In the summer of 2010, Dianne Godden, the wife of Mark Godden, quarry manager for Albion Stone on Portland, noticed a strange brown pattern on the recently cleaved face of a huge block of Portland Stone. Little did she know that the find was that of a fossil turtle belonging to a genus known as Hylaeochelys.
But that was not all as Dr Andrew Milner from the Natural History Museum believes that this is the oldest example of a turtle fossil known in Europe and possibly the World! Only one other near complete turtle carapace (shell) has been found on Portland and that was in the C19th.
The spiky appearance of the shell is actually the end of flattened ribs that would have supported the external shell above, though most of this was lost before the animal became fossilised. One limb bone and part of the lower jaw survive, which makes this specimen even more unusual as most turtle fossils are typically known from either the shell or the skull. This specimen may help to put two known species together!
The turtle has been donated to Portland Museum by Albion Stone. Preparation work was undertaken by Dave Costin of Lyme Regis. Funding for the work and improved displays in Portland Museum has been provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Collecting Cultures’ programme, with match funding from Dorset and Devon county councils. The project is being delivered by the Dorset Museum Service and Jurassic Coast Team and involves improved displays and acquiring new fossils for nine museums across Dorset and East Devon.
The turtle is about 35cm in length and was split in two with each half set within massive blocks of the Portland Whit Bed weighing up to 12 tonnes. Albion Stone transported the blocks to their masonry works and cut them down into a manageable size. These were then glued back together by Dave Costin and cleaned from the top side.
Richard Edmonds, Earth Science Manager.