The ‘Honington plesiosaur’ goes on show at Warwickshire Museum

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!

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