Room-length skeleton donated to museum

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A plesiosaur skeleton, believed to be 165 million years old, has recently been donated to Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The Plesiosaurus species of long-necked prehistoric sea creatures is believed to have died out 66 million years ago and this particular plesiosaur, nicknamed Eve, is 5.5 metres long and may be an example of a previously unknown species of plesiosaur.

The skeleton was discovered in a quarry close to Peterborough by palaeontologists from the Oxford Clay Working Group in November 2014. The remains were first observed by Oxford Clay Working Group member Carl Harrington, who spotted a small bone fragment protruding from the clay.  

Building product manufacturer Forterra, who owned the site where ‘Eve’ was discovered, and the Oxford Clay Working Group donated the remains to the Museum of Natural History soon after they were found, to carry out further research and complement existing collections. 

The plesiosaur skeleton has a 2.5 metre-long neck, a small head, four flippers and a tail. Its skull remained intact inside a block of clay, and the task of removing it will now be undertaken at the Museum, using CT-scans of the block to reveal the bones inside and aid the removal of the skull from the clay.

Dr Roger Benson, Associate Professor of Paleobiology and Head Researcher on the specimen at the Museum of Natural History, was extremely excited by the opportunity offered. Benson told Cherwell, “Plesiosaurs are very interesting as a species; they have very unusual body proportions compared to living animals. Ecologically, they are similar to whales and dolphins but have been around for much longer, about 180 million years. However we don’t know that much about their evolution yet.” 

Hilary Ketchum, Collections Manager for Earth Collections at the Museum, agreed with Dr Benson’s sentiment, telling Cherwell, “The specimen is an excellent new addition as although our collections from the Oxford Clay are quite extensive, surprisingly, up until now we didn’t have any long-necked plesiosaurs. Plesiosaurs have been known from the Oxford Clay for over 100 years; however, they are very rarely found these days because of changes in quarrying methods.”

“Although the Museum cannot guarantee the specimen will be displayed as it may depend on securing external funding, we are looking into different possibilities.

“We are absolutely delighted that the Group and Forterra, who own the quarry, decided to donate it to us.”

Stephanie Wright, a first year biologist at Brasenose, told Cherwell that the addition to the museum tied in with her academic interests. “Plesiosaurs are fascinating animals and so the prospect of a well preserved skeleton – and possibly even a new species – as part of the University’s collection is brilliant. 

“As a student interested in palaeontology I love the idea of novel research into interesting fossils being conducted so near to me, and in such an accessible space. If the specimen does get put on display it’ll be a great new attraction to the museum!”

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