Ichthyosaur fossil discovery at Charmouth Dorset UK.

The discovery and preparation of the large ichthyosaur fossil at Charmouth. The ichthyosaur fossil was found by Tony Gill of Charmouth Fossils.


Hi, I'm Tony Gill.

I have been fossil hunting for 25 years, it's great fun but for me it is much more a business. I own and manage 'Charmouth Fossils' and run the shop with my wife Anna and assistant Rick.

This is the story of how I found and excavated 'Mary' the Ichthyosaur, one of the most exciting finds of my life.

She  will be prepared and exhibited, and my intention is to take you through the process of preparing a most important find - this will be portrayed on this site, as and when each stage is undertaken.

Charmouth Fossils.

I patrol the Dorset Jurassic Coast beaches and cliffs regularly, especially after heavy rain or a storm. At 6am one morning during the Easter 2000 holidays, after a week of heavy rain.  I discovered a new cliff fall.

Cliffs on the jurassic coast of Dorset UK, near Lyme Regis.
Cliffs on the jurassic coast of Dorset UK, near Lyme Regis, near the Charmouth fossil shop.

The fall went through the flatstone bed which is where nodules containing some very beautifully preserved ammonites can sometimes be found.

Someone had obviously been there before me, but I decided to take a look around.

Photographs of mud flows where nodule hunting takes place.

Photographs of mud flows where nodule hunting takes place.

There was a large nodule which at first looked like a mass of jumbled fossilized wood. On closer examination I could see that it was, in fact, bone. This prompted me to examine the site further and  I found some more bits, some small and three more larger nodules.
The tide was coming in very quickly and started to wash the bottom of the slip exposing more pieces of fossilized bone.
I sought the assistance of two of my fossil hunting colleagues, Pete Langham and Chris Moore; with the aid of a wheelbarrow, we brought all of the obvious bits back to my shop, the time was then 4.30pm.

Tony Gill preparing to dig and collecting ammonites and crinoids, these will be sold at the Charmouth Fossil shop.

The next day we returned and dug into the slip. You can see the mud flow which is one of the dangerous features of the coastline.
The excavation was carried out under the provisions of the West Dorset fossil collecting code of conduct, details of which are available at the Heritage Coast Centre (there is a link at the bottom of the page).
We found a 2-3 meter length of vertebral column, parts of one rear paddle and a very large coprolite (droppings) or maybe stomach content, I don't know which as yet.

Part of the rib cage and one of the front paddles had been mostly washed away the previous night. The remaining rib cage was badly broken up, this part of the cliff is badly faulted or it could have been damaged by the 15 meter fall down to the beach. The other front paddle has not yet been found, it may not be there for possibly two reasons:-
1. When large sea creatures die, they become bloated with gases and can float on the sea surface, where other sea creatures scavenge  the carcass and pull parts of the body away.
2. Storms cause the reptiles body to roll around on the sea bed, so the paddles and the tail could easily become detached.

Tony Gill hunting.

Ammonites and crinoids found here

The rear part of the vertebral column has not yet been found.

I monitor this part of the cliff and beach daily in the hope that tidal, storm or rain action might expose more of the missing parts. 


Similar remains.

Jaws from nodules
A skull

Preparation of ichthyosaur from nodules.
Artist's impression of complete mammal

Photograph of arist's impression.
Artist's impression of what we  have so far.

Click here  for some very interesting information
on where the area was 180 million years ago and
the history of the
by Christopher M. Pamplin B.Sc.


YOU will be able to monitor the restoration and preparation of this
ichthyosaur fossil by visiting this site.

It is considered a very important find
of Key Scientific Interest.

You will be able to see the bones being exposed from the rock for the first time in 180 million years.
Peter Langham, who has been preparing fossils for many years, will be helping me in this task. We will be using acids and pneumatic tools.
The preparation process is very slow, but over the months 'Mary' will be revealed in all her splendor. Other fossils will be added, as and when I find them, to show you the rich variety of material on offer at my shop.


Write to:
Tony Gill, Charmouth Fossils, Lower Sea Lane, Charmouth, Dorset, DT6 6LL, UK

Telephone  (44) (0)1297 560020            Mobile  0788 435 1804

E-Mail  tony@charmouthfossils.co.uk


I would like to especially thank the following for all the help and assistance they have given me in this project:

Anna Gill - My loving wife, without her help and support, you would not be  looking at this today.
Rick Taylor - Ever on hand for anything who works in the Charmouth fossil shop.
Chris Moore - For expertise, help and support.
Peter Langham - For expertise, help and support.
Dave Costain - For expertise, help and support.
Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre - For expertise, help and support
Chris Pamplin - For his contribution to the site, geology knowledge and help.
Richard Edmonds - For his contribution to the site, geology knowledge and help.
David Sole - For expertise, help and support.
Richard Austin - Press relations and some photographs.
Ron Bailey - My webmaster who hasn't slept for three weeks, put up with indecisions and multiple changes of mind.


Countless numbers of amazing fossils have been exposed and destroyed by the sea in the last few thousand years. Only in the last 250 years, since local collectors such as Mary Anning started collecting on a regular basis, have examples been saved. Here are some of them:

The British Museum has an Ichthyosaur tooth 5 inches long, Mary's are 3.5 to 4 inches!

A few years ago one of our local collectors found a tail vertebra about 10 inches across, the biggest in Mary will be 6 inches!

Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery have another large Ichthyosaur discovered in 1987 by David Sole, less than 100m from Mary's location.

So what other amazing fossils will be discovered in the cliffs around Charmouth in the next few thousand years?

Tony Gill      


The Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre.
Lyme Regis, tourist information and where to stay.
Guided tours and fossil hunting by a geologist of the area.
Nigel J. Clark - Books on Fossils and other local information.
Photographs of the area by Richard Austin.
Get you local web page authored.


 | Top of page | My Shop | Catalogue of fossils for sale | The workshop |
| Preparing Mary | Report#1 | Report#2 |
| 180 million years ago | More photographs |

Page composed by Ron Bailey July 5th 2000
Updated 10th December 2004
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