World's first ichthyosaur goes home after 200 years

04 August 2011

The world's first discovery of a complete ichthyosaur, made by the famous fossil hunter Mary Anning and her brother Joseph, has returned to the town it was found in for the first time in 200 years.

Staff move the 2-metre-long ichthyosaur skull in to the Lyme Regis Museum

Staff move the 2-metre-long ichthyosaur skull in to the Lyme Regis Museum.

The 2-metre-long skull of the extinct marine reptile is on loan from the Natural History Museum and will be on display at the Lyme Regis Museum until the end of September, marking the 200th anniversary of its discovery.

Fossil hunter

Mary Anning uncovered this spectacular specimen, and many others, on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Anning's finds were some of the most significant geological discoveries of all time and provided evidence central to the development of new ideas about the history of the Earth.

Ichthyosaurs

Ichthyosaurs were dolphin-like animals that gave birth to live young. Their name means 'fish-lizards' in Greek. 

The ichthyosaur on display is a Temnodontosaurus platydon, meaning 'cutting-tooth-lizard'. It lived in the Early Jurassic.

It reached 9m in length and had some of the largest eyes known in the animal kingdom, measuring about 20cm across.

Sold for £23
Lyme Regis is on the Jurassic Coast and holds a popular annual fossil festival

Lyme Regis is on the Jurassic Coast and holds a popular annual fossil festival

The specimen was uncovered in 1811 in the Jurassic Blue Lias cliffs at Lyme Regis. 

Soon after it was found, the Anning family sold it to Henry Hoste Henley of Conway Manor in Lyme for £23. 

It was then sent to London and exhibited at William Bullock's Museum of Natural Curiosities. 

In 1819, it was purchased by the British Museum, parts of which later became the Natural History Museum.

On loan from Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum's palaeontology collections manager Dr Martin Munt and curator of echinoderms Tim Ewin helped deliver the fossil. 

'It has been a privilege to help Lyme Regis Museum achieve their dream of bringing home this iconic fossil specimen to mark the 200th anniversary of its discovery,' says Munt.

'We have been planning this for over a year and it has involved working closely with my colleagues throughout the Museum including those in the Museum's Palaeontology Conservation Unit.'

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