X Close

UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


The Most Amazing Fossil Fish Ever Discovered*

By Mark Carnall, on 31 January 2017

Welcome to the most amazing fossil fish ever discovered of the month. For those of you who don’t know it, which is nobody because everyone reads this blog, MAFFED is a monthly blog about everyone’s favourite fossil fish. We only focus on the best fossil fish here, which everyone is always talking about. It’s kind of a big thing if you’ve never read it. This series is most definitely nothing to do with underwhelming fossil fish of the month which nobody reads anyway**. This month we’ve got the best fossil fish ever discovered. I know, I know I say that every month but this time it is really true.

I hope you’re strapped into your seat because this is going to be one hell of a journey! You won’t need to read ANYTHING ELSE EVER AGAIN.

Image of LDUCZ-V1775 Cleithrolepis from the Grant Museum of Zoology

Best quality image that science can manage of LDUCZ-V1775 Cleithrolepis the clearly visible atomic scale bar indicates this is the largest fossil fish ever discovered.

Look at that. Wow. Cross looking at the greatest fossil ever off your bucket list. Remember where you were when you read this and make sure to note it down in your diary because generations to come will wonder where you were when you saw it. If you don’t keep a diary, I suggest you take out a national billboard advertisement poster campaign detailing where you were when your life was changed by this fossil. In fact, let’s look at it again.

Image of LDUCZ-V1775 Cleithrolepis from the Grant Museum of Zoology

Best quality image that science can manage of LDUCZ-V1775 Cleithrolepis the clearly visible atomic scale bat indicates this is the largest fossil fish ever discovered

Even though it’s an identical image, that just doesn’t do the original specimen justice, it looks even better in this image. Nobody doubts it. According to the label…. who am I kidding, evaluating the reliability and correctness of labels is for losers. Take it from me, this is a very very important fossil. That’s what the label now says in gold pen. No. Excuse me. STOP PRESS. It’s the most important fossil there ever was. I once took it to the British Museum to get it valued and their answer was take the largest number you know, then double it. And the largest number I know is infinity. I’m very smart with numbers.

Conservative estimates suggest that Cleithrolepis predates the Big Bang. From the examination of stomach contents, it ate everything, including hundreds of Tyrannosaurus rex in one sitting, blue whales, entire islands and preferred munching on diamonds. Cleithrolepis is the ancestor to all living organisms and many that have yet to be discovered.

This is the oldest, largest fossil known to men (and women I guess) and was collected by Adam & Eve shortly before Eden fell. It was the only extinct animal that Noah took onto the Ark. It was painted by Leonardo Di Caprio at least three times and it was this fossil that inspired the building of the Musée du Louvre, the British Museum and the Smithsonian Museum. On seeing it, Thomas Edison invented electricity to “see it in all its glory, even at night”. When Charles Darwin saw it he claimed “Eureka” and wrote the Origin of the Species on the spot. It was also the first fossil in space, inspiring Yuri Gagarin to make the trip a few years later.

Preservation This is the most complete perfect fossil ever discovered. Everybody thinks so. Preserved in full three dimensions, even the skin, organs and eyes are preserved in remarkable details. Curators at the Grant Museum even say that if you listen very very carefully you can still here a faint heartbeat. The mode of preservation has been called Midas-Medusa fossilisation and this is the only known fossil to be preserved this way. Every generation the smartest scientists, literally since the dawn of humankind have tried to understand how it came to be to no avail.

Research This is the most cited fossil ever known and research into this specimen led to the creation of the disciplines known today as biology, palaeontology, psychology, philosophy, sports science, chemistry, astronomy and geology. The Royal Library of Alexandria was initially built to house all the research on this one specimen but quickly became too small to house the volumes of research. This lead to annexes to the Royal Library being built to house the journals, paintings, sculptures, books, prints, videotapes which spread to every country worldwide. Eventually these buildings housed research on other topics and the Royal Library of Alexandria was shortened to ‘Library’. This is where the word library and all existing libraries today comes from. This fossil has been analysed, represented and reproduced in every known medium. Current reseach on the fossil is leading to new insights in cancer research, quantum theory, game theory, evolutionary theory, pictionary theory and cross-dimensional research.

In Society At least four major religions are based around Cleithrolepis and there are an estimated thirteen television channels worldwide dedicated to broadcasting images of this fossil. Cleithrolepis has been the subject of an Academy Award winning documentary every year since the foundation of the Award and has appeared on every single stamp going back to the Penny Black. At the time of writing, the Wikipedia article is the largest, most read, most updated human work of all time. It is also known, amongst other things, as an icon of extinction, bravery, peace, literature and smartness. So many sports teams use it as their icon that all the relevant sports associations got together to divide up the specific parts of Cleithrolepis that teams could name themselves after or use in their club badges to prevent widespread confusion. Cleithrolepis was TIME magazine’s first Cleithrolepis of the year and was again in 1932, 1947, 1958, 1969, 1970, 1982-87, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2014.

The Most Amazing Fosil Fish Ever Discovered Cleithrolepis
Preservation Perfect
Research Perpetual
In Society It IS Society
Underwhelmingness How is this even a category?


Mark Carnall is the Collections Manager (Life Collections) at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and former Curator of the Grant Museum. This blog post is his magnus opus, he is now retiring from all forms of communication, ending his career on “the highest of highs”. 

*An alternative facts version of the normal underwhelming fossil fish of the month. Normal service will resume next month, if there is anyone left to read it that is.


8 Responses to “The Most Amazing Fossil Fish Ever Discovered*”

  • 1
    Dominic wrote on 31 January 2017:

    I see what you did there!
    It easily knocks spots off Saccorhytus 😉

  • 2
    Diana Dalasini wrote on 1 February 2017:

    “nobody ever reads anyway”? NO!

    People who aren’t scientists read this, and enjoy it bigly! It’s the best fossilised fish site ever. Ever.

    Even arts graduates (me) love it and look forward to the monthly fish, and even force them on other liberal soft subject friends, sending links demanding they have a look.

  • 3
    Mark Carnall wrote on 1 February 2017:

    Diana what you are saying is incorrect. Sad! Nobody reads that boring old LIES.How can anyone be interested in things which aren’t the BIGGEST and BESTEST?

  • 4
    DrG wrote on 2 February 2017:

    Wow, that was a wild ride. I feel pescatorially overwhelmed.

  • 5
    Fossil Friday Roundup: February 3, 2017 | PLOS Blogs Network wrote on 4 February 2017:

    […] Beast of the Week (Prehistoric Beast of the Week) The Most Amazing Fossil Fish Ever Discovered* (UCL Blogs) The Strange Case of the Crocodile’s Snout. Part 2: Exonerating the Hopeless (Extinct) Speaker […]

  • 6
    Susan Elaine Jones wrote on 6 February 2017:

    I’ve come so late to see the most amazing fossil fish ever. I couldn’t get through the 1.5 million people queuing to witness it!

  • 7
    Mike Howgate wrote on 6 February 2017:

    It is a little known fact that all of the ‘Dinosaur’ * models available from Toys R’ Us, The Early Learning Centre and even the Natural History Museum are part of an attempt by top scientists to reconstruct the whole of past life from the stomach contents of Cleitherolepis.

    * By ‘Dinosaurs’ I of course mean everything prehistoric except for Cave Men obviously !

  • 8
    Helen Chavez wrote on 20 February 2017:

    C’mon, now, Mark, you and I both know this is FAKE NEWS. We all know that fossil fish are UNDERWHELMING. All of this whelmingness is a mere bagatelle, a fabrication pandering to the masses. Granted, it is entertaining. Thrilling even – I have no doubt you have a script optioned with DreamWorks or Pixar, but your true fans know this to be utter foof.

    Please, I beg you, bring back the stultifying underwhelmingness … the out-of-focus pictures and extraordinary reconstructions by a talented up-and-coming palaeoartist.

    I simply can’t cope with all of the excitement.

Leave a Reply