for National Geographic News
The world's favorite monster stole the headlines again this month, when the remains of a giant sea creature were discovered in Scotland's Loch Ness. But instead of hailing the find as possible evidence of the monster's existence, scientists now think it a hoax.
The fossil belonged to a plesiosaur, a fearsome predator that ruled the seas between 200 and 65 million years ago. Measuring 35 feet (11 meters) head to tail, with a long, serpentine neck, the reptile eventually died out with the dinosaurs.
Or did it? Many people believe it alive and well, if rather shy, having sought refuge in Scotland's largest freshwater loch. These days it goes by the name of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster.
Of course, there are still plenty of skeptics, and four fossilized vertebrae, complete with blood vessels and spinal column, is the sort of thing that could help convince them.
The fossil was found by retired scrap metal dealer Gerald McSorley, from Stirling in Scotland. The pensioner said he chanced upon it when he tripped and fell in the loch.
He told the world: "I have always believed in the Loch Ness monster, but this proves it for me. The resemblance between this and the sightings which have been made are so similar."
His discovery was confirmed by staff at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Yet they still had their doubts.
Lyall Anderson, one of the museum's palaeontologists, said: "The fossil is definitely that of a plesiosaura very good example. And I believe Mr. McSorley when he says he found it where he did. But there's evidence to suggest it came from elsewhere and had been planted.
"The fossil is embedded in a gray, Jurassic-aged limestone. Rocks in the Loch Ness area are much olderthey're all crystalline, igneous and metamorphic rocks."
Anderson says the nearest match for this limestone is at Eathie on the Black Isle, some 30 miles (50 kilometers) northeast of Loch Ness.
He added: "The stone has been intensely drilled by marine organisms. It seems likely the specimen was on a seashore until relatively recently."
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