The well-preserved skull of a gigantic prehistoric sea honster has been discovered on a beach in Dorset, and scientists hope it could reveal many secrets about the creatures.
The skull belonged to a pilosaur, which dominated the oceans hundreds of millions of years ago. The fossil dates back to roughly 150 million years ago, which is nearly 3 million years younger that any of the other pilosaur fossils currently. Researchers have begun analysis of the fossil to determine whether it could actually be a new species altogether.
The fossil was originally spotted in 2022, but is now the subject of a BBC documentary, Attenborough and the Jurassic Sea Monster, which details its complicated excavation process and the ongoing scientific investigation.
The skull was excavated from the Jurassic Coast and measures an incredible 2 meters, weighing over half a metric tonne. When they were alive and ruling the waters, pilosaurs grew up to 15 meters in length, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Steve Etches, a local paleontologist who helped uncover the specimen, said was buried about 11 meters above the ground and 15 meters down the cliff.
READ MORE: Fossilised tyrannosaur reveals what young dinosaur had as its last supper
Unearthing the prehistoric creature was made even more tricky by the weather conditions. The crew were forced to work as fast as possible before the summer storms hit and the cliff eroded, which could have destroyed the fossil.
Etches’ friend, Philip Jacobs, first discovered the fossil sticking out of the beach. Etches said the paid were “quite excited, because its jaws closed together which indicates [the fossil] is complete.”
They then used drones to map the cliff and locate exactly where the pilosaur was buried. The whole operation to fully excavate the fossil took three weeks, and involved the team chiseling into the cliff while suspended in mid-air. Etches said: “It’s a miracle we got it out because we had one last day to get this thing out, which we did at 9:30pm.”
Then began the near-impossible task of restoring the giant skull, which Etches found “very disillusioning”. The mud and bone had cracked, making the restoration incredibly tricky, but Etches was able to complete the “freak of nature” in a matter of weeks.
He said: “It took a long time but every bit of bone we got back in … It died in the right environment, there was a lot of sedimentation … so when it died and went down to the seafloor, it got buried quite quickly.”
The fossil is able to prove just how fearsome of a killer the pilosaur was. It had enormous razor-sharp teeth used and used sensory pits on its skull to detect changes in water pressure.
Its bite was twice as powerful as that of a saltwater crocodile – the creature with the world’s most powerful jaws today – giving it the ability to chomp right through a car.