In an incredibly rare find, researchers have identified the world’s oldest-known “stomach stone” that dates back to near the end of the Jurassic period.
The fist-shaped fossil was discovered by palaeontologist Dr Steve Etches near the village of Kimmeridge in Dorset, who passed it on to his colleague Nigel Larkin.
After comparing the object to material in the collections of the Royal College of Surgeons and University College London, he determined that it was a “calculus”.
These, the team explained, are a type of solid mineral concretions that form in the body naturally under certain conditions — and include stomach, bladder, gall and kidney stones.
Calculi have previously been discovered within ancient Egyptian mummies, but they are rare in the fossil record. The new find pushes back their record by a whopping 59 million years.
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Mr Larkin explained that — on seeing the stone — he was immediately sure that it had a biological origin and not a physical one, as other experts had suggested.
He said: “I was fascinated by this very curious mystery object and was determined to discover what it was.
“Unless stomach stones are actually found preserved within a skeleton, it is almost impossible to tell what sort of animal it might have formed inside.
“The size of this stomach stone, and considering it was found in clay from the Upper Jurassic era, indicates that it most likely formed inside a large marine reptile such as an ichthyosaur, plesiosaur, pliosaur or crocodilian.
“The stomach stone did not come from a dinosaur — as dinosaurs live on land — but this is still a very exciting and rare discovery.”
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The stomach stone, the researchers explained, is the only such specimen to have ever been found on UK soil — and also confirms that calculi can form within marine creatures, and not just their terrestrial counterparts.
Microscopic analysis of the stone was undertaken by palaeobiologist Dr Ivan Sansom of the University of Birmingham.
Having examined the structure of the specimen and its mineralogical composition, he confirmed it did indeed have all the hallmarks of a calculus.
More specifically, it matches what might be expected to form within a gastrointestinal tract — making it what experts call an “enterolith”.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association.
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