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A new Lyme Regis pliosaur

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Earlier this month I co-authored a poster at SVP 2012 describing a new pliosaur from the Sinemurian of Lyme Regis (Smith and Araújo, 2012). I was unable to attend the conference in person so my collaborator and friend Ricardo Araujo was on hand to present our preliminary findings.

Ricardo Araújo stands proudly next to our poster at SVP 2012. Ricardo is conducting a PhD on plesiosaurs at the Southern Methodist University, Texas.

The spectacular specimen was discovered at Black Ven, Lyme Regis, and was acquired by the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum, Hanover, where it was expertly prepared in the 1990s by their preparator, Elija Widman. The fossil consists of an almost complete skull and vertebral column.

The Lyme Regis pliosaur as articulated

As explained in our poster, the fossil represents a new taxon that is both stratigraphically and morphologically intermediate between known Hettangian and Toarcian rhomaleosaurid pliosaurs. Which makes perfect sense. A legible (just about) jpg version of the poster is available here or by clicking the small version below, and a PDF of the abstract is available here. This is very much a work in progress though and more of a sneak preview than a final word. We have a paper in prep which will provide a more detailed description of the specimen.

Poster for SVP 2012

Smith, A.S. and Araújo, R. 2012. A new rhomaleosaurid pliosaur from the Sinemurian (Lower Jurassic) of Lyme Regis, UK. Program and abstracts, 72nd Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, Supplement to the online Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 74. [PDF here]

[Incidentally, how does one cite an SVP abstract correctly these days?]

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

Trinity College _Attenborosaurus_ to go on exhibit

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There are several casts of fossil marine reptiles in the collection of the Geological Museum of Trinity College,  Dublin. The majority of these are currently on display but the largest specimen, a cast of the holotype of Attenborosaurus conybeari, has spent the last half a century in the basement store of the Museum Building. It was originally exhibited but due to building renovations some time in the early 1950s it was placed in storage and broken into a number of pieces. Whether this was intentional or not is unknown, however, anyone familiar with the history of ‘the Dublin pliosaur’ Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni will know that this was not so uncommon a fate for large and unwieldy fossil marine reptiles in Ireland during the 20th century. The Trinity College Attenborosaurus specimen is therefore in rather poor repair and some fairly large chunks of the skeleton of missing too.

Nevertheless, the specimen is still highly valuable in scientific terms because the original fossil no longer exists – it was destroyed in the Bristol City Museum during the Second World War blitz.  At least two other casts are known, one in the Natural History Museum, London, and one in the Oxford University Museum. The fossil was originally called Plesiosaurus conybeari, but was given a new name in 1993 based on the casts in honour of Sir David Attenborough.  See my Attenborosaurus page of the Plesiosaur Directory for more information and pictures of the other casts.

Attenborosaurus Trinity College
Attenborosaurus Trinity College
Attenborosaurus Trinity College
Photos of the Trinity College specimen of Attenborosaurus before being cleaned. Due to parts of the torso being missing, for the purpose of this exhibit we have decided to display the neck and head as preserved in right view alongside the body preserved in left view. This will give viewers a better idea of how the complete animal looks but also means there will be an unnatural twist where the neck meets the body. The accompanying text will make this clear.

In collaboration with the curator or the Geology Museum, Dr Patrick Wyse Jackson, we have decided to put the specimen back on public exhibit. It is also timely because this project coincides with a visit from Sir David Attenborough to Trinity College . The segments have been brought up from the basement and have been thoroughly cleaned in a makeshift lab area in the museum. We have identified a suitable spot for display in the museum and are now in the process of tidying up and repainting the cast and designing the exhibit. I’ll post an update on how the project is progressing in the near future.

Attenborosaurus Trinity College
A tight fit – paper outlines of the segments show where the specimen will be exhibited in the museum.

Written by Adam S. Smith

November 19th, 2008 at 3:54 pm

Update on the ‘Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur’

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I reported in Summer 2007 on a four-metre-long plesiosaur skeleton that was discovered in Kreis Hoxter, near Bielefeld, Northern Germany by amateur collector Sönke Simonsen. I can now provide a short update on the fossil. The specimen was successfully excavated in ten large blocks by the LWL-Museum für Naturkunde, Münsterand, where preparation of the skeleton is well underway. It is intended that preparation will be finished by 2011 for a new exhibition “Römisch-Germanisches Museum Köln”. For now, one block is almost complete but from the first pictures the skeleton seems to be beautifully preserved…

Germany plesiosaur Kreis Hoxter
The tail of the ‘Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur’ being prepared by Manfred Schlösser in the LWL-Museum. (Image by “LWL/Oblonczyk”)

Germany plesiosaur Kreis Hoxter
The partially prepared tail showing the caudal ribs and chevrons.

Germany plesiosaur Kreis Hoxter
Detail of the front of the block, the diameter of the vertebra is about 6.5cm.

For more information about this specimen see the previous post: here

Thanks to Sönke Simonsen for permission to use the photographs.

Written by Adam S. Smith

September 29th, 2008 at 2:32 pm