Scientists discover the most complete dinosaur in the UK in a century

Comptonatus chasei gen. et sp. nov. (IWCMS 2014.80). Life restoration. Original artwork by John Sibbick. Credit: Journal of Systematic Palaeontology (2024).

A groundbreaking discovery has been made in the UK: the most complete dinosaur skeleton found in the country in the past 100 years.

This exciting find, described in a new paper in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, comes from the cliffs of Compton Bay on the Isle of Wight.

The dinosaur was unearthed by fossil collector Nick Chase in 2013 before he sadly passed away from cancer.

Jeremy Lockwood, a retired doctor and current Ph.D. student at the University of Portsmouth, assisted with the excavation and spent years studying the 149 bones of the dinosaur.

Lockwood determined that the skeleton belonged to a new genus and species, which he named Comptonatus chasei in honor of Nick Chase.

Lockwood praised Chase, saying, “Nick had an amazing talent for finding dinosaur bones—he was like a modern-day Mary Anning. He collected fossils every day in all kinds of weather and donated them to museums.

I had hoped we could continue collecting fossils together in our later years, but unfortunately, that wasn’t possible.”

Chase had made many significant discoveries, including the most complete Iguanodon skull ever found in Britain.

However, this is the first time a dinosaur has been named after him. Initially, the fossil was thought to be a known dinosaur called Mantellisaurus, but Lockwood’s detailed study revealed it was a new species with unique features.

Lockwood explained, “This dinosaur is different because of certain unique features in its skull, teeth, and other parts of its body.

For example, its lower jaw has a straight bottom edge, unlike most iguanodontians, which have a downward-curving jaw. It also has a very large pubic hip bone, as big as a dinner plate, which is unusual.”

The “dinner plate” hip bone puzzled Lockwood, who speculated that it might have been for muscle attachments, supporting stomach contents, or even aiding in breathing. However, these ideas are still speculative.

The dinosaur was named Comptonatus after Compton Bay, where it was found, and “tonatus,” a Latin word meaning “thunderous.” This dinosaur would have weighed around a ton, about the size of a large male American bison. Fossil footprints found nearby suggest it was a herding animal, with large groups possibly moving together if spooked by predators.

Dr. Susannah Maidment from the Natural History Museum and senior author of the paper said, “Comptonatus is an incredible specimen, one of the most complete found in the UK in a century. Jeremy Lockwood’s detailed research shows that there were more types of dinosaurs in southern England during the Early Cretaceous period than we previously thought.”

The discovery highlights the rich diversity of dinosaurs that lived in England over 120 million years ago. It also suggests that these dinosaurs evolved quickly during that time, helping scientists understand how ecosystems recovered after an extinction event at the end of the Jurassic Period.

Despite only four new dinosaur species being described on the Isle of Wight in the entire 20th century, there have been eight new species named in the past five years. This find adds to the growing evidence that the Isle of Wight was one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems during the Early Cretaceous.

The dinosaur has been added to the collections at the Dinosaur Isle Museum in Sandown on the Isle of Wight. Dr. Martin Munt, the museum’s curator, said, “Ongoing research on the museum’s collection continues to reveal exciting new discoveries. Most of Nick’s important finds have remained on the Island, leaving a lasting legacy.”

Mike Greenslade, General Manager for the National Trust on the Isle of Wight, added, “This extraordinary discovery at Compton Bay highlights the rich natural heritage of the Isle of Wight. Finding the most complete dinosaur in the UK in a century showcases the island’s paleontological significance and underscores the importance of preserving our landscapes for future generations.”

Nick Chase’s remarkable find and Jeremy Lockwood’s dedicated research are a testament to the incredible history waiting to be uncovered on the Isle of Wight. This discovery is just the beginning of an ongoing journey of exploration and scientific advancement.