A wild looking fish fossil has been unearthed at a remarkable new Jurassic archaeological site outside of Stroud in Gloucestershire.
The creature – dubbed a tuna-like predator pachykormus – is beautifully preserved in three dimensions.
With its large teeth and eyes, it gives the impression that it is about to launch an attack.
The specimen was identified by prolific West Country fossil hunters Neville and Sally Hollingworth.
“It was a real surprise because most of the time when you find fossils they have been flattened by pressure over time,” Neville told BBC News.
“But when we were preparing this one to uncover his bones bit by bit, it was amazing because we suddenly realized his skull wasn’t shattered.
“Its mouth is open – and it looks like it’s coming at you out of the rock.”
The couple found the fish head on a grassy bank behind a cowshed in the village of Kings Stanley.
It was encased in one of the many limestone nodules that fell out of an exposed layer of clay.
Little did landowner Adam Knight know that his English longhorn cattle grazed on a rich fossil seam, and he recalled a time 183 million years ago when his farm would have been beneath warm tropical ocean waters.
Mr Knight gave Neville and Sally and a team led by the University of Manchester permission to investigate the bank further.
An excavator was brought in to extract hundreds more nodules, which were carefully broken open to see what they contained.
The prey included other fish, squid and even the bones of two ichthyosaurs, highly successful marine reptiles that looked a bit like a large dolphin.
“We have the entire food chain,” said Manchester paleontologist Dean Lomax.
“So that pachykormus would have eaten the smaller fish and squid.
“And then the ichthyosaurs would have eaten that pachykormus.”
Interestingly for a marine environment, there is also fossilized wood and insects in the clay layer, suggesting land was not that far away.
Play with a 3D model of pachykormus here.
The finds should keep the researchers busy for a few more years.
It is of particular interest because the specimens were extracted from a rare British example of an Early Jurassic time slice – the Toarcian stage.
It’s known for its exceptional preservation, including of soft tissues, and the team has, for example, a fish where you can see the contents of its stomach.
“The last comparable exposure to this was what is known as the Strawberry Bank deposit in Somerset in the 18th century – which was overdeveloped,” Sally said.
“The Court Farm site allows scientists to conduct modern research with fresh material on site.”
The Hollingworths are celebrated for their exceptional ability to identify highly productive fossil sites.
They recently uncovered the remains of mammoths at nearby Cotswold Water Park, which were featured in a BBC documentary starring Sir David Attenborough.
They also made headlines with the discovery of thousands of fossilized echinoderms – starfish, sea urchins and brittle stars – at a quarry in the north of the county.
“These sites tell you that there are still many fossil finds of national and even international importance to be found in Britain,” said Dr. Lomax.
It is planned to hold a public exhibition of the fossils in October at the Boho Bakery Cafe, which is very close to Court Farm.