By Traci Watson
Valentin Fischer had always wanted to study fossils, perhaps dinosaurs or extinct mammals. Instead, when he was in graduate school, Fischer ended up sorting through a pile of bones belonging to ancient marine reptiles known as ichthyosaurs — a group that had been mostly ignored by modern palaeontologists. It was not exactly his dream job.
“I said, ‘Ohhh, ichthyosaurs, so boring’,” recalls Fischer. “They all look the same. It’s always a pointy snout and big eyes.”
Fischer put his feelings aside and dutifully began combing through the fossils stored in a research centre in provincial France. Among the specimens stashed in plastic boxes was an ichthyosaur skull that had been partially destroyed by ants and tree roots while buried underground. When Fischer cleaned up the skull, he realized that it was probably a species new to science.
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