'Sea monster' skull reveals secrets more than 60 years after its discovery

Scientists have used 3-D technology to unlock the secrets of a prehistoric marine reptile’s skull.

The huge marine ichthyosaur skull, which is almost 200 million years old, was discovered in a U.K. farmer’s field in 1955. Ichthyosaurs roamed the seas during the time of the dinosaurs.

A team of researchers in the U.K. has now used data from CT scans to digitally rebuild the skull, which is almost 3.3-feet long.

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Experts from the University of Manchester, University College London and Cambridge University participated in the groundbreaking project, which is described in the science journal PeerJ.

Artist's impression of the ichthyosaur.

Artist's impression of the ichthyosaur. (Bob Nicholls)

“It is the first time a digital reconstruction of a skull and mandible of a large marine reptile has ever been made available for research purposes and to the public,” the University of Manchester explains in a statement.

The skull discovered in 1955 is not complete, although several bones of the part of the skull enclosing the brain are present. Scientists note that this “braincase” section is rarely preserved in ichthyosaurs.

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“The fossil only preserved bones from the left side of the braincase; however, using CT scans these elements were digitally mirrored and 3D printed at life size to complete the braincase,” explains the University of Manchester in its statement.

The ichthyosaur skull (The University of Manchester)

The ichthyosaur skull (The University of Manchester)

The entire prehistoric skull also underwent a CT scan at the U.K.’s Royal Veterinary College on a scanner that is typically used for horses and other large animals.

“It’s taken more than half a century for this ichthyosaur to be studied and described, but it has been worth the wait,” said Dean Lomax, a paleontologist at Manchester University and the study’s lead author in the statement. “Not only has our study revealed exciting information about the internal anatomy of the skull of this animal, but our findings will aid other palaeontologists in exploring its evolutionary relationship with other ichthyosaurs.”

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Other researchers have also used 3-D technology to shed new light on prehistoric fossils. In a separate project last year, for example, paleontologists harnessed 3-D scanning and printing to work out the bone structure of a newly discovered ‘Dynamoterror’ dinosaur.

Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers