Left: these Cretacious tanks wandered around Kent millions of years ago. Image: www.earthsci.org.
A near complete fossilized skeleton of a dinosaur has been unearthed in a clay pit in Kent.
The bones, discovered by an amateur fossil hunter near Maidstone, are thought to be those of a plant eating Nodosaurus dating from the Cretaceous period.
Dr Ed Jarzembowski, head of Natural History at Maidstone Museum said: "It's a very exciting find - the first since Thomas Huxley made a similar discovery in 1860."
At four metres long, the herbivorous beast would have had heavy plate armour and a narrow head and snout. The head has not been found but the rest of the dinosaur is largely intact.
Dr Jarzembowski believes the find may lead to some startling new discoveries.
Right: the Acanthopholis, another armour-plated herbivore. Image: Philip Eglise. © Philip Eglise.
"What is really interesting for me is these dinosaurs are almost always found in what would have been the sea," said Dr Jarzembowski. "It poses some interesting questions; were they like lemmings throwing themselves over the cliff, or did they feed on seaweed?"
"I think it's quite feasible that these plant feeding dinosaurs may have evolved to take aquatic vegetation. After all, seaweed is perfectly nutritious - just the thing for a heavy creature in need of a rich and plentiful food source."
Whatever the explanation for the dinosaur's final resting place, the bones will now reside in a new gallery at Maidstone Museum explaining Kent's rich geological history.
The town also has a long tradition of dinosaur finds; Maidstone's Coat of Arms incorporates an Iguanodon discovered in Queen's Road in 1834 and the nearby Wealden Rocks are also famous for their dinosaur bones and footprints.
Doctor Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum, which houses a similarly headless but otherwise complete Nodosaurus, said: "This type of armoured dinosaur is quite common in the south and examples have been found in East Sussex, Wealden and the Isle of Wight, but if it is relatively complete it would be a highly significant find."
The site of the discovery is currently under wraps for safety and insurance reasons, but those wishing to view the fossilized dinosaur will be able to do so when the new gallery opens at Maidstone Museum on May 3, 2003.