Rutland County Council working in partnership with Anglian Water has secured more than £40,000 of grant funding to help plan the future of two incredible archaeological and palaeontological discoveries made locally in recent months.
In November 2021, it was announced that a team of archaeologists from University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) – working in partnership with Historic England and in liaison with Rutland County Council – had unearthed a beautiful Roman mosaic in the County, depicting the siege of Troy, said to be the most important Roman find in the UK for over 100 years.
This discovery has been followed by news this week that the remains of an ancient ichthyosaur from the Jurassic period have been identified at Rutland Water Nature Reserve, which is owned by Anglian Water, and managed by the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust. The fossil, nicknamed the Rutland Sea Dragon, is over 33 feet long with a skull weighing more than a tonne.
A partnership between Anglian Water, Rutland County Council, and Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust, working with professional palaeontologists, has made it possible to recover the Sea Dragon. The team hopes to display the fossil in the County once it has been fully examined and conserved, which is likely to take two to three years to complete.
Urgent conservation work on the Sea Dragon specimen and the creation of a digital 3D model has been made possible thanks to the Pilgrim Trust, who awarded Rutland County Council a grant of £13,000. This has been followed by the award of a further £29,500 by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, which will be used for both the Sea Dragon and the Rutland Roman villa complex.
The National Lottery funded work will explore how best to interpret the ichthyosaur remains and the villa complex. These plans, which will take around a year to complete, will assess options for long-term conservation and how to improve public understanding of these two discoveries. Work will also be undertaken to begin the fundraising needed to deliver these hugely significant projects.
The Rutland Villa complex was recently designated as a scheduled monument, recognising the national importance of this buried archaeological site and providing it with legal protection. Historic England has invested over £50,000 into the careful excavation and survey of the site, including works to inform on the long-term management and preservation of the archaeology. The site lies on private agricultural land and Historic England is working with the landowner to preserve the fragile archaeological remains. Archaeological work on the site has produced a wealth of finds which will be archived with the Rutland County Museum.
“The Rutland Sea Dragon is an amazing discovery – something completely unexpected and unique to the county. We already have a huge amount of local history, which is a great source of pride for people living here. Oakham Castle is the most complete example of a Norman Great Hall in England, which we have restored thanks to a £2.14m grant from the National Lottery. The incredible mosaic found late last year has been called the most exciting Roman discovery in last century. We can now add the Sea Dragon to this list as the biggest and most complete skeleton of any large prehistoric reptile ever found in the UK. “Needless to say we are all incredibly excited by these recent discoveries and I’m delighted that we have been able to secure grant funding to kick start the work to plan their future, to enable these discoveries to be displayed in Rutland for all to enjoy. I would like to thank the Pilgrim Trust and The National Lottery Heritage Fund for their brilliant support. Now the work will start in earnest to raise the funds needed to provide the settings these amazing discoveries deserve, and of course to boost visits to our wonderful County.”
Councillor Lucy Stephenson, Cabinet Member for Culture and Heritage