The Swanage Crocodile!
Richard said: ‘it was a really lucky find; I had a site visit in Swanage and decided to take the opportunity to check out the coast. By chance there had been a fresh rock fall and sticking out of the face was this massive section of bone. I have never found a crocodile before but it was pretty obvious what it was. Even better, the other section of the skull was lying in a fallen block on the beach. So at the weekend I was joined by Chris Moore, a collector from Charmouth and Steve Etches, from Kimmeridge to extract the piece from the fallen block. It was obvious at that stage that we had the back of a large crocodile skull of the species, Steve suggested, Goniopholis. Chris went to work cleaning the bones which revealed superbly preserved bone, the colour of caramel chocolate. It is a top quality specimen. Meanwhile, I approached Natural England and the landowners, Swanage Town Council, for permission to extract the rest – permission is also required from the Jurassic Coast Team and as Jurassic Coast Earth Science Manager I approved! After two site visits and two weeks of waiting, all the permissions were in place.
The remaining part of the skull was contained within a low rock face that had been fractured into a series of massive blocks by the cliff fall. Heavy equipment was needed to topple several large rocks that made it far too dangerous to work under. The next stage was to isolate the layer and pick out the block containing the bone from the cliff fall. It may sound easy but involved seven hours of exhausting work.
The Jurassic Coast Trust agreed to pay for the preparation costs and the work was done by Chris Moore. I got in touch with Dr Angela Milner from the Natural History Museum and Dr Mike Benton from Bristol University about the preparation and assessment of scientific importance. It is anticipated that this will be a significant specimen and if so it will be donated to a Dorset museum. The specimen may then be loaned to a site in Swanage, probably Durlston Castle once renovation is complete. My thanks go to Steve Etches, Chris Moore, Natural England, Swanage Town Council and the Jurassic Coast Trust. If anyone is concerned about the removal of rock; the specimen was contained in a cliff fall. The rocks had already fractured and would sooner or later collapse, with the potential loss of the specimen. Rescuing important fossils, is, by its very nature, extractive. We have something of potential scientific importance and certainly great educational value and beauty that would have been lost if not collected.’