Baffling bones from Lyme Regis

A recent find from Lower Jurassic marine deposits on the Dorset Coast consists of a curious association of bones and bone fragments that have so far eluded identification, despite being inspected by some top palaeontologists. Is it a shark? Not according to some shark specialists. Is it a fish? Probably, but despite the presence of several complete bones, none have been identified and there are no scales present. Is it regurgitate? Possibly, but there is at least one very long thin bone that is unlikely to have been swallowed and upchucked again whole, and the matrix in which the bones are preserved does vary. So, is it simply a mass of completely unassociated bones? Unlikely, as there are several examples of at least two types of bone within the fossil. So, they are not a random accumulation, but they do remain a mystery. Do you recognise any of the bones? Do take a look and tell me what you think.

Fig. 1. Richard Edmonds trying to work out which piece goes where.

Discovery of the material

I found the first piece of this specimen on the beach beneath the Spittles Slip, east of Lyme Regis in Dorset, during the Symposium on Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy (SVPCA) meeting in the town in September 2011. It was a large block (approximately 40kg) from the Shales-with-Beef Member of the Charmouth Mudstone Formation (Lower Jurassic). Bones were visible in cross section on all four sides, within a layer about a third of the way down into the block. Due to weathering, some aspects of the bones other than simple cross-sections were slightly visible. I took the block from the beach and showed it to colleagues at the conference after the talks. After reporting it to staff at Lyme Regis museum and to Richard Edmonds, the Earth Science Manager of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Team, more material was found on the beach and in the slip by local palaeontologists, Paddy Howe, Chris Andrew and Mike Harrison.

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