstone Formation, Lower Jurassic

Type location

Whitby, Yorkshire, England

Type specimen

NMING F8785, a complete skeleton exposed in dorsal view. The skull is prepared in three dimensions.

Referred material

To compile

The history of NMING F8785 (The holotype specimen of R. cramptoni)

In 1848, the fossil skeleton of R. cramptoni was unearthed by workers in an alum quarry at Kettleness on the Yorkshire coast. The magnificent fossil was secured for five years at Mulgrave Castle, the home of the Marquis of Normanby, owner of the quarry. But the specimen soon moved home to Ireland. The Marquis presented the fossil to his friend Sir Philip Crampton in 1853, who brought the specimen to Dublin to display it as the centrepiece at the 1853 British Association annual meeting. A specially constructed building was created by the Zoological Society of Ireland to accommodate the huge specimen and the fossil found a temporary home there.

In 1863 the specimen was loaned for display in the Royal Dublin Society museum and was scientifically described and named (Carte and Baily, 1863). In 1877 the Royal Dublin Society museum was incorporated into what is now known as the National Museum of Ireland, and the ‘Science and Art Museum, Dublin’ as it was called at the time, paid 200 pounds to acquire the specimen permanently.

In 1890 the fossil moved again, this time into the museum’s ‘fossil hall’. But in 1962 this hall, located beside the main Natural History Museum building on Merrion Street, was demolished and the specimen was transferred into storage. The stored collection was moved yet again in 1992 to the National Museum of Ireland (Natural History) reserve stores at Beggars Bush, where the giant reptile resided while I was conducting my PhD on the beast.

The fossil has now moved with the rest of the collection to other off-site storage.(Thanks to Nigel Monaghan for correcting some historical details.)

Casts of Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni

A number of casts were made of the fossil throughout its history, probably purchased from Henry. A. Ward, who dealt in replica fossils including Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni, throughout the late 1800s. Specimens are on display in Bath, London and New York (Smith, 2006). Many casts are unique in some aspects. Look closely (see above), and you will notice that the two forelimbs are identical copies of each other in the Bath cast. To add extra confusion, this duplicated limb is in the wrong place – it is actually a hindlimb – the two hindlimbs in the cast are really forelimbs placed in the wrong sockets. The London specimen is also unique, a new set of limbs have replaced the original ones which were mounted wrongly.