A 140 million year old crocodile found on the Jurassic Coast is going on display at Dorset County Museum.
The 60cm long skull dates from the Cretaceous Period of geological time, around 140 million years ago. It was found in 2007 near Swanage by Richard Edmonds, Earth Science Manager for the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site team. Richard said, “It was a really lucky find. A part of my job is to monitor the condition of the rocks and fossils along the World Heritage Site but you don’t expect to find something this spectacular without spending a lot more time on the coast. I have collected fossils for thirty years but this is a once in a lifetime find.”
The ‘Swanage Snapper’ fossil has recently been studied at Bristol University and has been found to be a new species. The full name is Goniopholis kiplingi in homage to British author and nature enthusiast Rudyard Kipling whose crocodile characters feature in stories such as the Just So Stories tales. He would have enjoyed the idea of this prehistoric creature waiting just under the surface of a warm freshwater lagoon to ambush unsuspecting prey. Dinosaurs emerging from lush tropical foliage to take a drink would have been gripped by powerful jaws and rolled beneath the water until drowned or crushed to death.
However, this crocodile did not have everything its own way – on top of the skull are bite marks from another crocodile, possibly even larger, which bit down with such force that the conical marks of its teeth are still visible today. The crocodile skull is very well preserved, having been buried quite rapidly by lagoon sediment, although its teeth rotted out before this took place. It was slightly flattened by the sediment’s weight before it hardened into rock and is surrounded by fossil shellfish, along with a turtle shell plate and a poo (thankfully fossilised too). Curators at Dorset County Museum are grateful to Jurassic Coast Trust for funding the project and Mowlam Metalcraft for providing the mount for the new display.
- For further information on the Crocodile and other fossils displayed at the museum’s Jurassic Coast Gallery please see www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or telephone 01305 262735.