Fossils found in Scotland have been identified as a previously unknown species of ichthyosaur, a marine reptile that ruled the waters at the same time as dinosaurs about 170 million years ago.
The creature has been named Dearcmhara shawcrossi; Dearcmhara is Scottish Gaelic for ‘marine lizard’, while shawcrossi honors the man who found and turned in the fossils for research, amateur fossil hunter Brian Shawcross.
So does this discovery point to proof of the Loch Ness Monster? Not exactly, says one of the scientists who has studied the fossils.
“What we have found is much more interesting: a four-metre-long, fish-eating, top-of-the-food-chain predator that lived more than 100 million years before Tyrannosaurus rex. The new fossil isn’t the most beautiful specimen. It’s a handful of bones—including part of the flipper, back and tail, all of which you can hold in your two hands. But this is a big deal for Scotland, because it’s the first uniquely Scottish marine reptile that has ever been discovered, studied and named,” said University of Edinburgh palaeontologist Steve Brusatte, one of the researchers in the study published on Monday in the Scottish Journal of Geology.
The remains were found on the Isle of Skye, far from the legendary Loch Ness where a prehistoric beast is still said to live. While incomplete, the bones point to a creature looking more like a dolphin than the long necked creature famously seen in the 1934 “Surgeon’s Photograph.” That photo, depicting what appears to be a plesiosaur, has since been proven to be a hoax, though that does not stop the thousands of tourists each year who visit the famous loch.
What makes this find so special? Though Scotland is one of the best places to find fossils that date back to the Middle-Jurassic period, few fossils ever make it into the hands of archaeologists who can shed light on these fascinating creatures. Brusatte states that, “95% of this material has just disappeared, collected by beachcombers and forgotten about. Some of it has been sold to the highest bidder, a sad state of affairs that holds back our scientific understanding of Scotland’s fossil history.”
So the next time, you happen to come across some prehistoric fossils (and I’m sure that happens often), consider donating them to your local museum. Who knows, you may even get a creature named after you.