The fossil hunters who hit the jackpot

Robin Ward and James Lockyer weren’t expecting to find a new dinosaur species when they visited the Isle of Wight last year. In March 2019 Lockyer discovered one of the dinosaur’s bones, and Ward found two more in May.

Robin Ward (left) and James Lockyer (right) holding the dinosaur’s bones


What brought you to the Isle of Wight?

Robin: I have been to the Isle of Wight a few times, but it was my daughter who chose to go there this time, as it was her tenth birthday. When we arrived we were too early to check into the hotel, so we decided to go fossil hunting on Shanklin Beach while we waited.

James: I have been fossil hunting for the last 10 to 15 years and went to the Isle of Wight because it is an area with rapid erosion of the cliffs. Because of that, it’s a good place to find fossils.


How did you come across the bones?

Robin: As I searched the rocky area, I knew a find was possible because there had just been a high tide, which could uncover fossils from the sand. When I came across the first one on the floor, I videoed myself picking it up and posted it online. I knew it was from a dinosaur. I found the second just five minutes later, about eight feet [2.4 metres] away. I was so chuffed I did a bit of a jig on the beach. It’s the find of a lifetime.

James: I was told I wouldn’t find much on Shanklin Beach, but I like to look in areas where others don’t. I began searching the foreshore among the rocks and there it was – half a vertebrae –popping out the rocky substrate. I went to wash it in the sea and saw that it had a nice shape to it.


When were you made aware of the significance of your find?

Robin: The first was clearly a dinosaur bone. The second one was a different shape, but looked like the same rock. They were so close I thought they had to be from the same dinosaur, and they were. Two days later I went to the Dinosaur Isle museum to see what I had found. The palaeontologists’ eyes lit up as soon as they saw them. They couldn’t find anything like them in their exhibit. It was only after they had been properly researched that I found out it was a new species.

James: I knew I had found a vertebrae as I have an interest in archaeology and I am quite good at spotting bones. I also knew it was a fossil. At the museum, they were very interested in it but weren’t sure what it was. They said it was the best find of the year so far. But it was when they got involved with the University of Southampton that things got more interesting and they established what it really was.

See what else Robin and James had to say and read the full article inside issue 143, available now:

This article was originally published in How It Works issue 143, written by Ailsa Harvey 

For more science and technology articles, pick up the latest copy of How It Works from all good retailers or from our website now. If you have a tablet or smartphone, you can also download the digital version onto your iOS or Android device. To make sure you never miss an issue of How It Works magazine, subscribe today!