Fossil hunter;

Born: December 23, 1939; Died: September 9, 2012.

Stan Wood, who has died of cancer aged 72, was a real-life professional dinosaur-hunter, who revolutionised thinking about prehistoric animals when he discovered the fossilised remains of what many have surmised may be the world's earliest reptile.

The little creature, from which dinosaurs may have descended, was found not in some exotic rainforest or on a remote volcanic island, but in an old limestone quarry at Bathgate, in West Lothian.

It was nicknamed Lizzie the Lizard, though debate continues over whether it is reptile or amphibian, and it was formally named Westlothiana lizziae.

Mr Wood, who has been called "the Indiana Jones of the fossil world", found literally thousands of fossils, including several previously unknown species.

One of his most exciting finds was a 330-million-year-old shark he came across while walking his dog on the outskirts of Glasgow. It is popularly known as the Bearsden shark.

A former shipyard worker and insurance salesman, Stan Wood was a self-taught fossil hunter who found celebrity in the arcane and academic world of palaeontology.

He was the subject of a BBC documentary Stan, Stan, the Fossil Man, he featured in David Attenborough's Lost Worlds and Vanished Lives series, discovered numerous unknown species and had several named after him, including one shark called Diplodoselache woodi.

Although he was self-taught, he was hugely respected by academics. His latest finds in the Borders, where he latterly lived, look like they may shed new light on the period when life first emerged from the sea.

There had been a huge gap in the fossil record, known as Romer's gap, after the palaeontologist who first recognised it. Others had looked in the Borders and found nothing, but in recent years he had unearthed hundreds of fauna and flora fossils that might now help fill that gap.

Attenborough hailed the finds as "sensational" and a consortium of academics and museums has secured a £3 million grant to investigate further.

He was born in Edinburgh in 1939 – simply Stanley Wood, according to the statutory records, though he styled himself Stanley Purdie Wood, Purdie being his mother's maiden name.

After leaving school in his mid-teens, he did a shipyard apprenticeship, served in the Merchant Navy as an engineer officer and worked for Brown Brothers engineering company. Encouraged to consider a white-collar work, he changed career to sell insurance for the Prudential.

Mr Wood was not always interested in fossils. Over the years he had many different hobbies and fossils began as just another in the early 1970s.

He made important discoveries of fossil fish on the shore at Wardie in Edinburgh, sold material to the Royal Museum of Scotland and found himself making more money selling fossils than he did selling insurance.

With each success his reputation grew and he worked for Newcastle University and the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, before setting up a commercial business selling fossils from a base in Livingston in 1983. He opened a shop in the Grassmarket area of Edinburgh City Centre in 1987, servicing big international clients, while also selling direct to tourists and schoolboys. Mr Wood's Fossils is still there, now run by Matt Dale, who formerly worked for him.

Mr Wood found Lizzie the Lizard in 1984 and after fears that he might sell it to Germany it was acquired by the Royal Museum in Edinburgh for £190,000.

Later discoveries included the head of a scorpion that must have been about 10ft long. The head itself was 2ft wide and the largest invertebrate head ever found. He speculated that they ate giant spiders and grew so large because of the absence of avian predators at the time.

Mr Dale wrote on his blog: "I think it's fair to say he was an idiosyncratic man. Field work was hard, physical work and he led by example. It usually involved wading in waist-deep water with crushingly heavy rucksacks.

"His dogged persistence and innate feel for the rocks led him to discovery after discovery where many had given up before him.

"His finds over the years have changed the way we understand the colonisation of land, the development of four-legged creatures, the very evolution of life."

Mr Wood is survived by his second wife Maggie and his daughter Emma.