Newly discovered 'Loch Ness Monster' fossil gets life-size diorama in Anchorage

An extinct Alaska version of Scotland's mythical Loch Ness Monster, identified last month in the Talkeetna Mountains, will be part of a multimedia diorama in Midtown Anchorage by artist James Havens.

The find was announced Wednesday in a press release from the University of Alaska Museum of the North, which reported that Anchorage fossil collector Curvin Metzler originally spotted vertebrae of the animal in an eroding cliff. He contacted Patrick Druckenmiller, earth sciences curator at the museum, who visited the site in June and determined it was an elasmosaur, the first discovered in Alaska.

The elasmosaur was a type of plesiosaur, a marine reptile that lived about 70 million years ago. It had flippers like a sea lion's, a very long, snakelike neck and a vicious-looking set of splayed teeth. The specimen found in the Talkeetna Mountains is estimated to have been 25 feet long, roughly the size of an adult killer whale.

Druckenmiller led a team that extracted most of the bones in June. "We got a good chunk of the animal but there is still more to excavate," he said in the press release. He plans to recover the rest of the fossil next summer. He noted that the reptile would have looked much like depictions of the legendary Loch Ness Monster.

Havens, who took part in the excavation, has previously made life-size paintings and models of Alaska's prehistoric animals that are part of museum displays. He's using the empty space at the University Center Mall as a studio while he builds the diorama, which he hopes it will be purchased by a museum or similar facility once it's complete. The public is invited to look in on the project, which Havens is preparing in the north side of the mall formerly occupied by the Natural Pantry. Havens said he works between noon and 5 p.m. on most days except Sunday.

The completed diorama will measure 32 feet wide and include life-size sculptures of several prehistoric animals that once swam where the Talkeetna Mountains are now.

Druckenmiller is considered an expert on marine reptile fossils. Another elasmosaur he collected in Montana is part of the Museum of the North's "Expedition Alaska: Dinosaurs" exhibit, on display through summer 2016. The exhibit includes other ancient marine reptiles discovered in Alaska, including ichthyosaur and thalattosaur specimens.

Mike Dunham

Mike Dunham has been a reporter and editor at the ADN since 1994, mainly writing about culture, arts and Alaska history. He worked in radio for 20 years before switching to print.