The Royal College of Surgeons was bombed by the Nazis in 1941. The skeleton of an extinct marine reptile was lost from the museum's collection.
There was more than one Ichthyosaur that was lost. Mary Anning, an English paleontologist, found the first complete fossil of the fish lizard, which was three feet long. The desk of Everard Home, an anatomist at the Royal College of Surgeons, was once occupied by an ancient marine reptile. In 1819, he named the fossil "Proteo-saurus".
The loss of the fossil to the ravages of World War II was a blow to paleontology and deprived future scientists of a specimen that would have aided study of the long extinct animals.
They were the real icons of evolution at that time.
Scientists have found plaster copies of the specimen that may restore some of the historical connection to the fish.
According to a study published in the Royal Society Open Science, two casts of Anning and Home's lost ichthyosaur have been found. There are copies in collections at two museums. The casts were matched to an illustration in Home's 1819 paper. There may be more casts of the fossil gathering dust in archives around the world.
They stumbled across the casts while looking at the museum collection. The researchers found a fish-shaped lizard on a shelf at the museum. The cast caused a strange sense of repetition.
We both looked at each other and wondered why that seemed familiar. The doctor said that. There was something special about this group.
He realized he had found a copy of the "Proteo-saurus" when he returned to England. Records show that the cast was donated to Yale in 1930 by a paleontologist named Charles Schuchert. The cast was listed as an actual skeleton in the museum's records.
The plaster beneath it has deteriorated over time.
There is a display of ammonites at the Natural History Museum in Berlin. He said that he immediately knew what it was. The cast was more defined and clear than the one at Yale. An artist painted the bones on the cast.
There were interesting discrepancies between the two casts. The illustration shows four or five tiny bones in the left fore fin connecting to the reptile's humerus, a feature that hasn't been seen in any of the 100 or so known species of Ichthyosaurs. The extra bones in the drawing were painted on the Berlin copy so that they would match the illustration.
The importance of studying old casts of lost fossils over relying on illustrations is highlighted by these discrepancies.
The value of specialized museum curatorial staff is shown by the surprise discovery. Many collections staff were able to see the casts. They didn't realize the significance
Sometimes the treasure is found in the trash. Three decades ago, a paleontologist in Germany saved a broken dinosaur skeleton from being thrown away. The specimen was thought to be a replica of one lost during World War II.
A reporter commented on the paper written by Dr. Massare and Dr. Lomax, but Dr. Sander didn't have an answer about the specimen's origin. He suggested it could be a third replica of Anning and Home's "Proteo-saurus."
The doctor thinks his hunch may be right. The cast is the same as the one found in Berlin, but some parts of the skeleton are different. There are more casts of the lost English fossil in drawers and cabinets that haven't been opened in a while.
It gives some hope that more specimen will come to light.