Prehistoric Sea Monsters Emerge From the Arctic Landscape

The tail of an ichthyosaur

By Aubrey Jane Roberts and Victoria Engelschiøn Nash

Professor Jørn Hurum and his team of thirteen are on a paleontological expedition in the Norwegian Arctic of Spitsbergen. We are on a mission to excavate marine reptiles, amphibians, sharks, and fish that lived in the sea that once covered Spitsbergen 240 million years ago.

Over the course of our two-week field season we have had three main excavations. Our major dig site this year was of the ichthyosaur “Cliff,” whose tail was conveniently disappearing into a hill. We decided to remove part of the hill (88 tons of rock) to get at it. When we turned over the last slab of shale we were struck with disappointment, as the only addition to Cliff’s tail after moving the hill were two vertebrae.

Cliff, what a sad “tail.” The red ring marks the additional vertebrae found by moving 88 tons of rock. At least we found other ichthyosaurs in the process. (Photo courtesy of Christina Ekeheien)

Well, it would be scientifically inaccurate to call it a waste of time, as we found six other specimens in the process. These where not as spectacular as we were hoping for, but some of them are still of scientific importance.

At another location, what we thought was a bonebed of many creatures turned out to be a single large ichthyosaur. This was way bigger than we expected and part of the group spent the whole field season excavating it. The result was six plaster jackets full of bones.

Master’s student Christina is probably the only person to have done yoga on plaster jackets including a giant ichthyosaur. We are all super excited about preparing that ichthyosaur over the winter! (Photo courtesy of Charlotte Sletten Bjorå)

All in all we have had a fantastic field season. We have experienced all weather —> Read More