One pet owner was enjoying a walk out with his two dogs when the trio ended up stumbling upon an incredible discovery: an entire ancient skeleton that dates back all the way to the Jurassic period.
While the five-and-a-half foot long fossil has yet to be officially dated, it is believed to be that of an ichthyosaur – a prehistoric sea mammal similar to a porpoise and who lived 199.6 million to 145.5 million years ago during the Jurassic period.
54-year-old Jon Gopsill was the one who made the discovery while out for a walk with Poppy and Sam his two dogs. The three of them were strolling along the coast of Stolford in Somerset on the 14th of December.
Jon had taken Poppy and Sam to some rocks on the beach while the tide was out, because “they like playing there.” It was often enough that these three would be at the beach, but recent storms had impacted the landscape, making it such that the 54-year-old was able to come across the remains while out with his dogs.
As Jon recalled, “We were at the beach when I saw this thing and thought “what’s that?” so I went a bit closer and thought “wow”. I realized that it was amazing, museum quality stuff, as soon as I saw it I knew I found something special.”
Jon, who is an amateur archaeologist, says he always keeps his eyes peeled for preserved remains. He had already started a collection of ammonites, which are the ribbed spiral-form shell of the extinct marine mollusks, but this is certainly one of his more impressive discoveries.
Jon continued, “I thought it was obviously a fossilized sea creature, possibly an ichthyosaur. I was just blown away to see it there. It really is incredible that it has survived for such a long time and is now just there for everyone to see.”
He quickly took pictures of the skeleton as well as reported the discovery to both Somerset Heritage and the Natural History Museum.
A curator in the Earth Sciences department at the Natural History Museum, Dr. Mike Day, confirmed the skeleton most likely belonged to an ichthyosaur – but he wouldn’t be able to say for certain until an in person inspection.
As Dr. Day explained, “Looking at this specimen, based on the number of bones in the pectoral paddle, the apparent absence of a pelvic girdle, as well as the distinctive “hunch” of the back, this is likely to be the remains of an ichthyosaur. It is not possible to identify the exact type of ichthyosaur from these images alone, however.”
On average, Ichthyosaurs were about six to 13 feet in length, and their appearance was similar to modern-day dolphins.
Poppy and Sam also seemed to be on an archaeological roll, as just one day after discovering the prehistoric skeleton one of the two dogs delivered another fossil to Jon.
He explained, “I couldn’t believe it, it’s stunning – I’ve taught her what fossils are but I didn’t expect her to bring me one. My wife says it was just luck – I think having the stormy weather has washed a lot of mud out so the rocks were a little bit more exposed.”
How adorable. Hopefully, they’ll keep up the good work!