Unearthing the Larne Sea Dragon
In 1999 a mature student, Brian McGee, at Queen’s University Belfast, spotted some fossil bones in 200 million year old mudstones on the shore at Larne. Through his tutor, Dr Alastair Ruffell, the Ulster Museum was alerted to this find and two large blocks of rocks containing the bones were excavated, with assistance from the Environment and Heritage Service. The bones, skillfully uncovered by expert fossil preparator Andy Cowap, were on display at the Ulster Museum until closure for refurbishment in 2006.
Brian McGee pointing to the fossil bones at the site of the discovery in 1999.
Close-up of several fossil ribs of the ichthyosaur projecting from the rock.
The Larne Sea Dragon is the most complete ichthyosaur, an extinct type of fossil marine reptile, to be found in Northern Ireland. The skeleton of the dead creature obviously lay rotting on the ancient sea floor for some times, with the bones being scattered by currents. What remains includes part of the backbone and rib cage, and scattered pieces of the front limbs, the lower jaw, and several teeth.