A God-fearing family in Victorian England buried a giant Ichthyosaurus fossil out of concern it could threaten their Christian beliefs. Now, after some 150 years and a change of heart, the family has unearthed the stunning prehistoric fossil.
The Ichthyosaurus fossil was discovered in 1850 by the family of cider brandy maker Julian Temperley in Somerset, England. Local paper Burnham & Highbridge Weekly News reports the family were builders' merchants at the time and unearthed the relic while digging in a quarry.
After returning the fossil to their home, the family decided to bury it as they didn’t want to feel they were “denying God” and the creation story by displaying it. After all, this was several years before Charles Darwin published the bible of evolution by natural selection, On the Origin of Species.
Temperley recalls regularly unearthing the fossil as a child with his family, however, it was always reburied after they caught a good glimpse. When the Somerset Levels were hit by severe flooding in the winter of 2013 to 2014, he finally decided it was time to unearth the beast for good.
"Whenever we visited Somerset as kids, we dug it up and were generally amazed,” Temperley told Western Morning News.
"But after the flooding of 2013-14 we realized it was not a good idea to leave it buried and I thought we ought to look after it."
He employed the help of professional fossil collector Chris Moore to excavate the fossil and clear it up. By all accounts, it’s a pretty impressive specimen. An image of the so-called Temperley Ichthyosaurus is also set to get on the label of Temperley’s cider brandy.
Ichthyosaurus, meaning “fish lizard”, is a genus of ichthyosaur, a diverse group of extinct marine reptile that resembled a dolphin-like lizard. Some of the earliest fossils were discovered in the early 19th century by the English palaeontologist and fossil-finding maestro Mary Anning. The largest discovered specimen of an Ichthyosaurus, unearthed in the mid-1990s, measured between 3 and 3.5 meters (10 and 11.5 feet) in length, although most species were small.
The ichthyosaurs were arguably one of the most successful lineages ever. They occupied a wide variety of niches and were very widely distributed, leaving behind fossil remains that span most of the Mesozoic Era (251 million to 65.5 million years ago).