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Sunday, 24 July 2011

Mary Anning's first Ichthyosaur comes home to Lyme Regis

"The most famous fossilist's most famous fossil!" That is how the specimen of Ichthyosaur "Temnodontosaurus platydon" (the cutting tooth lizard) that Joseph and Mary Anning found in the blue lias cliffs of Lyme Regis has been described. It is believed that Joseph found the skull and Mary (who was just 12 at the time of the discovery) went on to find the neck section a few months later. The Annings sold the ichthyosaur to Henry Host Henly, of Colway Manor in Lyme, for £23 and it was sent off to London never to return. Until this week!!

The specimen's current owners, The Natural History Museum, have agreed that it can return to Lyme for a short period and on Thursday 21st July two of their staff brought it down in the back of a van. The picture to the right shows the van parked outside Lyme Regis Museum in what was Cockmoil Square where the Annings had their home and workshop. Museum geologist, Paddy Howe is removing the top of the packing case to get a first view of the ichthyosaur in Lyme Regis. Dr Martin Munt from the Natural History Museum is looking on.

The plan was to take the specimen up the museum's spiral staircase for display in the Geology Gallery but it was far too long and heavy for that. So it was manoeuvred through the the door and into the ground floor gallery. At least this allowed the photograph to the left to be taken from the staircase.

Until now, Lyme Regis has had to make do with a model of the ichthyosaur (below) but for a short period of time, townspeople and visitors will be able to see it in the place where it was found. The model will replace it at the Natural History Museum.

The Ichthyosaur head will be at Lyme regis museum until at least the end of September and will be a star attraction of Mary Anning Day on the 24th September. Click here for information on this event.


Literary Lyme Walking Tours said...

Think I'm right in saying that the bottom picture is of a fibreglass replica taken from the original. Amazing though. Have seen both, but of course the original ichie is the most impressive, as is verified by the fact that Paddy Howe (pictured)our museum Geologist stood gazing at it longingly for the duration of its first day at the museum!

Anonymous said...

This is great news to be able to see the real thing, how short is the short period (or how long is the visit for!).
thank you

Keith said...

Sorry for the delay in replying to the timing question. The Ichthyosaur head will stay in Lyme Regis Museum until at least the end of September 2011. It will definitely be around for Mary Anning Day on 24th September. (see )

Rae said...

Can someone clear up the mystery/confusion about "the rest of it?" Is what we saw in Lyme Regis the whole of what Mary and Joe got out of the cliff? Is there any credence to the rumor there was more, but it was lost by the British Museum?

Andrew May said...

Good question Rae. I don't know the answer -- I will check with our fossil Experts and get back to you.

Andrew May said...

We have just received a reply from Martin Munt at the Natural History Museum in London, regarding Mary Anning's Ichthyosaur's missing post-cranial parts (thanks to Ben Brooks and Keith Shaw for passing this on):

"The truth is no one is quite sure whether there was any more, indeed whether anymore ever made it to the BM or not, Would make a good project to find out though……"

Sorry we couldn't provide a better answer!

Andrew May said...

It's possible the fossil was just an isolated skull, as Museum Education Officer Chris Andrew has just pointed out:

"It would be quite possible to find a loose skull as a big ichthyosaur carcass would float in the sea due to decomposition gases. It would float head down as the head is the heaviest end of the skeleton, possibly with the skull dragging on the sea floor. As it rotted the stress on the neck would often cause the head to fall off. The local collectors call this bloat and float."

Keith said...

Hugh Torrens of Keele University who is an authority on Mary Anning and related topics has told us he feels sure "that because all then at Lyme knew nothing of the anatomy of such monsters, there was no way they could adequately excavate a seventeen foot long object like this, in one piece. Thus all the small pieces that then came out were so fragmented that one of the later owners [Henley, Bullock, or the British Museum] simply threw out the rest of whatever had then been excavated, as 'not worth keeping'.." Hence we only have the head.
We have also learned that Hugh's long awaited biography of Mary Anning may well see the light of day in the not too distant future.