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OU PhD student is part of excavation of largest marine reptile skeleton

Excavation of marine reptile skeleton. Credit: Anglian Water / Matthew Power Photography

A second year OU PhD student was part of the excavation of the largest most complete marine reptile skeleton ever found in Britain.

Emily Swaby, who is now in the second year of her PhD in the OU’s Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and is focussing on exploring the effects of the Early Jurassic (Toarcian) extreme environmental change on insects, worked at the scene of the excavation at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve.

The skeleton is the fossilised remains of a 10m-long sea predator called an ichthyosaur which is between approximately 181.5 and 182 million years old.

The specimen was discovered by Joe Davis, Conservation Team Leader at Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, during the routine draining and maintenance of a lagoon at Rutland Water, owned and run by Anglian Water, in January 2021.

Emily Swaby

Credit: Anglian Water / Matthew Power Photography

This ichthyosaur is likely to be the first of its species (Temnodontosaurus trigonodon) found in the country and is a sister taxon (a group of one or more populations of an organism or organism) to T. crassimanus, a species that Emily and her supervisor revised whilst undertaking a Masters of Philosophy at The University of Manchester.

Emily’s MPhil was supervised by Dr Dean Lomax of Manchester University, who also led the excavation team at Rutland.

Emily commented:

“The Rutland ichthyosaur is an incredibly significant discovery as it is one of the most complete large prehistoric reptiles ever discovered in the history of British palaeontology.

“It is also by far one of the most incredible palaeontological projects I’ve had the pleasure of working on in my career to-date and I’m honoured to have been asked to play a small part in such a dedicated team”.

The excavation of the ichthyosaur will also feature in Episode 4 of BBC 2 series Digging for Britain (January 11th, 8.00pm).

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