The remains of Nessie's Yorkshire cousin are uncovered

In a development that is sure to delight devotees of the Loch Ness monster legend, scientists revealed yesterday that a long-necked sea dragon reminiscent of Scotland's finest swam in coastal waters off North Yorkshire 132 million years ago.

In a development that is sure to delight devotees of the Loch Ness monster legend, scientists revealed yesterday that a long-necked sea dragon reminiscent of Scotland's finest swam in coastal waters off North Yorkshire 132 million years ago.

The revelation follows the discovery of a near complete skeleton of a plesiosaur – a 14ft high marine reptile – on a cliff-top at Filey, near Scarborough.

The find is the most significant discovery in a decade on one of the most important geological coastlines in the world. Remains of plesiosaurs that lived 200 million years ago have been found in neighbouring Whitby and species dating back 90 million years have been unearthed in the United States. But nothing has been discovered from the intervening 100 million years, which makes the "new" sea dragon an entirely new species.

Scientists owe the breakthrough to Nigel Armstrong, an electrician from Doncaster, South Yorkshire, who spotted one of the creature's vertebrae in a landslip on the beach while fossil hunting. He sensed it was something unusual so started digging around in the mud 15 metres up the cliff face and followed a trail of bones to the rest of the skeleton.

After a 132-million-year wait, his discovery was just in the nick of time. "If it had been left there for another winter it would probably have been washed away," said Will Watts, Scarborough's Dinosaur Coast project officer. "It really is a one in a million chance because he knew what he was looking at."

A team including the Dinosaur Coast project, English Nature and the National Trust has shifted nine tons of clay to get at the skeleton. It was encased in a jacket of orange clay and appears to be 75 per cent intact, which is remarkable. Most museums are forced to use extensive amounts of "fill" to give the impression of a complete creature.

Mark Evans, the curator of geology at Leicester Museum, said the discovery was "a world first" and plugged a big gap in knowledge. "It dates from a time when we have only had a few glimpses of their evolution," he said.

The apparent absence for 100 million years of the plesiosaur, with its four diamond-shaped flippers and penchant for fish and squid, had previously puzzled scientists. Seas were certainly swarming with the creatures in the middle and late Jurassic period. Swimming like turtles, they would have sculled through coastal and inshore waters, probably laying eggs by hauling themselves on to sandbars or beaches. They vanished at the end of the Cretaceous period along with dinosaurs.

Geologists extracted the skeleton by digging out a one-and-a-half tonne block of clay, covering it in hessian and plaster of paris and sliding it down the 50ft cliffs with ropes. The bones are now in storage and it is hoped they will be reassembled and put on show at a Scarborough museum in about a year's time.

Mr Watts does not a believe a Loch Ness monster exists but he conceded that the new species conformed to most people's idea of the beast.

"If it was swimming with its head out of the water it would look just like that Nessie photograph which proved to be a fake," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea