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Research Background

Hello, I’m Dr Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist, author and science communicator. I am currently an 1851 Research Fellow at the University of Bristol, which is funded by The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. I am also affiliated with The University of Manchester as an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (DEES), where I have been affiliated since 2013.

My career in academia has been far from traditional. In school, I was not very good academically and failed GCSE science, as well as my A-levels. As a result, I did not have the grades or finances to go to university and never did an undergraduate degree. I decided instead to gain first-hand experience in the field and in 2008, aged 18, I began writing my first academic paper, thus starting my journey into academia. Despite being unable to attend university, which meant that I was not taken seriously in some circles, I worked my way up the ladder by writing many academic papers, books, and popular articles, before becoming affiliated with The University of Manchester (UOM) in 2013. Subsequently, I completed an MPhil in palaeontology at the UOM, which I obtained without having an undergraduate degree. Although rare, the opportunity to study was based on my previous contributions to palaeontology and my publication track record. Following on from my MPhil, I completed a PhD at the UOM, which focused on the revision of the historic ichthyosaur genus, Ichthyosaurus.

One of the most fascinating things about research is that I get to travel to far-flung corners of the world, meet interesting people and study extraordinary fossils. This has led to me visiting countless institutions and examining thousands of fossils, which has resulted in numerous academic publications (most as lead author – see here) and books.

I have become internationally recognised as a leading expert on ichthyosaurs (extinct marine reptiles that superficially resemble dolphins), especially those from the Early Jurassic, around 200-180 million years old. For more than a decade, much of my time has been spent studying the most famous ichthyosaur of all, Ichthyosaurus. However, my research interests are broad, and I've written academic papers on a variety of topics, from a Jurassic horseshoe crab death march to coal measures plants and to dinosaurs, plesiosaurs, eurypterids and more. I’m especially interested in understanding the behaviours of long-extinct animals, which culminated in my book Locked in Time. I guess you could call me a palaeoethologist too! I also have a particular interest in the life of late Georgian early Victorian pioneering palaeontologist, Mary Anning, and have studied all of the known ichthyosaurs that Mary (and her family) collected from Lyme Regis, Dorset. I’m also a patron of the Mary Anning Rocks campaign and the current Science Director for the travelling DWABA Museum, a 501(c)3 Nonprofit Organization.

My research has been covered extensively through traditional media and popular press, including for National Geographic (such as herehere and here), New York TimesScientific AmericanThe VergeIndependentGuardianCosmosThe Conversation, Heat Magazine, Live Science (such as here and here), Skeptics Guide to the Universe, ReutersIBTimesDaily MailPhysOrg, Yorkshire Life Magazine, IFLScienceBBC, The Times, Smithsonian MagUNILAD, among others. To help disseminate my work, I present palaeontology lectures at numerous institutions, at professional conferences, and to the general public – often as an invited speaker or keynote lecturer. It also seems appropriate to point out that a large majority of my research and studies are self-funded.

Highlights

Some highlights regarding my work on ichthyosaurs includes: describing a blue whale-sized ichthyosaur from the UK, which my team named Ichthyotitan severnensis; identification of a new genus and species that I called Wahlisaurus massarae, in honour of two colleagues; description of two new species based on fossils collected almost 200 years ago, Ichthyosaurus larkini and I. somersetensis; identification of a new species based on a specimen misidentified as a plaster cast, which I named after Mary Anning, Ichthyosaurus anningae; the largest example of Ichthyosaurus, which also contained an embryo; and the description of an ichthyosaur probably pregnant with octuplets.

Examples of my research on other fossil groups includes: describing the world’s longest death track, a 9.7 m long trackway created by a Jurassic horseshoe crab with the animal preserved at the end; discovering and describing a new fossil location in my hometown of Doncaster, which included finding fossils of plants, horseshoe crabs and a shark egg case; the most complete specimen of the elasmosaurid plesiosaur Zarafasaura oceanis from Africa; description of an 8.5 m drag mark created by a dead, floating ammonite; and the description and naming of a Velociraptor-like dinosaur from the Late Jurassic of Wyoming, USA, Hesperornithoides miessleri (AKA, ‘Lori’)

 

Digging a Little Deeper
 

Here are a couple of studies I’m particularly fond of — ‘Plaster Cast’ to New Species Named in Honour of Mary Anning. In 2008, aged 18, I rediscovered an ichthyosaur specimen held in the collections at Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery. The specimen was identified as a plaster copy, but I realised that it was real. Over the course of 5+ years of research, working with Prof. Judy Massare, we determined that it was a new species to science and named it Ichthyosaurus anningae in honour of pioneering palaeontologist, Mary Anning, a childhood hero of mine. 

 

Describing a Colossal ‘Sea Dragon’ the Size of a Blue Whale. In 2016, a 205 million-year-old giant jaw bone was found on a beach in Somerset, England, by fossil collector and friend, Paul de la Salle. Working with Paul, my team determined that this bone belonged to a truly enormous ichthyosaur. Comparing it with the 21 metre long Shonisaurus sikanniensis skeleton at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Canada, our work showed that Paul’s bone belonged to an individual that might have been up to 26 metres long. Furthermore, we re-examined several so-called ‘dinosaur bones’ from the UK that also turned out to be jawbones of giant ichthyosaurs. Estimates of one of the bones suggest an animal that may have been in excess of 30 metres.

Professional Associations & Affiliations

 

1851 Research Fellow The University of Bristol, UK.
Honorary Research Fellow The University of Manchester, UK.
Research Associate Rochester Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology, USA.

Science Director for the travelling DWABA Museum, a 501(c)3 Nonprofit Organization, USA.
Patron for the Mary Anning Rocks! Campaign, UK.
Patron for the UK Association of Fossil Hunters (UKAFH), UK.
Member of the Palaeontographical Society, UK.
Member of the Geological Curators Group, UK.
Member of the Geologists' Association, UK.
Honorary Lifetime Member of the Western Interior Paleontological Society, USA.
Member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, USA.
Resident palaeontologist for Yorkshire Wildlife Park, UK.

A. lomax + massare tyrrell.jpg
B. Hesp skull + art.jpg
C. Proto skull.jpg
D. footprint.jpg
Studying fossils with Sven Sachs, in a collection in Germany (2022)..jpg

Examples of My Research in the News

  • ‘Oldest known Velociraptor relative in North America discovered’ (@NationalGeographic)

  • ‘Jurassic Britain was a dinosaur paradise’ (@TheIndependent)

  • ‘Yorkshires prehistoric past unearthed’ (@Dailymail)

  • ‘Jurassic World: Palaeontologist Dean Lomax describes his dream hybrid dinosaur’ (@IBTimes)

  • ‘Prehistoric 'Sea Monster' May Be Largest That Ever Lived’ (@National Geographic)

  • ‘Secrets of 195-million-year old marine reptile uncovered’ (@Phys.Org)

  • ‘New species of Ichthyosaurus rediscovered in museum collection, first in 130 years’ (@BBC)

  • ‘Local Hero - Dean Lomax’ (@MuseumsAssociation)

  • ‘British 'sea dragon' fossils are 'new to science' (@BBC)

  • ‘Dinosaur Britain: Latest palaeontology discoveries reveal 'find of the century' – a new dinosaur' (@IBTimes)

  • ‘Forgotten fossil that lay in a museum for half a century is found to be a new species of 'British' ichthyosaur' (@Dailymail)

RESEARCH

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