Scientists unearth most complete dinosaur remains in the UK

Comptonatus chasei is named after Nick Chase, the late fossil collector who discovered the dinosaur remains.

Palaeontologists have detailed the most complete dinosaur remains found in the UK in the past 100 years in a new study published today (10 July).

The specimen, known as Comptonatus chasei, was found in the cliffs of Compton Bay on the Isle of Wight and is around 125m years old. It is named after the place it was found in and Nick Chase, the late fossil collector who discovered it in 2013.

Chase was helped by Jeremy Lockwood, a retired GP and University of Portsmouth PhD student, to excavate the dinosaur. After years of analysing the 149 different bones that make up the skeleton, Lockwood has concluded that the remains belong to a new species.

“Nick had a phenomenal nose for finding dinosaur bones – he really was a modern-day Mary Anning. He collected fossils daily in all weathers and donated them to museums. I was hoping we’d spend our dotage collecting together as we were of similar ages, but sadly that wasn’t to be the case,” Lockwood said of Chase, who died of cancer in 2019.

“Despite his many wonderful discoveries over the years, including the most complete Iguanodon skull ever found in Britain, this is the first dinosaur to be named after him.”

A ‘fantastic’ specimen

Initially thought to be a type of known dinosaur called Mantellisaurus, the remains were found to possess certain unique features in its skull, teeth and other parts of its body.

Lockwood said that the dinosaur’s lower jaw has a straight bottom edge, whereas most iguanodontians have a jaw that curves downwards. “It also has a very large pubic hip bone, which is much bigger than other similar dinosaurs,” he added. “It’s like a dinner plate!”

He estimates that Comptonatus chasei weighed around 1 tonne – about the same weight as a large male American bison – and was likely a herding animal.

“So possibly large herds of these heavy dinosaurs may have been thundering around if spooked by predators on the floodplains over 120m years ago.”

Dr Susannah Maidment of the Natural History Museum in London and senior author of the paper published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology said that Comptonatus is a “fantastic” dinosaur specimen.

“Its recognition as a new species is due to incredibly detailed work by [Lockwood], whose research continues to reveal that the diversity of dinosaurs in southern England in the Early Cretaceous was much greater than previously realised,” Maidment said.

“The specimen, which is younger than Brighstoneus but older than Mantellisaurus (two iguanodontian dinosaurs closely related to Comptonatus) demonstrate fast rates of evolution in iguanodontian dinosaurs during this time period and could help us understand how ecosystems recovered after a putative extinction event at the end of the Jurassic Period.”

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