Fossil hunter Robin’s find of a lifetime

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“Better than winning the lottery” is how a Broom fossil hunter has described the moment he discovered a brand new dinosaur species whilst on holiday in the Isle of Wight.

Carpenter Robin Ward, 58, came across the unique find whilst out fossiling with his wife Amanda and daughter Mim, in May last year.

Another individual and a family group separately found bits of the same skeleton in 2019, and now Palaeontologists at the University of Southampton have determined that it is a new species, named Vectaerovenator inopinatus, related to the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Robin, who began fossil hunting when he was five-years old, said: “I’ve always been into it since I was a little kid, I suppose it’s the appeal of dinosaurs and monsters.

“We go to the Isle of Wight nearly every year when it’s my daughter’s birthday, the whole family comes and looks for fossils. On this day we decided to go hunting on the beach in the morning as we waited for the hotel to open, we just had a few hours to kill.

“I was just walking along looking for anything bone shaped, I came across the first one, I looked at it and thought yep that’s definitely a dinosaur bone and then five minutes later I found another one. I knew straight away it was a dinosaur bone. I’ve been to the dinosaur museum and seen their collection and that’s what you want to find, something that looks like what they’ve got.

“It’s the first time I’ve found a dinosaur bone, I’ve found reptile bones though. Both are vertebrae, one from the tail and one just above the shoulder blades.

“This is definitely my best find yet, it was unbelievable really, we go looking for them but it’s very rare that you’ll find them, I went down there for 11 days and didn’t find anything else.”

The significance of Robin’s find only came to light when he handed it to the nearby Dinosaur Isle Museum.

Large air spaces were found within the bones and scientists were able to determine that these air sacs were extensions of the lung, allowing the dinosaur breathe more efficiently and have a lighter skeleton.

Robin said: “Finding out it was a new species was better than winning the lottery, I love fossil hunting and to find something that special is amazing.

“At the museum they took about five minutes, they knew straight away this was something different, something new. I spoke to the guy who runs the museum who said ‘don’t be surprised if it turns out to be a new dinosaur, we just don’t know what type yet’.

“Last August they gave me some idea as to what it would be called, they were working it out. It’s related to the tyrannosaurs, at first they thought maybe a raptor, maybe a ‘mega raptor’ but that was disproved. The amount of information they’ve got from the bones is unbelievable, they haven’t just looked at it and said yeah that’s a dinosaur bone, we’ll call it this, they’ve scientifically looked at it very carefully and deduced what it is.

“Obviously it’s a land dwelling dinosaur so they think maybe it was washed out to sea in an estuary and sunk to the bottom and fossilised, that in itself is a rare thing because normally anything like that that ends up in the sea would likely be eaten, bones and all.”

Following his historic find, Robin says he is as determined as ever to keep looking for fossils.

“We’ve just had a delivery of stone yesterday and I’ll be looking through that later to see if there’s anything in it, I’m the same if I go to someone’s house if they’ve got gravel on the drive, if there’s any fossils there you can guarantee I’ll find them.”

Although Robin has gifted his discovery to the museum, he will soon receive a 3D printed version of his fossils as a memento.

“They are scanning each fossil and having some 3d printed models made for each finder, they look just like the real thing, I’ve seen some of them and you just can’t tell the difference, I’ll have to display it somewhere, it’s not just one I can put in a draw and forget about.”