Dr Hilary Ketchum, of the Oxford Museum of Natural History, is trying to piece together hundreds of bones to unravel the mystery of Eve, the Plesiosaur, the giant animals that lived in the oceans for more than a hundred million years before dying out at the same time as the dinosaurs.
Despite the evidence that the giant animals had a dominance of the prehistoric oceans, scientists are still trying to find the answers to many unanswered questions about their biology, anatomy and evolution.
Dr Ketchum, who looks after geological specimens at the museum, said,
“They’re a type of reptile related to other reptiles like dinosaurs, crocodiles, ichthyosaurs and turtles for example, but actually we’re not really sure where they fit in the grand scheme of things.”
The quarry owners Fonterra donated the fossil to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, where staff have spent months cleaning and repairing it.
The rare fossils of the Plesiosaur were spotted by a group of amateur archaeologists from a shard of bone at a quarry.
The fossil was discovered at the Must Farm quarry near Peterborough. The quarry hit the Bheadlines earlier this year, with the discovery of a Bronze Age settlement at the site.
Mark Wildman and members of the Oxford Working Group, a team of amateur and professional archaeologists, nicknamed her Eve, as she was their first major find.
“One day, one of the members found a little bone over there from the flipper just lying on the clay,” explained Dr Ketchum, gesturing at the 165-million-year-old skeleton beside her on the floor.
“On further investigation, they found more and more bone and eventually they discovered the entire skeleton, which is very exciting.
“We think it’s possibly a new species but even if it’s not, it’s very unusual. They’re very rare fossils – plesiosaurs, especially nearly complete ones like this.”
Fossils Unveil Beautiful Bones
Eve was discovered in 2014 among rocks from Jurassic times that was once beneath the ocean. The site is known for containing fossils of marine animals such as plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs.
The true gender of the fossil is unclear.
The Oxford Clay, as it is called, is found in quarries around Oxford, Peterborough and Weymouth, where many fossil discoveries of Victorian times were made.
Dr Roger Benson, who is investigating the fossil, said,
“I think we’re going to see some really beautiful bones”.
“It’s really clear in these high-resolution scans that we’ve got lots of really well-preserved bones that are going to give us lots of information,” said Dr Benson.
“From what we’ve seen already from the body, we know it has some features that are different to the other animals that we’ve seen before so it’s very likely that this is an animal that is new to science.”
He said that further examination of the new details of the skull would help to confirm if eve, the Plesiosaur, is a new species.