X-rays identify a 240-million-year-old fossil found under Svalbard

Norwegian scientists have used X-rays to identify a 240-million-year-old fossilised ichthyosaur.

They’ve published their findings in PLOS One.

The fossil was found 15 years ago in Svalbard, an archipelago halfway between Norway and the North Pole.

Called PMO 219.250, the fossil hails from when Svalbard was covered by ocean. It has been squashed flat by millions of years of mud.

Broken up rocks showing icthyosaur fossil
A photograph of PMO 219.250, the newly identified icthyosaur fossil. Credit: Engelschiøn et al. PLOS ONE, CC-BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

Its identity has been the subject of some debate, but the X-ray data revealing details about the creature’s skull and teeth has finally allowed the researchers to figure out the species it’s most likely to be: Phalarodon atavus.

This is a type of ichthyosaur, an air-breathing marine reptile shaped like a dolphin.

The researchers used several techniques to study the fossil, including radiography and computer tomography (CT).

In their paper, they write that CT “allows for areas to be examined in detail that cannot be prepared due to specimen preservation, as well as providing details hidden by other bone elements”.

The researchers say in their paper that more Arctic specimens should be studied with X-rays, especially considering how expensive and difficult it is to collect these specimens.

“Radiography and computed tomography can reveal details otherwise not seen in specimens,” they conclude.

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