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