A dog walker has stumbled across a 65 million-year-old skeleton on a UK beach – thanks to the sharp noses of his pets. Jon Gopsill, 54, was walking his two dogs on the coast of Stolford, Somerset at the weekend when the pair sniffed out a bone which transpired to be part of a five-and-a-half foot long fossil, exposed by recent storms.
Amateur archaeologist Mr Gopsill believes the fossil is of the prehistoric order of porpoise-like sea creatures called ichthyosaurs that lived during the Jurassic period.
I realised that it was amazing, museum quality stuff, as soon as I saw it I knew I found something special
Dr Mike Day, Curator in the Earth Sciences department at the Natural History Museum, confirmed the skeleton likely belonged to an ichthyosaur.
Dr Day said: “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.”
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A dog walker has stumbled across a 65 million-year-old ichthyosaur skeleton in the UK
Archeology news: The skeleton likely belonged to an ichthyosaur
Mr Gopsill said: “I often go to the beach walking with my dogs and when the tide goes out we go out to the rocks because they like playing there.
“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 realised that it was amazing, museum quality stuff, as soon as I saw it I knew I found something special.
“I thought it was obviously a fossilised sea creature, possibly an ichthyosaur.
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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.’
Mr Gopsill said he always keeps his eyes open for preserved remains and already has a supply of ammonites, the ribbed spiral-form shell of the extinct marine molluscs.
And only the next day he went on a walk again with one of his pet pups, who returned with a stone which also turned out to be a fossil.
He said: “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.”
The find is likely to be the remains of an ichthyosaur
The fossil is of the prehistoric order of porpoise-like sea creatures called ichthyosaurs
Mr Gopsill, who works as a psychiatric nurse, has reported his findings to Somerset Heritage as well as the Natural History Museum.
With its own Jurassic and Triassic rocks, West Somerset’s northern bays are a well-known area for fossil finds.
Last year, bone from the lower jaw of a giant 85ft ichthyosaur was discovered in the Somerset village of Lilstock, dating from the Late Triassic period, around 235 to 200 million years ago.
Ichthyosaurs were not dinosaurs, but a large group of marine reptiles most abundant during the Jurassic geologic period and disappeared during the Cretaceous periods – around 145 to 66 million years ago.
Ichthyosaurs averaged about six to 13 feet (two to four metres) in length and similar in appearance to dolphins.