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The ‘Honington plesiosaur’ goes on show at Warwickshire Museum

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Most museum collections contain hidden treasures, but the Honington plesiosaur in the Warwickshire Museum is one treasure, I’m pleased to say, that is no longer hidden.

Honington plesiosaur

The Honington plesiosaur being laid out in preparation for display. The position of some of the bones is tentative. Photo by Warwickshire Museum, used with permission.

I first came across the Honington plesiosaur while working in the geological collection  of the Warwickshire Museum under the supervision of Jon Radley, the curator of natural sciences. While in the stores, my beady little eyes couldn’t help but spot the neatly printed name, ‘Plesiosaurus rugosus’, on an unopened dusty box. Upon further inspection we discovered, to our astonishment, an almost complete long-necked plesiosaur skeleton. I took the time to lay out the remains and after a little digging through documentation, we were able to confirm that the specimen originated from Honington, near Shipston-on-Stour, in Southern Warwickshire. The fossil is also well-constrained stratigraphically, which is quite rare for historical specimens of Lower Jurassic plesiosaurs.

Honington plesiosaur

Here I am, laying out the Honington plesiosaur. Photo by Warwickshire Museum, used with permission.

The specimen consists of an almost complete postcranial skeleton, but unfortunately lacks any trace of the skull, as is often the case in long-necked plesiosaurs. This is partly because the small skull in plesiosauroids is delicately constructed and prone to damage. Despite the missing cranium, the specimen is noteworthy because it is preserved in three dimensions and is free from matrix. This means it is possible to view and study the bones from all directions and gather proportional data.

Honington plesiosaur

The Honington plesiosaur exhibited in the Warwickshire museum. The bones are raised on two levels to add a sense of three-dimensionality. Notice the replica skull. Photo by Adam S. Smith, taken October 2010.

Jon and I are in the process of writing up a description of the specimen and assessing its identity and evolutionary significance. In the meantime,  the Honington plesiosaur has quite rightly wriggled its way out of storage and onto public display. It’s now exhibited in a beautiful case as part of a recently renovated gallery. I was happy to be able to assist with the Honington display and provided a life-restoration of the animal as a graphic to accompany the new display. A resin replica of a skull representing Plesiosaurus is doing a fine job as a replacement for the missing cranium. The fossil also makes a fitting counterpart to another spectacular marine reptile on show in the gallery, the Wilmcote plesiosaur – a beast for a future blog entry perhaps? So if you’re in the region, do drop in!

Written by Adam S. Smith

February 22nd, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Prepared ‘Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur’ is new taxon

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I previously reported (see here and here) on the plesiosauroid skeleton discovered in 2007 in Kreis Hoxter, near Bielefeld, Northern Germany. The specimen was excavated from the Pliensbachian (Lower Jurassic) age strata in ten large blocks by the LWL-Museum für Naturkunde, Münsterand. A major proportion of the fossil has now been prepared by Manfred Schlösser: the skeleton is almost complete and quite spectacular.

Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur

'Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur' on display in the Köln Museum. Looks like the tail is complete. (Photo by Sönke Simonsen)

In 2010 the ‘Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur’ was displayed in the Römisch Germanisches exhibition in the Köln Museum (The photos here show the specimen as displayed) and in April 2011 the specimen will comprise part of the new archaeological and palaeontological exhibition “Fundgeschichten” in the Westfälische Museum für Archäologie in Herne. German press reports early in 2011 (see here for example) announced that the ‘Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur’ represents a new taxon and a description is currently in press.

Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur

'Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur' in the Köln Museum, showing detail of the cervical vertebrae (Photo by Sönke Simonsen)

Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur

The 'Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur' in the Köln Museum showing detail of the pelvic region (Photo by Sönke Simonsen)

Thanks to Sönke Simonsen for information and photographs.

Written by Adam S. Smith

April 8th, 2011 at 4:14 pm

‘Bones’ the plesiosaur

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The recent ‘Sea Dragons of Avalon’ symposium in Street was a great success – congratulations to everyone involved. See Darren Naish’s blog Tetrapod Zoology for a full report – part 1 and part 2. I thoroughly enjoyed the event and it was an excellent opportunity to meet up with colleagues and even talk to some Plesiosaur News readers. We also had the opportunity to see plenty of fossil marine reptiles during the symposium and field trip,  hopefully I’ll be able to talk about some of these  soon. However, perhaps the most unusual marine reptile we encountered was not a fossil but a sculpture.

Charmouth bones plesiosaur

Because the scheduled field trip to the quarries surrounding Street was cancelled due to the British Summer weather, a trip to the Dorset Coast was organised at short notice instead. One of the places we visited was the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre and there, hanging from the ceiling is ‘Bones’, a plesiosaur skeleton constructed from cane, paper mache, black tissue paper and black paint. The skeleton is the result of an art project supervised by local artist Darrell Wakeham, who used the help of children visiting the centre to construct the life-sized plesiosaur during a winter weekend in 2007. I consider all anatomical inaccuracies excused.

Charmouth bones plesiosaur
Close up of the skull of ‘Bones’ the plesiosaur

Written by Adam S. Smith

September 3rd, 2009 at 10:02 pm

Plesiosaur unveiled to Sir David Attenborough

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The TCD specimen of the plesiosaur Attenborosaurus has spent the last few weeks being prepared and painted for eventual display in the geology museum.  The plesiosaur was renamed in 1993 to honour  Sir David Attenborough, who was recently awarded an honorary degree from TCD; we therefore took the fine opportunity to combine his visit with the unveiling of the newly prepared and painted specimen. Sir Attenborough was able to visit the Museum Building and take part in the grand unveiling himself, which took place in the main entrance hall. After an introduction from Dr Patrick Wyse Jackson, the curator of the geology museum, the fossil cast was finally revealed.

Sir David Attenborough discusses the TCD cast of Attenborosaurus with Dr Adam S. Smith (left) and Dr Patrick Wyse Jackson (right).

The completely prepared and painted TCD specimen of Attenborosaurus on temporary display in the museum building main hall.

Days before the unveiling, nearly finished! The specimen being painted. We chose dark paint to imitate the bone and a white background for the matrix to highlight the skeleton and to match the other casts in the museum. I used photographs and lithographs of the original specimen as a basis for the painting.

Sir Attenborough was especially delighted to be able to handle the skull, which is preserved in three dimensions. He also explained that the he has often walked along the Dorset coast where Attenborosaurus was discovered and joked that there is always a chance of truly ‘finding himself’ there now. A framed copy of the lithograph from Sollas’ original 1881 paper describing the specimen was presented to Sir Attenborough who was kind enough to autograph a second copy, which will be framed and will accompany the fossil cast once it is placed on exhibit in the geology museum in the new year.

Written by Adam S. Smith

December 15th, 2008 at 4:41 pm