Tuesday, 11 February 2020


Looking out over the Middle Triassic exposures of the Humboldt Mountain Range.

These hills were the site of the 1905 Expedition of the University of California’s Department of Geology in Berkeley funded by the beautiful and bold, Annie Alexander, the women to whom the UCMP owes both its collection and existence. Annie brought together a paleontological crew to explore these localities and kept an expedition journal of their trip which is now on display at the University of California Museum of Paleontology at Berkeley.

Annie's interest was the ichthyosaurs and she was well pleased with the results. They dodged rattlesnakes and tarantulas, finding many new specimens as they opened up new quarries in the hills of the Humboldt Range of Nevada.

Ichthyosaurs range from quite small, just a foot or two, to well over twenty-six metres in length and resembled both modern fish and dolphins. The specimens from Nevada are especially large and well-preserved. They hail from a time, some 217 million years ago, when Nevada, and parts of the western USA, was covered by an ancient ocean that would one day become our Pacific Ocean. Many ichthyosaur specimens have come out of Nevada. So many, in fact, that they named it their State Fossil back in 1977.

Fossil fragments and complete specimens of these marine reptiles have been collected in the Blue Lias near Lyme Regis and the Black Ven Marls. More recently, specimens have been collected from the higher succession near Seatown. Paddy Howe, Lyme Regis Museum geologist, found a rather nice Ichthyosaurus breviceps skull a few years back. A landslip in 2008 unveiled some ribs poking out of the Church cliffs and a bit of digging revealed the ninth fossil skull ever found of a breviceps, with teeth and paddles to boot.

Specimens have since been found in Europe in Belgium, England, Germany, Switzerland and in Indonesia. Many tremendously well-preserved specimens come from the limestone quarries in Holzmaden, southern Germany.