When the giant front flippers, or “paddles”, of a prehistoric sea dragon called an ichthyosaur, were found on a beach in Lyme Regis, it was a very exciting scientific discovery. Not only was the fossil huge in size, but experts were convinced the rest of the creature was still buried under the rocks.
Now, in a new BBC One programme, Sir David Attenborough join forces with fossil hunter Chris Moore and his team as they hurry to excavate the fossil from the rapidly eroding Dorset cliffs and meet scientists who reveal how this huge creature lived and died.
Chris Moore, who has been running the Forge Fossils workshop in Charmouth for more than 30 years, discovered the new species of ‘fish-lizard’ on Monmouth Beach in January 2016. Following a storm, a large block of limestone fell onto the beach and Mr Moore noticed the block contained a cross-section of a fossil which turned out to be the creature’s two flippers.
The documentary will explore the Jurassic Coast, in particular, Lyme Regis, where Mr Moore discovered the 200 million-year-old fossil, and reveal how he and his team faced a race a battle with the elements as they had to dig the bones out of the rock by hand before winter storms arrived.
The story takes a rather macabre twist when it becomes clear that the team are investigating a millennia-old murder mystery; scientists deduce the creature’s missing head was ripped off, presumably by a much larger ocean predator.
The fossils were so well-preserved that the team of scientists were able to use the latest techniques to analyse them, which gave new insight into the lives of the creatures which could be a completely new species of an ichthyosaur. Remarkably, the specimens were found in preserved skin, changing how scientists believed the predators looked, using pigmentation in skin fragments and ancient fossilised faeces, they were able to analyse how it lived and died, revealing that creature was most likely attacked by a predator called temnodontosaurus
Showing Sunday 7th January 8pm and Sunday 14th January 5.o5pm