Palaeontology: Decades-old mystery solved - Triops Galaxy

Palaeontology: This decades-old mystery has been solved

In 1850, the British naturalist Samuel Stutchbury discovered huge, partially burnt tree trunks at Aust Cliff, a fossil site near Bristol, which turned out to be fossilised bones. Since then, researchers have puzzled over which animal these gigantic bones belonged to. There have been various theories, including Stutchbury’s suggestion that they were the bones of an armoured lurcher, an extinct crocodile-like animal. Others surmised that the fossils were more likely to belong to a long-necked dinosaur, stegosaur or a previously unknown dinosaur.

It was probably a fish dinosaur

In recent years, similar pieces of bone have turned up in various parts of Europe, including Bonenburg in North Rhine-Westphalia and Provence in France. Marcello Perillo, a Master’s student at the Institute of Geosciences at the University of Bonn, now believes he has solved the mystery. In a study published in the scientific journal PeerJ, researchers have described a giant fish dinosaur.

Perillo analysed the microstructure of fossilised bone tissue in regions that were covered by the sea more than 200 million years ago and came to the conclusion that the bones originated from the lower jaws of giant fish dinosaurs.

The bone walls had an unusual structure, with long strands of mineralised collagen that had not previously been found in other bones. This suggests that the ichthyosaurs were, as the researchers assume, between 25 and 30 metres long – comparable to today’s blue whales. The unusual structure of the bone wall could have provided great stability, as it resembles carbon fibre-reinforced materials. It is assumed that the enormous jaws of these animals were exposed to strong shearing forces, both during normal feeding and possibly when ramming prey, similar to today’s orcas.

Sladjan Lazic

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