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LOCALS are calling for the Melksham Monster to return home on display after news that a fossil unearthed in the town over 150 years ago has been identified as a new prehistoric marine predator species, dating back 163-million years.
The discovery of the Melksham Monster has shed light on the origins of the distant relatives of modern crocodiles, revealing that an extinct group of aquatic reptiles evolved millions of years earlier than was previously thought. The new species, called Ieldraan melkshamensis after the town, was a 10-foot-long animal that lived in the warm, shallow seas that covered much of what is now Europe. Powerful jaws and big, serrated teeth allowed it to feed on large prey, such as prehistoric squid.
As monster fever grips the town, locals have suggested that the fossil, that was held in the Natural History Museum’s archives for almost 150 years before being examined by palaeontologists at the University of Edinburgh, should be displayed in the town.
Cllr Martin Pain said, “Wouldn’t it be great if the Natural History Museum lent it on display to Melksham, along with other fossils and artefacts from our locality.
“We could have a Melksham Past, Present & Future Exhibition to promote tourism featuring this 10ft long ‘tough old croc.’ After all, it has been stated that it would have been one of the top predators in the oceans of Jurassic Britain and would be sure to attract visitors from far and near.”
Mayor of Melksham, cllr Adrienne Westbrook said, “It’s fascinating! The whole town is talking about it. It would be wonderful if someone could come to the town to tell us more about this magnificent creature. I’d be fascinated to find out more.
“The other councillors and I were debating new signs to welcome people to Melksham and we joked that ‘Home of the Melksham Monster’ could be added to it!”
One question that remains a mystery is where exactly in Melksham the fossil was uncovered. Mark Graham, senior fossil preparator at the Natural History Museum and contributor to the Melksham Monster paper said, “Our records do not include the exact location in Melksham that the specimen was found, but it may have been discovered during quarrying (as there are much younger sand and gravel deposits overlying the Oxford clay in the area).
“We don’t know who was the finder, but it was purchased by the museum from ‘Master William Cunnington’ in July 1875. He may have collected it himself, or obtained it from a third party. The museum has several other specimens in its Cunnington Collection.”
Peter Maslen from Melksham Historical Association said, “Our best guess is that the fossil ‘might’ have been found near Seend in the ironstone quarries, because William Cunnington III, lived in Devizes up to that time and had a large fossil collection from Salisbury Plain and Seend, but we can’t be certain. He and his family founded the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society.”
Director of Wiltshire Museum, which is run by the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, David Dawson said, “We would love to support Melksham to bring the fossil to the town for display. Ideally the fossil should be on show in Melksham, but if logistics are a problem, we are happy to have the Melksham Monster on display here in the museum, especially with the connection to William Cunnington III.”
PICTURE 1: Image of fossil, including close-up of one of the distinctive teeth on the lower jaw (credit_Davide Foffa)
PICTURE 2: The Melksham Monster closely resembled the species shown (Plesiosuchus manselii) which also belongs to the Geosaurini group (credit_Fabio Manucci).