Two hundred million years ago, in the early Jurassic period, south east Wales was covered by a warm shallow sea, teeming with life. One of the major predators within these waters was the ichthyosaur, an extinct marine reptile that looked similar to dolphins. These animals could reach over 15m in length, and preyed upon small fish and other marine animals such as ammonites and belemnites.
The fossil was discovered several years ago preserved in the cliffs at Penarth, near Cardiff and acquired by Amgueddfa Cymru for public display. To prepare the specimen for display, hours of delicate, skilled work had to be undertaken to carefully remove the rock covering the preserved reptile bones.
Individual ichthyosaur bones and teeth are relatively common fossils in South Wales, Dorset, and Somerset, as well as parts of the Midlands and Yorkshire, but complete or partially complete skeletons are rarer. The specimen discovered at Penarth includes the underside of the head and one of its paddle-like limbs, as well as part of the shoulder blade and several ribs.
After it died the animal would have been buried in the sediment on the sea bed, preventing it from being completely scavenged by other animals.
This skeleton will help in our understanding of Jurassic life in Wales. To find out more about ichthyosaurs and life in the Jurassic period visit the Evolution of Wales exhibition at the National Museum Cardiff.