The full-sized skeleton of an ichthyosaur, found by school children in the West Kazakhstan region, will be assembled and installed in the School of Mining and Geosciences, Nazarbayev University, in 2021. The large-scale reconstruction project will be overseen by Laurent Richard, Associate Professor of Geology at Nazarbayev University, Davit Vasilyan, paleontologist from the Swiss Jurassica Museum, and SMG students.
The project started about a year ago, when Professor Richard was contacted by Zhanat Ismailova, director of “Zhas Geologist” organization from Uralsk city. Ichthyosaur fossils were discovered by a group of young geologists in 2016. It has then become known as Kazakhstanosaurus – ichthyosaur from the Mesozoic era. Its excavation, supervised by Mrs. Olga Subbotina and the paleontologist, Dr. Vladimir Efimov, who made the initial description, took two years. The finding turned out to be the most ancient predecessor of all dinosaurs that lived in the sea.
“Mrs. Zhanat Ismailova, Director of Zhas Geolog, an organization promoting the study of geology among high school students, approached us to ask if we would be willing to welcome the ichthyosaur at Nazarbayev University. Being acquainted with ichthyosaurs since my undergraduate studies in Geology at the University of Strasbourg and a visit to the Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, it didn´t take me long to realize that this fossil belongs to the geological heritage of Kazakhstan and that it is important to keep it within the country,” said Laurent Richard.
According to Professor Richard, the project is important, as it represents the ‘incredible piece of geological heritage’ of Kazakhstan.
“There are wealthy collectors all around the world trying to buy such fossils for their private collections. If we wouldn’t have rescued this rare specimen of ichthyosaur, it probably wouldn’t have stayed here for educational and research purposes. This would have been tragic,” said Davit Vasilyan, paleontologist at the Jurassica Museum.
Fortunately, the ichthyosaur skeleton remains in Kazakhstan. Once reassembled and installed, it will be accessible to both the public and the researchers.