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Isle of Wight dinosaurs. Picture courtesy of the artist John Sibbick. www.johnsibbick.com

Neovenator salerii

Temporary image of fleshed Neovenator 

Description

Neovenator salerii (pronounced ‘knee-oh-vena-tour’ ‘sall-air-ee-eye’) is a large bodied theropod dinosaur. The genus name Neovenator comes from ‘New hunter’, and the species name from that of the Salero family who owned the land from which the first important dinosaur remains were found. Since it was first found it has given its name to a new group of dinosaurs called the Neovenatoridae. This group itself forms part of the Carcharodontosauridae which are closely related to the North American dinosaur Allosaurus.

Neovenator walked on its long hind legs. The first specimen was found with shoulder blades (scapulae) but was missing the remainder of its arms. Reconstructions have been based on those of Allosaurus.

There were three clawed toes on each foot and it is likely that there would have been three digits on each hand. The long body was held in balance by a long tail. The type specimen measured about 7.5 metres long and would have stood about 2.5 metres tall.

The mouth was full of blade-like serrated teeth, and above the eyes were horned extensions of the skull.

Fossils have so far only been found in Early Cretaceous rocks of the Wessex Formation, during the Barremian Stage around 125 million years ago.

Neovenator remains have been found predominantly on the south-west coast of the Isle of Wight.


Discovery

The story of the theropod dinosaur that was later to be named as Neovenator salerii began on an Isle of Wight beach during the summer of 1978. The subsequent complex history of the discovery of further fossils by a number of individuals, and the interpretation of it as a new dinosaur led to a watershed in the study and conservation of Island dinosaurs.

Storms are not unusual during English summers, and one such stormy night in the summer of 1978 led to a cliff fall in Brighstone Bay on the Isle of Wight. Thus was revealed the first of a number of dinosaur bones on the foreshore amongst a pile of silt, mud and other rock. A family on holiday (the Henwoods) borrowed some tools and dug out some fossil bones from the beach debris. A geology student (David Richards) dug out further remains over the next few weeks, and the material was reported to the Museum of Isle of Wight Geology (MIWG) and the Natural History Museum, London (NHM).

Most of the bones were taken to the Natural History Museum, and it was discovered that they came from two different types of dinosaur. Dr Alan Charig of the NHM identified one of the sets of bones as coming from an ornithopod dinosaur now called Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis, but the remainder came from an unknown saurischian dinosaur of a type called a theropod ('beast foot').

The theropod bones in the NHM (some vertebrae and parts of the pelvis) were given the catalogue numbers BMNH R10001.

In the early 1980’s MIWG staff went back to the site to recover more of the Iguanodon, and once on site discovered a caudal (tail) vertebra from the theropod. This was given the number MIWG.6348. Local collectors Keith and Jenny Simmonds joined the staff and returned to the site where more of the theropod was unearthed. This included parts of the skull, many vertebrae, ribs, chevrons, gastralia, the left coracoids and scapula, and a number of bones from the legs.

Mark Lumber then found the right femur, Gabi Hulman found parts of the left foot, and more of that foot were later collected by Rob and Tess George.

In 1985 Steve Hutt, Martin Munt and Robin Reid found two more vertebrae half a kilometre along the coast from the original site. These became part of the MIWG collection and were catalogued MIWG.5470 (they were also later found to be from another Neovenator).

During 1987 the NHM material (BMNH R10001) was temporarily loaned to the Island for study.

Also during 1987 Jenny Simmonds found more theropod remains (vertebrae and parts of the pelvis). However although it was later revealed to be Neovenator, it was from a different individual. These new fossils came into the collections of the Museum of Isle of Wight Geology and were numbered MIWG.6352. Further work led by MIWG staff found a pubis from this dinosaur with an enlarged pubic boot.

In 1990 Steve Hutt, curator at the MIWG published an early brief description in the Proceedings of the Isle of Wight Natural History and Archaeological Society along with Keith Simmonds and Gabi Hulman. At this stage it was still an unidentified theropod.

By 1996 it was obvious that the Island had a new dinosaur and its name Neovenator salerii was announced in a research paper by Steve Hutt, Dave Martill and Mike Barker. The research into the dinosaur was also submitted by Steve Hutt for an unpublished MPhil dissertation in 1999. Steve gave it the name Neovenator salerii ('Neovenator' = new hunter, 'salerii' comes from the name of the Salero family who owned the land the first Neovenator remains came from).

Further fossils still continued to be found. David Cooper had found a caudal vertebra and in 1998 Steve Hutt and Penny Newbery found the left femur and right tibia.

Nick Oliver found further remains of another individual close to the original site. The fragmentary bones include possible sections from a jaw, parts of cervical vertebrae, pieces of ischium and limb sections. These were catalogued as IWCMS 2002.186.

Enough remains of the 1978 dinosaur, along with the fossils from the same animal held by the NHM in London, were preserved to warrant the identification of this dinosaur as a new genus and species. It is estimated that around 70% of the bones have been found so far. It can sometimes be the case that an organism (previously unknown to science) is given the name of its finder, however in this case with so many people involved it was decided to name it after the owner of the land the first specimens fell from.

Type specimen fossils mounted with fibreglass replicas at Dinosaur Isle MuseumThe specimen known as MIWG.6348 became the type specimen (or holotype). Much of it is on display at Dinosaur Isle in a large case. Some of the material is mounted as a reconstructed skeleton, while fossils that are too fragile to mount lie on sand in the base of the case.


Fossils

Reconstructed Neovenator salerii skeleton

The fossils from the type specimen (holotype), and some of the later remains, were found within an area that has since been interpreted as from a large flood event that washed in trees and other plant material. The bones from Neovenator were mixed up with another dinosaur Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis that was probably washed in during the flood. Bones from both of the dinosaurs were preserved in a siltstone matrix, and have a considerable amount of iron sulphide in them. Remarkably both the holotype of Neovenator and the fossil bones of the Mantellisaurus show a number of pathological problems in the vertebrae and other bones.

Caudal vertebra (probably No.2) - MIWG.6348Most of the bones from the type specimen (catalogue number MIWG.6348) are both heavy and dark in colour due to the mineralization that followed burial in the ground. Some bones are relatively complete like this caudal vetebra (from the tail); others are missing parts that may have been eroded early on, or where the parts disappeared during cliff falls.

Dorsal vertebra - MIWG.6348This (almost complete) dorsal vertebra from the type specimen displays the golden brown sheen that is common amongst most of the bones from this animal.

Whilst the preservation of some bones display this particular colour others are black, and a few are grey. This is due to the way the animal was buried - the body lay on a varied ground surface at some stage, and then different minerals were washed through depending on the porosity of the rock surrounding the bones.

Fossil wood tends to turn black in Wealden muds, and bones that are associated with the wood are often found with this black colouration as well. Bones found in grey silt tend to be grey and those in the red floodplain muds tend to be pink in colour and very fragile. 

The study of the changes to bones as they become fossils is called taphonomy.


Caudal vertebra No. 21 - MIWG.6348Mixed in with the bones of the type specimen of Neovenator were the remains of an Iguanodontid. Both sets of dinosaur remains had bones with pathological problems.

Here on the Neovenator is the 21st caudal (tail) vertebra. On the far side can be seen a bulging growth of extra bone that has surrounded one of the lateral processes. The tail had a number of damaged bones, including two that were partially fused together.

Caudal vertebra - MIWG.6348This is one of the vertebrae from the tail of the type specimen. Its elongated form shows that it is from nearer the tip, although there are still a few more to go before the end of the tail is reached.




Bones from the foot, and a vertebra - MIWG.6348In this picture are some of the bones from the foot of Neovenator. There are long metacarpals, pedal phalanges, two ungual phalanges and a large vertebra.


The Science

Systematic palaeontology
Dinosauria
 Owen, 1842
Saurischia  Seeley, 1887
Theropoda  Marsh, 1881
Tetanurae  Gauthier, 1986
Avetheropoda  Paul, 1988
Allosauroidea  Marsh, 1879
Carcharodontosauridae  Brusatte & Sereno 2008
Neovenatoridae  Benson, Carrano & Brusatte 2010
Neovenator  gen. nov.
Neovenator salerii  Hutt et al, 1996


Research
Although there are a number of bones and teeth in the collection that have been attributed to Neovenator those that have been studied the most can be found in just three groups, belonging to individual dinosaurs. These are identified by the catalogue numbers MIWG.6348 (the original material from the 1978 cliff fall), MIWG.5470 (two vertebrae found about half a kilometre away in 1985) and MIWG.6352 (some vertebrae with pelvic material found in 1987).

After the extensive research work on specimen MIWG.6348 by Steve Hutt that resulted in his MPhil thesis, and the naming of Neovenator salerii as a distinct new genus and species of dinosaur, there was a period when little research was published.

Mention of Neovenator was made in 2001 in the Field Guide - Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight by Martill and Naish, and then there was a long gap during which an almost-forensic analysis of the bones was carried out.

As a consequence a substantial monograph was finally published in 2008 which provided a detailed description of the osteology (by Stephen Brusatte, Roger Benson and Steve Hutt). Other researchers have been studying the features that may give clues as to its relationship with other dinosaurs (the phylogeny) and this resulted in the publication of two further papers – first in 2008 by Stephen Brusatte and Paul Sereno who placed Neovenator within the Carcharodontosauridae, and then in 2010 by Roger Benson, Matthew Carrano and Stephen Brusatte who established a new group for dinosaurs like Neovenator called the Neovenatoridae.

Neovenator is the first allosauroid to be discovered in Europe.

Further information on the research will continue to be added as it is published ...


References
Benson, R.B.J., Carrano, M.T. & Brusatte, S.L. 2010. A new clade of archaic large-bodied predatory dinosaurs (Theropoda: Allosauroidea) that survived to the latest Mesozoic. Naturwissenschaften. 97, 71-78.

Brusatte, S.L. & Sereno, P. 2008. Phylogeny of Allosauroidea (Dinosauria: Theropoda): comparitive analysis and resolution. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. 6, 155-182.

Brusatte, S.L., Benson, R.B.J. & Hutt, S. 2008. The osteology of Neovenator salerii (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Wealden Group (Barremian) of the Isle of Wight. Monograph of the Palaeontographical Society, London. 75pp 45pl (Publ. No. 631, part of Vol. 162 for 2008.

Hutt, S.C. 1999. Neovenator salerii: A new theropod dinosaur from the Wealden of the Isle of Wight: its status and significance for Theropod evolution. A thesis submitted for the award of degree of Master of Philosophy (unpublished). University of Portsmouth.

Hutt, S., Martill, D.M., & Barker, M.J., 1996. The first European allosaurid dinosaur (Lower Cretaceous, Wealden Group, England). Neus Jahrbuch fur Geologie und Palaontologie, Monatshefte. 635-644.

Hutt, S., Simmonds, K. & Hullman, G. 1990. Predatory dinosaurs from the Isle of Wight. Proceedings of the Isle of Wight Natural History and Archaeological Society. 9, 137-146.

Martill, D.M. & Naish, D. 2001. Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight. Field Guides to Fossils: Number 10. Palaeontological Association. p258-269.

Naish, D. 2011. Theropod dinosaurs. In Batten (ed.). English Wealden fossils. Field Guides to Fossils: Number 14. Palaeontological Association. p544-548.


Some facts and figures

Size
Measurements of the type specimen indicate that it would have been about 7.5 metres long, and 2.5 metres high.

Weight
to be announced.

Eats
Meat, possibly other small dinosaurs like Hypsilophodon and young Iguanodon.

How fast could it run?
To be updated

The geology and age
Lower Cretaceous
Wealden Group
Wessex Formation

The remains of Neovenator have so far only been found in rocks from the Wessex Formation; and the area the fossils are found in is currently dated somewhere between 123 and 125 million years in age.

Where was it found?
In Brighstone Bay on the south-west coast of the Island.  The exact location is being kept secret to protect any further remains that might become exposed.

When was it first found?
In 1978.

Something different or unusual?
Neovenator is very similar to the North American carnivorous dinosaur Allosaurus fragilis.


Environment and adaptation

Neovenator remains are found in the soft mudstones of the Wessex Formation, dating from the early Cretaceous around 125 million years ago. These mudstones were deposited during flooding events alongside the banks of meandering rivers, and are stacked within a deep basin comprising muds, silts and sandstones that reach over 500 metres in depth (from rock cores from the Arreton borehole). Within the former rivers are found the fossilized remains of fish, turtle, crocodiles and numerous shells, along with plant material washed in from further upstream. The lack of preserved wood as coal seams indicates that the southern half of the Isle of Wight was not heavily wooded for any appreciable length of time, and this is also supported by the small size of the fossilized root traces that can be seen in the mudstones exposed along the beach and in the cliffs.

The environment would probably have consisted of an open plain, with numerous meandering small rivers - covered in ancient bracken and cycads with small areas of trees. The main wooded areas probably lay further to the north on higher ground that allowed trees to reach old age rather than be destroyed in the floods or by meandering rivers. The vista would probably have been fairly open making it a difficult ambush environment for a predator, but also one in which prey would have little cover either.

The current thoughts are that juvenile carnivorous dinosaurs like Neovenator may have hunted in a different way to adults, and eaten different prey so that they didn’t compete. Young animals today often work together, but unlike some mammals who co-ordinate attacks reptiles mainly tend to gather in a frenzy to bring down a large prey.

The build of an adult Neovenator is not viewed as that of an endurance pursuit animal, but probably that of an ambush creature or one that fed on carrion when necessary. Juveniles may have robbed nests of eggs or young animals, and may even have fed on insects.

Until we find an area of extensive trackways that record the movements of different Neovenator during hunting, migration and feeding – or find a group of fossils preserved together - their social organization will probably remain a mystery and a topic for speculation.


The human story

Finding, collecting, conserving, researching and reporting any important fossil material is a time-consuming exercise, and in most cases takes many years to complete (if it ever really finishes). During this time it is rare for all of the work to be undertaken just by one person.

In the case of Neovenator the history has involved a large number of people, not just as a result of the extended period over which the bones were found but as a result of the subsequent detailed scientific follow-up that still continues as new ideas about its lifestyle and evolutionary links are explored.

Every one of these people will have personal memories, but like many great finds they are rarely recorded unless they can be published. Tales of cold weather, of digging in pouring rain or the excitement of a new bone appearing in the mud are all part of the experience of being involved in finding a new dinosaur like Neovenator.

The story of Neovenator also marked a turning point in the way that Isle of Wight dinosaur remains were treated. Prior to the 1970’s many finds were lost to the Island as researchers took them to mainland Universities and museums. The first Neovenator remains are mainly held on the Island, but some were taken to a London museum. Greater public awareness of the importance of the Isle of Wight’s fossils (including its dinosaurs) has meant that since that time many of the new finds are now retained on the Island.


The future

It is thought by some researchers that fossil material from the UK mainland might also be Neovenator. The theropod pages of the 'Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight' produced by The Palaeontological Association include the suggestion that some material identified as Megalosaurus oweni and M. dunkeri may be Neovenator, and that some other unidentified fossils could also be from Neovenator. Given that a number of bones have been found on the Island from different animals (and the size of the dinosaur suggests they would each have required a large hunting area) it does raise the possibility that we might find Neovenator on the UK mainland in the future.


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