A scientist says he has found new evidence that an ancient sea monster called the Kraken - thought by many to be just a legend - may have actually existed.
Palaeontologist Mark McMenamin first hit the headlines back in 2011 when he suggested that the strange arrangement of bones of an ichthyosaur found in Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada were the work of a giant squid or octopus playing with its food — modern day octopus are known to arrange bones and shells around their dens to conceal the entrance.
But this cephalopod would have had to be very big. The ichthyosaur concerned was Shonisaurus popularis, a marine reptile measuring about 14m in length that lived during the Triassic period, up to 250 million years ago.
McMenamin argued that such a bone pattern could not have come about purely from the movement of currents and other natural processes. Other scientists were sceptical, to say the least.
But McMenamin has since discovered a second arrangement of the bone pattern — this time from a former display at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Museum of Natural History. The fossil of the ichthyosaur had been laid out exactly as it was found. McMenamin saw a photo of this exhibit and immediately recognised the similarity between the arrangement of some of the bones and that of the earlier remains.
He also noticed that damage to the rib cage may have been the result of constriction — as though something had given the ichthyosaur a 'bear hug'.
The problem for McMenamin is that while ichthyosaur fossils are reasonably abundant, as remains go, those of gigantic cephalopods are not — their soft bodies that don’t lend themselves to being fossilised — and the only thing that would be likely to remain after death is the beak. And no one has found one — until now!
After seeing the photos of the museum exhibit, McMenamin made a trip back to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in search of more evidence.
One of the fossils he and his team picked up had fracturing patterns and fibres that match the beak of a modern Humboldt squid, leading McMenamin to think he has at last found the beak of an ancient Kraken.
Other experts are still unconvinced, however, saying the fossilised beak is too fragmented to prove the size of the creature it belonged to and that the strange bone arrangements are just 'circumstantial evidence'.
But McMenamin, who recently presented his findings at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA), says the fossil "shows that indeed there were giant cephalopods in this area."
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