Prehistoric monster from the deep discovered on Cambridgeshire farmland - and it could be a new species
By Adrian Peel and Adrian Curtis
A palaeontologist believes he may have discovered a new prehistoric species during a dig on Cambridgeshire farmland.
Jamie Jordan uncovered the skeleton of the underwater marine reptile, thought to be a type of plesiosaur from the Jurassic era, after being contacted by a metal detectorist. “He came across some bones that were in a farmer’s field, and he then contacted us to come out and have a look and see if it was worth excavation,” Jamie told the Cambridge Independent.
The bones were found back in 2019 on a site beside the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon, although the exact location is being kept a secret. After looking at pictures of them, Jamie arranged to visit in early 2020 with partner Sarah Moore.
“We came out, had a look and while we were out there on the first day, we came across a few more bones when we were doing a bit of field walking which then, on the second day, led to the farmer bringing in the heavy machinery for us to see if we could find where this animal was lying,” Jamie recalled.
“Over hundreds of years of farming, the field has been ploughed and cultivated and the bones have been disturbed and moved to the surface, hence the metal detectorist finding them in the first place. It was on the third day of the excavation where we actually came across it...”
With permission from the landowner, Jamie and his team from the Fossils Galore museum in March began to prepare for a dig for the skeleton. When the pandemic began, all plans had to be put on hold. They finally resumed in May this year. With the help of the farmer’s excavator, Jamie began digging down to see what had been swimming around millions of years ago during the Jurassic period.
At first, it was thought that the remains of the marine reptile were those of a pliosaur, from the “shape and size of the vertebrae”. Jamie explained: “With later research, and speaking to a few other palaeontologist friends of ours, we now believe it is a plesiosaur, but it’s a species that we can’t nail down, we can’t match up... So it’s pointing towards a new species.”
Plesiosaurs swam around in the sea throughout the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, but were most common in the Jurassic, around 145 million years ago. They fed mainly on fish, squid and ammonites and varied in length from about 1.5 to 15 metres. They gave birth to a live young.
Technically, marine reptiles like this are not classified as dinosaurs, because they did not share their characteristic upright stance. From the size and structure of the bones found, the animal appears to have been a juvenile when it died – bite marks on it suggest it may have fallen victim to something larger in the sea.
The dig took five weeks and then the bones were transferred to the preparation laboratory at Fossils Galore. The team has named it Ella, after the landowner’s daughter. But the wait to discover its true identity, and whether it really is a new species, could take up to six years.
“Once all the bones have been cleaned up, which is going to take a good couple of years at least, we’ll be able to look at all the different characteristics of each bone, and then try and match it up to specimens that are already found,” said Jamie.
In the meantime, visitors to Fossils Galore can enjoy a look at some of the remains of the mysterious beast. “We’ve been here for nine years now,” said Jamie of the business, praising the “dedicated team”. “It’s all to do with palaeontology, geology and a little bit of archaeology as well.”
Jamie has been interested in dinosaurs since “the age of five”, describing himself as “one of those kids that got into dinosaurs and couldn’t really get out of it” – “and I’ve taught myself all the way... I’m highly dyslexic and the normal schoolwork was very difficult for me.
“So as soon as I got onto a subject that I was interested in, I excelled in it, which is quite well known for dyslexic people. I self-taught myself all the way to the point that I’m now a world-renowned expert in the field.”
For more on Fossils Galore, go to fossilsgalore.com.