A Jurassic sea monster in all its prehistoric glory has finally re-emerged into the light after 50 years cooped up in a museum storage room in Scotland.
Nicknamed the Storr Lochs Monster, the newly revealed creature is actually an ichthyosaur, a kind of extinct swimming reptile that ruled the waves while the dinosaurs reigned over the land. Over their long history, ichthyosaurs evolved into enormous beasts akin to the whales of their day.
This fossil, though not a giant, is a scientific prize, scientists say. At roughly 170 million years old, it lived during the Middle Jurassic, a somewhat mysterious period for paleontologists.
“The Middle Jurassic is one of the most poorly known times in the history of dinosaurs and in the history of other reptiles like ichthyosaurs,” says University of Edinburgh’s Steve Brusatte, part of the team examining the fossil. The “spectacular” find, he says, “has a lot of potential.”
It took two generations of one Scottish family to bring the Storr Lochs Monster into the spotlight. In 1966, Norrie Gillies, who ran the hydropower plant on Scotland’s Isle of Skye, was strolling the shore near the Storr Lochs power station when he spotted some bones sticking out of a rock.
Gillies had collected many small fossils, but “he realized (this) was on a different scale altogether,” says his son Allan Gillies, an engineer for SSE, the successor to his father’s employer. “It wasn’t the sort of thing you kept in your back yard.”
The fossil was taken to a storage facility belonging to what is now National Museums Scotland. But it was encased in rock harder than concrete, and extracting it would have taken substantial skill – and money. When Norrie Gillies died in 2011, his fossil still wore its stone shroud.
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SOURCE: USA Today, Traci Watson