Prince Edward Island teacher stumbles upon 300 million year old fossil

A teacher in Prince Edward Island has made the discovery of life after coming across a fossil that may be 300 million years old.

Lisa Cormier was walking around Cape Egmont on Monday afternoon when she spotted something unusual partially buried on the shore.

« I saw something that I thought was a root, » she said. « And when I looked closer, I realized there were ribs. And then I saw the spine and the skull. »

Cormier took photos of his discovery to share with his family.

Her mother-in-law sent them to Laura McNeill of Prehistoric Island Tours. McNeill immediately contacted Cormier, along with other specialists.

John Calder, geologist and paleontologist, was one of them. He said the fossil appears to date from the late Carboniferous period and the Permian period. It was about 300 million years ago.

The fossil appears to be 300 million years old. (Submitted by Laura MacNeill)

Calder, who has written a book on the geologic heritage of Prince Edward Island, said a find like this is « extremely rare. »

« A fossil like this appears every 50 or 100 years, » he said. « I mean there’s no real frequency, but it’s rare. And it could be a one-of-a-kind fossil in the tree of life… of the evolution of amphibians, reptiles, mammals for us. »

The fossil has not been identified, but Calder said it was likely a reptile or at least a very close relative.

« It’s early in the evolution of reptiles from amphibians, and they’re branching out, » he said. « And so it’s going to be a real headache. It’ll probably take a good year to figure out the identity of this thing. »

He said that very few specimens had been discovered at that time and that it might even be a previously unknown species.

pei fossil
An excavation team consisting of Matt Stimson, Patrick Brunet and Linda Berko raced against the current. (Submitted by John Calder)

An excavation team made up of Matt Stimson, Patrick Brunet and Linda Berko was able to dig it up after a few days of work.

On Saturday, Parks Canada staff carefully moved the fossil from its find site to a facility in Greenwich that acts as a kind of paleontological repository.

Calder said he wouldn’t stay there too long because he needed to be taken to a paleontology lab to be seen by experts.

« They’ll probably use a scanner, » he said.

On the lookout

He said fossil finds like this in Prince Edward Island have become more frequent over the past two years. He advised islanders to keep their eyes peeled.

“There are many more ordinary people walking on beaches than paleontologists and most of these important discoveries are not made by scientists,” he said.

Cormier said the discovery is a unique opportunity to leave some sort of legacy in the history of science.

“To think that I found something that could be 300 million years old is incredible,” she said.

« I think it’s gonna be once [thing]but I’ll keep walking around and I’ll keep looking for sea glass and maybe I’ll find something else. »


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