Researchers from the University of Manchester have used cutting-edge computerised tomography (CT) scanning technology to digitally reconstruct the skull of a giant sea monster discovered more than 60 years ago.
The nearly 200-million-year old skull was found at the Fell Mill Farm in Warwickshire back in 1955 but it was never formally studied until now. The prehistoric skull, which measured nearly 3 feet long, belonged to the now extinct ichthyosaur.
These marine creatures, which looked like modern-day dolphins, swam in the ancient ocean that used to cover what is now Europe during the Jurassic era.
Fake Materials Inside Skull
Data provided by the CT scan surprised scientists not just because the bones were well preserved and not squashed, which is unlike other fossils from the Jurassic period. Analysis revealed that the fossil had fake "bones" inside it.
Dean Lomax, a paleontologist from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at The University of Manchester, and colleagues who were involved in the digital reconstruction of the cranium were aware curators added clay, wood, and plaster to the skull decades ago to help stabilize the specimen.
Lomax and colleagues, however, found that even after the removal of the clay, the CT scans still showed the skull contained more fake material. One bone was so expertly modeled researchers only realized it was a fake because of the scans.
"We were unaware of clay and reconstructed materials that still remained, including in some of the braincase bones," Lomax said. "So, based on the CT scans, I was surprised to see how particularly well the bones had been sculpted to match the color and shape."
Lomax said that they were not able to remove the newly discovered clay because this may cause the bones to become fragmented or damaged.
Digital Reconstruction Of Skull To Be Made Available For The Public
The new analysis is an important work in the field of ichthyosaur research. It was the first time a digital reconstruction of the skull and mandible of a huge marine reptile has been made available for both scientists and the public.
"Not only has our study revealed exciting information about the internal anatomy of the skull of this animal, but our findings will aid other palaeontologists in exploring its evolutionary relationship with other ichthyosaurs," Lomax said.