Plesiosaur Vertebrae United!

Having been on the Cumbrian coast last week as the last vestiges of hurricane Gonzalo battered the UK, our thoughts turned to elsewhere in the UK where strong winds and high tides might also be damaging the coastline.  One area we considered to be under particular threat was the Jurassic coast of Dorset.  The cliffs around Lyme Regis are very unstable and adverse weather conditions could lead to further rock falls and mud slides.  Ironically, our chum Brandon Lennon sent us some amazing pictures over the weekend of Plesiosaur dorsal vertebrae that had been found in the Lyme Regis area.  Not only is this fossil specimen very beautiful, but it seems behind every string of articulated vertebrae there is an interesting story…

Whilst visiting Lyme Regis for the Fossil Festival (May 2014), enthusiastic fossil hunter Chris East decided to try his luck and explore the beach west of Lyme Regis (Monmouth).  He found a Birchi nodule with signs of a fossilised bone encased within it.  Birchi nodules are rounded, calcareous concretions that can be found deposited in a thin layer above the shales with beef strata.  They are often associated with fossils, particularly Ammonites such as Microderoceras birchi.  Finding evidence of a bone, he thought it best if this specimen was professionally prepared and cleaned.  A very sensible idea, as once the rock had been cleaned and carefully prepared the nodule was seen to contain a row of beautifully preserved and articulated Plesiosaur vertebrae.

Plesiosaurs were a diverse group of marine reptiles that thrived during the Jurassic and Cretaceous.  There were two main types, the long-necked forms (Plesiosaurs) and the closely related, short-necked forms commonly referred to as Pliosaurs.

An Illustration of a Typical Jurassic Plesiosaur

An Illustration of a Plesiosaurus.

An Illustration of a Plesiosaurus.

Fossils of Plesiosaurs from Lyme Regis are much rarer than Ichthyosaurs, discovering this set of articulated vertebrae is an exceptionally rare find indeed.  Whilst in Lyme Regis earlier this month, Chris took the opportunity to show the vertebrae fossils to local fossil expert Brandon Lennon.  To Chris’s great surprise Brandon, on hearing where the Birchi nodule had been found, was able to add to his specimen.  Fossil expert Brandon, who regularly takes guided fossil walks onto Monmouth beach, had identified some Plesiosaur bones whilst exploring a recent mudslip on Monmouth beach.  Brandon was able to confirm that the isolated bones did come from the same individual Plesiosaur as the bones found by Chris East some months before.

The Plesiosaur Vertebrae Found by Brandon Lennon

Fossil specimen found by Brandon Lennon.

Fossil specimen found by Brandon Lennon.

Picture Credit: Brandon Lennon

Thanks to one local man’s expertise, the Plesiosaur fossil material was re-united.

The row of Articulated Plesiosaur Vertebrae

A row of 8 Plesiosaur vertebrae with associated ribs fragments.

A row of 8 Plesiosaur vertebrae with associated ribs fragments.

Picture Credit: Brandon Lennon

The beaches around the Dorset town of Lyme Regis can still yield such treasures. Storms over the winter months are likely to expose yet more fossil finds, however, we would urge caution as the frequent rock falls and mudslips from the unstable cliffs coupled with dangerous tides make this part of the coast no place for the inexperienced fossil hunter.  Our best advice is to go on a guided fossil walk with a local expert.  A fossil expert, such as Brandon Lennon, can show visitors the best (and safest) places to find fossils, you never know, you might just find a vertebra or two from a marine reptile.

For information on guided fossil walks: Lyme Regis Fossil Walks

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