The Isle of Wight’s dinosaur hunter: we’re going to need a bigger museum | Dinosaurs


Some of us binged on box sets, others grappled with the challenges of home school and zoned out of Zoom meetings: for many, life under lockdown felt glum. But for Jeremy Lockwood, a retired GP turned palaeontologist, 2021 was a standout year featuring two big dinosaur discoveries and laying plans to make the Isle of Wight famous for its prehistoric inhabitants once more. “It was an absolutely thrilling time for me,” Lockwood said.

Lockwood, 64, who retired as a family doctor in the Midlands seven years ago, was behind the widely publicised discovery of a new species of iguanadontian dinosaur with a distinctively large nose and a second species, nicknamed “the horned crocodile-faced Hell Heron”.

At the start of the pandemic, Lockwood re-registered with the General Medical Council and volunteered to work. However, his daughter, also a doctor, pointed out that before vaccines were available, hospitals would not want people in their 60s walking around wards.

So for the past two years, Lockwood has immersed himself in fossil hunting on the beach and sifting through boxes of bones from museum archives.

In palaeontology, like astronomy, amateurs often work alongside academics and their scientific contributions are frequently recognised. On retirement, Lockwood decided to put his lifelong interest in dinosaurs on a formal footing and persuaded his wife to move to the Isle of Wight, where a steady stream of dinosaur fossils emerge from the cliffs as they are eroded. He contacted Prof David Martill, of the University of Portsmouth, about doing a PhD and was quickly accepted.

“I felt I had to do something to keep me active,” he said. “I don’t think I could’ve just played golf or grown roses.”

Lockwood is revisiting a golden era for dinosaur discovery with a focus on iguanodons, the first specimen of which was unearthed by Gideon Mantell, also a doctor turned palaeontologist, in Sussex in 1825. Some have assumed that the long timeline of discovery means that the understanding of British dinosaurs is essentially “done and dusted”.

On the contrary, Lockwood said, certain dogmas have remained unchallenged. And modern methods, such as using software to cluster specimens into a most likely family tree, have not always been applied to earlier finds.

Most dinosaurs found on the Isle of Wight had been traditionally assigned to just one of two species: the plant-eating Iguanodon bernissartensis and Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis. After sifting through many hundreds of bones that had been sitting in boxes in the Natural History Museum and the Dinosaur Isle museum, Lockwood identified a clear outlier with an enormous bulbous nose. The finding suggests there were far more iguanadontian dinosaurs in the Early Cretaceous of the UK than previously thought and raises the prospect of tracing the evolution of different traits through time.

“You can almost liken this huge collection of iguanadontian bones to several jigsaw puzzles that are all mixed up,” said Lockwood. “I’m trying to put together something that is meaningful.”

Officially, Lockwood is doing his doctorate part-time, but acknowledges that he has become “a bit obsessed”. “Sometimes I’ll work for 16 hours a day for a few weeks,” he said. “You struggle to find time to cut the lawn and decorate your house, and friends and family have to put up with you talking about dinosaurs all the time.”

Alongside his work on archive specimens, Lockwood also makes daily surveys of the beach to spot any dinosaur bones emerging from the cliffs. Winter is peak collecting season. “Certainly with winter storms eroding things, that’s when the big finds come in,” said Lockwood.

He is also coordinating a bid to redevelop the Dinosaur Isle museum, by a charitable group that Lockwood chairs together with a German company, Dinosaurier-Park International, after the local council launched a tender process.

“I’m trying to take over the museum,” Lockwood said. “The Isle of Wight undersells its dinosaurs. Most people are unaware that we’re Europe’s hotspot for dinosaurs and early mammals. We need a much bigger museum.”

Lockwood said he has “great sympathy” for former medical colleagues still working on the frontline during the pandemic and is particularly annoyed by the “lazy GP stereotype” sometimes aired in media coverage. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “You can see burnout happening all over the place.”

Several doctors have got in touch to congratulate him on his recent successes. “Some of the nice tweets were from other doctors approaching retirement,” he said. “It’s really good to see that there’s a life after medicine.”



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