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Amateur fossil hunter shocked by dogs' 190m year-old find on Somerset beach

Poppy and Sam sit behind Somerset beach fossil dog-wow
© Jon Gopsill – Facebook

A rare and virtually intact 190-million-year-old fossil has been nicknamed Poppy after the dog that found it while walking along a beach in Somerset.

By Nick Whittle

Published on the 24/01/2020, 11:00, Updated on the 08/02/2021, 13:34

Local resident Jon Gopsill told the BBC earlier this week how his pre-Christmas walk along Stolford beach was cut short when he noticed dogs Poppy and Sam spot something.

The keen amateur palaeontologist was astonished when he followed Poppy's nose to a 5’5” long skeleton fossil of an ichthyosaur, laid bare by the low tide.

Writes the Beeb, Gopsill said, "I had goosebumps when I saw it, I walked away and walked back and kept shaking my head in disbelief.

“It was just after the storms before Christmas and we were on a huge slab of rock - about half a mile out - and Sam was looking at something.

“It was about 5ft 5in (167cm) long and looked so fresh. I couldn't believe it, it was amazing.”

Calling in help

Gopsill was uncertain of his next move. He contacted South West Heritage Trust and was told that it would be extracted as soon as possible. The fossil was removed from the beach on the 27th December.

Scientists believe the Ichthyosaur may belong to a new species. However, without a head it is hard to be sure. The fossil is currently in the process of being removed from the stone in which it has been entombed for aeons.

Palaeontologist Dr Andy King told the BBC, “The next stage after that is to consolidate and harden the rock that [it] is in and it really is only at that last stage that we'll have an indication about what the species is and whether or not it is new.

On display

Once the fossil has been taken from the stone and inspected, it will be displayed at The Museum of Somerset. Gopsill hopes its current nickname, Poppy, will stick.