Oxford University Museum of Natural History – Out of the Deep

Oxford University Museum of Natural History has welcomed two new residents, a pair of Jurassic marine reptiles that are the focus of a novel, tactile and interactive exhibit entitled “Out of the Deep”.  The fossilised remains of the two marine reptiles highlight the importance of the British Isles when it comes to studying apex predators of Mesozoic marine environments.  Both fossils were found in Britain and these new additions to the impressive Oxford University Museum collection, represent the largest permanent display to be added to the Museum’s central gallery in decades.

Two Marine Reptile Specimens on Display at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Two marine reptile fossils on display.

Plesiosauria fossils on display at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Picture Credit: Oxford University Museum of Natural History

The Diversity of the Plesiosauria

The beautiful and nearly complete fossils are displayed in separate well-lit display cases and the fossils, along with the interactive elements and information boards in this exhibit, help to inform visitors about the two main body plans that evolved amongst the Plesiosauria.  One specimen is a short-necked plesiosaur, known as a pliosaur.  It was discovered by a former Museum curator in the 1990’s in Yarnton, Oxfordshire, just a few miles from the Museum.  The larger specimen is a long-necked plesiosaur, found in a quarry in Cambridgeshire in 2014 by the Oxford Clay Working Group, and donated to the Museum’s collections by the quarry’s owner Forterra.

The Exhibits Have Been Designed to Allow Easy Access to View the Specimens

Plesiosaur specimen at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

The long-necked plesiosaur fossil specimen.  The person in the photograph helps to demonstrate the impressive size of the marine reptile.

Picture Credit: Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Bringing a Middle Jurassic Tropical Sea to Life

The exhibit includes specially commissioned digital reconstructions that brings to life the marine biota that existed some 165 million years ago (Callovian faunal stage of the Middle Jurassic).  Visitors will be able to learn how the fossils were discovered and collected, how museum staff prepare and study specimens and gain an understanding about the life in an ancient, tropical sea that once covered much of the British Isles.

Visitors Will Be Able to Look an Extinct Plesiosaur in the Eye

The business end of a Jurassic plesiosaur.

The teeth of the plesiosaur were well adapted for catching fish.

Picture Credit: Oxford University Museum of Natural History

“Oxbridge Marine Reptiles”

On display together for the first time, the Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire specimens highlight the UK’s exceptional fossil heritage and provide a glimpse of some of the life inhabiting the marine environment of the Jurassic period.  Detailed and scientifically accurate models have been installed alongside the fossil material to help visitors to appreciate what these ancient reptiles probably looked like when they patrolled the ancient, sunlit waters.

Marine Reptile Models Help Visitors to Appreciate What the Specimens Looked Like When They Lived Some 165 Million Years Ago

A pliosaur model forms part of the exhibit.

A beautiful replica of a pliosaur helps visitors to imagine the fossil specimen as a living animal.

Picture Credit: Oxford University Museum of Natural History

The Long-necked Plesiosaur Replica on Display

Oxford University Museum of Natural History plesiosaur.

A replica of a long-necked plesiosaur swims into view.

Picture Credit: Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Director of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Professor Paul Smith commented:

“As the largest single new showcase to be installed in the museum for many years, the “Out of the Deep” display reinvigorates our central court and provides something new for our regular visitors.  After working on these two fantastic plesiosaur skeletons for many months, it’s hugely exciting to be able to display them together and in full for the first time since their discovery.”

Lots of Interactive and Tactile Learning Has Been Incorporated into the New Exhibit

Touching a replica of a pliosaur flipper.

Tactile displays help visitors to learn about marine reptiles.

Picture Credit: Oxford University Museum of Natural History

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“The Oxford University Museum of Natural History houses a treasure trove of prehistoric animal fossils, many of which have been found in Oxfordshire.  It is great to see the addition of these two stunning marine reptiles with their beautifully preserved and near-complete fossil skulls.  Visitors to the Museum will still be able to marvel at the dinosaur fossils on display within the central gallery but they will gain an appreciation that the Jurassic Seas were the domain of other, equally spectacular extinct creatures.”

The project has been generously supported by grants from the DCMS/Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund, and WREN’s FCC Community Action Fund.

For further details about this exciting new exhibit and for the Museum opening times: The Oxford Museum of Natural History

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