Bones From 200-Million-Year-Old Monster of the Sea Found in Russia

December 24, 2014 Updated: December 24, 2014

From The Siberian Times: When Andrey Tyuryakov scanned the ground for signs of mushrooms, little did he know he might stumble across something far more important than his beloved fungus. Indeed, the scientist may well have accidentally unearthed one of Russia’s most important dinosaur finds.

For under his feet as he walked along the shore of Wrangel Island, in the Siberian Sea, was an unusually shaped object that, at first, looked like a large stone. But this was no ordinary boulder; it instead has turned out to be a 200-million-year-old bone belonging to one of the largest dinosaurs that ever existed.

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“I almost stepped on it,” said Tyuryakov, who works for the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersburg. “It was just in front of my eyes, a totally unusual shape.” A mushroom lover, Tyuryakov’s eyes are always on the ground as he’s walking, and that’s what helped him make this historic find.

The fossil found by  Andrey Turyakov on Wrangle Island in Russia. (Andrey Turyakov)
The fossil found by Andrey Turyakov on Wrangle Island in Russia. (Andrey Turyakov)

 

Andrey Turyakov (Courtesy of Andrey Turyakov)
Andrey Turyakov (Courtesy of Andrey Turyakov)

Tyuryakov was part of a group of four scientists sent to Wrangel Island, in Russia’s far east, to take part in a complex expedition for a large energy company.

They were there to spend seven days on the remote outpost studying a polar bear population, and were assisted by members of staff from the nature reserve, including the director, Aleksandr Gruzdev. It was at the end of the expedition that he stumbled across the “stone,” and when he asked his colleagues if they thought it was of interest, they said it looked ordinary.

They believed it had taken its odd shape and markings as a result of being pounded for years by waves and wind. However, the scientist’s instincts told him it was much more than just a boulder, so he took it with him back St. Petersburg, where it was examined by experts at the city’s Zoological Museum.

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A depiction of the plesiosaurus. (Animal Reader)
A depiction of the plesiosaurus. (Animal Reader)

Preliminary tests stunned the researchers, who found the stone was actually likely to be two fossilized bones from a plesiosaurus, a dinosaur reptile often described as a giant sea monster. It was among the most feared creatures that roamed the oceans 200 million years ago, with its body longer than a humpback whale and teeth the size of cucumbers.

Thought to have had extremely long necks about 50 feet long (15 meters), but small heads, and equipped with large flippers, they were the top marine predators during the Jurassic period.

Some experts have even described them as the “T-Rex of the ocean,” since they tended to feed on other marine reptiles.

Tyuryakov said: “This is the first discovery of fossil remains on Wrangel Island, and I’m proud. I’m just happy that I found it, having been on the island for a week.”

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Plesiosaurs are thought to have been common in the Arctic seas, with another vertebra found by Soviet scientists on Uyedineniya Island, in the Kara Sea, during an expedition in the 1930s.

Lying 88 miles off the coast of north-eastern Siberia, and also close to Alaska, Wrangel Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It is a federally-protected nature sanctuary, administered by Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, and was classified a “zapovednik”—meaning a strict nature reserve—in 1976.

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This gives the 2,900-square-mile island the highest level of protection and excludes practically all human activity other than for scientific purposes. It is believed to have been the final place on Earth to have supported woolly mammoths, with a small isolated population existing until about 2,000 B.C.

Further tests will be carried out on the fossilised remains in St. Petersburg. A number of paleontological expeditions to the Arctic region to find further plesiosaur remains are planned for 2015.

Republished with permission from The Siberian Times. Read the original.