Obviously the Covid-19 pandemic has made this a very strange and different year. It makes one realise just how enjoyable a quiz night or a series of talks followed by a meal together could be. We haven’t made green lentil and vegetable soup with sandwiches for such a long time, although I’m not sure the supermarkets would let me walk out with 24 tins of tomatoes without being accused of panic buying! I hope we will be able to resume activities in the near future, although the autumn appears to be bringing a resurgence of the disease and the signs don’t look too good. Many of us have started to get used to using digital platforms for virtual meetings so perhaps the way forward is with Zoom.
Meanwhile some research has continued during the lockdowns. This newsletter covers the stories of three species new to science, that have recently been named based on material at Dinosaur Isle museum. These are unique fossils and it is rare for such important material to be housed in a museum outside of London or other major cities.
Dinosaur Isle Museum has the holotypes of four theropod (meat-eating) dinosaurs, Neovenator salerii, Yaverlandia bitholus, Eotyrannus lengi and now Vectaerovenator inopinatus, together with several pterosaurs and many other taxa. This underlines how important the collection is and emphasises the significant role played by the Isle of Wight on the world palaeontological stage. The three finds involved local and mainland amateur collectors, who very generously donated their finds to the Museum. These collectors are an essential factor in the continued success of the island’s palaeontological heritage as marine erosion acts a double-edged sword, exposing the fossils then destroying them, unless they are quickly retrieved. Sadly, not everyone is as responsible, and a lot of rare and scientifically important material is lost to a small but active minority who supply commercial dealers. We would therefore like to thank the following ‘good guys’ for finding, recognising the importance of, and donating
A holotype is a single type specimen upon which the description and name of a new species is based. This makes it incredibly important in taxonomy (the science of naming, describing and classifying organisms) as to classify a new find means the researcher needs to compare it with holotype material. The museum holds the holotypes of four theropod or meat-eating predatory dinosaurs and many other animals.
If you’re looking for a book for a young child this Christmas, this pop-up book called ‘Prehistoric Pets’ is really excellent. Dr Dean Lomax is a professional palaeontologist, a regular visitor to the museum and also the author of ‘Dinosaurs of the British Isles’.
These specimens: John Winch and Mick Green for the pterosaur Wightia declivirostris, Will Thurbin for the pterosaur Uktenadactylus rodriguesae and James Lockyer, Robin Ward and family, and Paul Farrell for Vectaerovenator inopinatus.
We also feature an article by Dinosaur Isle’s Alex Peaker on the history of the museum. The earliest parts of the collection date back to 1810, that’s 29 years before Richard Owen coined the name Dinosauria. So not only is the collection hugely important scientifically, it also represents the efforts of the Island community for more than two centuries and is an integral part of the Isle of Wight’s heritage.
This brings us onto the future of the museum and its collection. It is about seven years now since the Isle of Wight Council
first decided to dispose of the museum. Over that time the Friends have continued to fight to keep the collection housed safely in an accredited museum where it is available for research and on display to the public. We believe the successful future of the museum and the collection lies with it being run by a charitable not-for-profits trust but also having some commercial arrangement that will secure its future financially. Obviously, this uncertainty has been an extremely stressful time for the staff of the museum, but we are hopeful that the outlook is good and hope to have news in the coming months (although I remember saying that a year ago).
Finally. we would all like to thank you for your support and patience and we all look forward to the time we can all get together again.
Dr Jeremy Lockwood, Chair of the Friends of Dinosaur Isle.
Vectaerovenator inopinatus: A new dinosaur for the island.
new theropod dinosaur has been named for the Isle of Wight. The new genus is based on four vertebrae, a cervical from the neck region, two dorsals from the main backbone and a caudal or tail vertebra. The finds were made by three different people at separate times and what makes these bones so interesting is that they were found at Shanklin.
The cliffs in the area at Shanklin where the bones were found on the foreshore and the matrix that they were in, is from the Ferruginous Sand Formation of the Lower Greensand Group.
The lower Greensand Formation is also younger (Aptian) by about 10 – 15 million years, than the rocks were we normally find our dinosaurs on the Island (Barremian). In fact, except for a few isolated teeth and fragments, Vectaerovenator inopinatus at approximately 115 million years old, is the youngest non-avian (birds are dinosaurs too) theropod to be reported in the British Isles. The rarity of dinosaur bones in this formation, together with the consistency of the size, appearance and matrix covering these four vertebrae indicated that they all belonged to the same individual. This was diagnosed as a mid-sized tetanuran. The Tetanurae (which means ‘stiff tails’) are a big group that includes most theropod dinosaurs including of course T. rex.
These strata are marine and as far as we know dinosaurs never took to the sea, which was dominated from a reptile point of view by such animals as ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, pliosaurs and of course turtles. So Vectaerovenator inopinatus presumably died and was washed out to sea and a watery grave. This has been beautifully illustrated by Isle of Wight artist Trudie Wilson who saw her painting go around the world in news articles and programmes.
The name proved to be a bit of a mouthful for most news readers, but it nicely describes the dinosaur. The generic name Vectaerovenator comes from Vectis (Latin for the Isle of Wight): referring to the discovery of this new dinosaur on the Isle of Wight; aero ἀερό (ancient Greek): ‘air’, referring
to its high degree of skeletal pneumaticity or air spaces in the bones; -venator (Latin for hunter): The specific name inopinatus is Latin for
Below are some quotes from press articles.
unexpected referring to its surprise discovery in the notably dinosaur-poor Lower Greensand.
Skeletal pneumanicity of dinosaur bones has been known about for a long time. Indeed, it is still present today in the birds. It is seen in Theropods and Sauropods but not in ornithopods like Iguanodon and Mantellisaurus. At first it was thought that this was a character that had evolved in the saurischians especially the giant sauropods to help to reduce weight. There may be some truth in this still, but Robert Bakker proposed in the early 1970’s that the principal cause was that these spaces where air sacs and analogous to birds. Birds have an unusual way of breathing that means they absorb oxygen continuously rather than just when breathing in. This makes them very efficient and if Vectaerovenator was the same it implies it too needed an efficient respiratory system and was probably quite a fast moving active animal.
So, Dinosaur Isle now has a new Holotype of a theropod dinosaur to add to its collection. Accession number IWCMS 2020.407, 2019.84, 2020.400.
However, none of this would have happened if it hadn’t of been for the collectors. The fossils of the Isle of Wight are generally revealed by marine erosion which is a hit and miss affair and no-one knows what will appear and when One of the tragedies for the island is that specimens are often destroyed by the waves or collected by different individuals and are never brought together or made available to science. Happily, on these occasion three individuals with the skills to recognise a bone covered in matrix brought them in to the museum and very generously donated the material. This is essential to science as research on material in private collections can never be published as open access to specimens to be able to check and verify results is fundamental to the scientific process. In this case the finders joined Chris Barker, a Ph.D. student at the University of Southampton, supervised by Dr Neil Gosling (who has spoken several times to the Friends
on matters evolutionary) and others in publishing the research. A big thank you to Robin Ward and family, James Lockyer and Paul Farrell for supporting the museum, the Island and science.
The discoveries of the bones were made on three separate occasions over the course of last year, by the Ward family, Paul Farrell and James Lockyer. Robin Ward, who, along with Lockyer and Farrell co-authored the paper, said: “The joy of finding them was absolutely fantastic. I thought they were special so on a visit to the Dinosaur Isle Museum we took them too. The look on their faces was a picture because they knew that these fossils were something rare. They asked me to donate them to the museum which I did so they could be researched to the fullest.”
Chris Barker, a PhD student at the University of Southampton who led the project said “We were struck by just how hollow this animal is–it’s riddled with air spaces. Parts of its skeleton must have been very delicate. The record of theropod dinosaurs from the “mid” Cretaceous of Europe isn’t that
great, so it’s been really exciting to be able to increase our understanding of the diversity of dinosaur species from this time.
“Although we have enough material to be able to determine the general type of dinosaur we have, we would like to find more to refine our analysis. The fact that members of the public discovered these bones shows the important role that citizen science can play in palaeontology, and we are very grateful for their donation to science” added Chris Barker.
Finder and co-author James Lockyer added: “It looked different from marine reptile vertebrae I have come across in the past. I was searching a spot at Shanklin and had been told and read that I wouldn’t find much there. However, I always make sure I search the areas others do not, and on this occasion, it paid off!”
The scientists at the University and Museum urge that any members of the public who find suspected bones at Shanklin to take then to Dinosaur Isle Museum, so that they can continue to study the dinosaur. However, bone hunters should stick to the foreshore, and avoid going near the cliffs which are amongst the most unstable on the island, with rock falls, some large, throughout the year.
A new species of Pterosaur from Sandown, Isle of Wight.
A fossil from a pterosaur (a species of flying reptile which lived during the Mesozoic from the Triassic through to the end of the Cretaceous), which had previously only been found in China, Brazil and North Africa, was recently discovered in England for the first time. The delicate jaw fragment was collected by an amateur collector John Whinch who spotted it while prospecting on the beach at Yaverland. He took it to local collector Mick Green, who cleaned and prepared the specimen and realised it was part of a pterosaur skull and looked unusual. Megan Jacobs, a Ph.D. student in palaeontology from the Isle of Wight but currently working in Texas, visited Mick and recognised it as part of the skull of a tapejarid pterosaur.
She informed Professor David Martill at the University of Portsmouth who is a leading expert on pterosaurs. He confirmed the identity of the specimen but recognised it as being a new species and it was named as Wightia declivirostris. The name Wightia links the specimen to the Isle of Wight; dedlivirostris comes from the Latin words declivi = slanting, and rostris = beak, in combination
pertaining to the downward slanting beak tip of this taxon Wightia declivirostris sp. nov. The specimen has now been kindly donated to Dinosaur Isle Museum as a holotype of the species and accessioned as IWCMS 2020.401.
A rather nice part of this story is that it shows how skilled amateurs and professionals coming together managed to take a find from the beach to a new pterosaur for the island. Figure 1 shows that this fossil was a very small and delicate fragment less than 4 cm long. When it was found it was covered in matrix but still recognised by the finder as possibly from a pterosaur. He took it to Mick Green who is a skilled preparator and carefully removed the matrix and recognised it as something unusual. Megan Jacobs had worked with tapejarid pterosaurs during fieldwork in Morocco recognised what it was and brought Prof. David Martill with his Ph.D. student Roy Smith over from Portsmouth to look at it. Further research at Portsmouth showed that this was a new species. All of this from a small bit of broken bone on the beach at Yaverland.
Tapejarids were small to medium-sized pterosaurs, most of which had a crest which arose from the premaxilla (the bone forming part of the upper jaw of the rostrum or snout). This bony crest would have supported a fibrous crest which in some cases may have been much larger. One can speculate that these crests would have been colourful affairs and used as part of sexual display as in some birds today (Figure 3). Birds are of course dinosaurs and not descended from pterosaurs. The other feature of tapijarids was the lack of the long sharp teeth that we normally associate with pterosaurs. There rostra are more reminiscent of a parrot’s beak and perhaps they were frugivores with a diet consisting mainly of fruits, nuts and seeds.
Another new pterosaur holotype from the Isle of Wight
2020 has been a good year for new pterosaur holotypes from the Isle of Wight (see article on Wightia diclivirostris). Local collector Will Thurbin found this pebble sized fossil on the beach while walking near Sudmoor Point on the south coast of the Island. It was recognised by Professor David Martill, a pterosaur expert from the University of Portsmouth as being the end of the rostrum or snout of a pterosaur from
the genus Coloborhynhcus which was a first for the Island. This was published in the Proceedings of the Geological Association (Martill 2015).
Borja Holgado and Rodrigo Pêgas have now reclassified the fossil IWCMS 2014.82 as belonging to the closely related Anhanguerid pterosaur and called it Uktenadactylus rodriguesae sp. nov. bringing yet another pterosaur holotype to the museum’s collection.
Other holotypes from the Isle of Wight include Caukicephalus trimicrodon, Vectidraco daisymorrisae, Wightia declivirostris and Istiodactylus latidens.
The rostrum of Caukicepahus trimicrodon (Figure 3) was also discovered by an amateur collector at Yaverland, Sandown. You may wonder why it appears that the ends of the snout appear to turn up more commonly than other bones of the body. Many of the bones of the pterosaur are hollow and have an extremely thin layer of cortical bone (figure 4) as well as being long and gracile. This makes then often very fragile and liable to damage by the sea. Also, skull elements as a general rule, are much more useful taxonomically whereas a length of the shaft of a limb bone often is undiagnostic. So, a small lump of unusual looking bone is always worth chasing up.
Dinosaur Isle Museum: Over two hundred years of Isle of Wight heritage, discovery and science.
inosaur Isle is a Museum focussing on the geology and palaeontology of the Isle of Wight. With over 12,000 accessions totalling approximately 40,000 objects it is a reasonably large provincial museum. However, the thing that makes it stand out is that houses numerous type specimens, notably the holotypes of the dinosaurs Neovenator salerii, Eotyrannus lengi. Yaverlandia bitholus and Vectaerovenator inopinatus. The Isle of Wight has a huge diversity of fossils, represented by nearly 2500 different species in the collection. These holotypes and others from many different orders of animals (including crocodiles, pterosaurs and even a spider), plus the continual new finds being made on the Island, mean that this collection has become internationally important and is well known not only to universities and researchers across Britain, but from all over the world. There are undoubtedly many new holotypes still waiting to be discovered within the existing collection.
Dinosaur Isle Museum was opened in 2001 but has a long history and was the successor to multiple geological museums. It started with the collection of the Isle of Wight Philosophical Society which was founded at sometime between 1810 and 1820. This was initially housed in Newport on the Isle of Wight, but over time the museum amalgamated with other collections and moved to several different sites. A philanthropist physician Dr Ernest Wilkins, took great interest in the collection, developing it and raising funds for it to be properly displayed and in 1853 it was moved to Newport Guildhall. On his death in 1881 the future of the collection became questionable, but by the latter part of the 19th century the museum had gained the collection of the former Ryde Museum (1853-c.1880’s), which had been purchased by Newport Young Men’s Society.
After a short period, the Society felt the cost housing the collection was too high and the space it took was wanted for an amusements room. Not wanting to lose the collection from the Island but still wanting to recuperate the money spent from the initial purchase the Museum was sold to local businessman Frank Morey. Morey split the collection and donated the geological material to Sandown Town Council and the rest of the specimens to Carisbrooke Castle Museum.
There is a good possibility that images and texts pertaining to the old museums still exist, if so we would greatly appreciate copies.
In 1955 the closure of the Ventnor Museum resulted in the museum acquiring new specimens. Founded c.1887 by local geologist Mark William Norman the Ventnor Museum was predominately a geological collection and almost entirely collected by Norman.
In 1913 the Museum of Isle of Wight Geology was opened in the upper floor of Sandown Library making its association with the town over a century long. Until his death Morey paid for a Curator, as did his sister Catherine. James Frederick Jackson was hired in 1924 and in his time created the first catalogues of the collection, organised and curated the displays and amassed a large number of specimens for the Museum. On Catherine’s death Jackson left the Museum and a full time curator was not employed again until the 1970’s.
An unfortunate episode in the history of the Museum was the loss of a good part of its documentation. Negatives associated with the collection were kept in Bristol but lost during the raids of the Second World War, and the whereabouts of the original photographs are not known.
When a lack of visitors resulted in the closure of the Museum the collection was split with 7 specimens being selected for the Museum of Isle of Wight Geology, some for Sandown Grammar School and the majority given to the British Geological Survey.
From the 1970s to the 1990s the collection continued to expand and the number of visitors grew year on year, showing the need for a new facility. Specimens were being stored in the attic of the library and the ceilings began to collapse and had to be reinforced. In 1998 the project received funding from the Millennium Lottery Fund and the Isle of Wight Council and preparations for the new Museum began.
This is a very brief summary of the extensive history of the museum. The full version can be found in the Proceedings of the Isle of Wight Natural History and Archaeological Society (Peaker, A. and Bingham, P. 2016. Museum of Isle of Wight Geology. 30, 65-78.)
Dinosaur Isle Museum: Over two hundred years of Isle of Wight heritage, discovery and science.
Like every other museum, a fair amount of work has been put on hold due to the Covid-19 epidemic, but it has also opened up new opportunities.
My role within the museum has become very different this year. Normally my work is quite seasonal with public engagement and outreach, (leading school tours and fossil walks) running from the Easter Holidays through to the end of the Summer, while during the ‘down time’ I switch to documentation and digitisation. With the closure on March 23rd we no longer had visitors and my usual work for the time of year disappeared. This gave me a great opportunity to make progress on projects that are often side-lined due to lack of time. A large amount of my time during the pandemic has been spent working on a project with the curator (Dr Martin Munt) which has involved a lot of research. Although offered
the opportunity to work from home, I decided that as I would be the only one in the museum building and as it gave me access to all of the papers and specimens it would be more sensible to work in the museum every day. Along with the project, I have been working on documentation and digitisation, attended online meetings, taking public enquiries and identification requests (which has led to the donation of some significant specimens) , a small amount of field work, IPM, temperature and humidity monitoring, liaising with research contacts, and lots of other things that I wouldn’t normally be doing during that time of year. At the museum we have several ongoing projects. For the last year we have been working on the preparation and conservation of a partial Polacanthus skeleton with volunteers helping to ready the specimen for the display.
A neotype is a specimen later selected to serve as the single type specimen when an original holotype has been lost or destroyed or where the original author never cited a specimen.
One of our volunteers has been conserving the lower jaws of a Pleistocene elephant (sadly the bones and teeth were not in the best condition when they came to us but they are looking much better) and others have been working on the preparation of a substantial sauropod skeleton.
We are an active museum and regularly participate in field work but the reality is that the island is a big place (in terms of the fossil exposures – pretty much the entirety of the coastline plus a few inland sites) and so we are heavily reliant on numerous ‘amateur’ collectors who have brought in some great pieces to us recently. We frequently reach out to the public to try and encourage collectors to take an ethical approach and show that we are not just a dusty store for fossils to be hidden away. Through our public fossil walks and schools programme we take thousands out on guided tours of our beaches to encourage a passion for our local geology and palaeontology, and last year identified over 3000 objects through public enquiries.
This partnership has led to some extremely significant finds and we are really grateful to everyone that comes to us and supports us with their finds.
A good example of this partnership was the donation of a fantastic crab specimen found on the north coast of the island by local collector Theo Vickers. This has allowed for the re-description of the genus and the specimen has been designated as the Neotype for Portunus vectensis. (Nominated neotype specimen for a decapod crustacean, Neptunus vectensis Carter, 1898 from the Oligocene of the Isle Wight, Hampshire, U. K. W. J. Quayle. 2020., Bulletin of the Mizunami Fossil Museum, no. 47)