On Canada’s Prince Edward Island, a high school teacher’s daily dog walk turned into a spectacular find that has thrilled paleontologists across the world: a rare 300 million-year-old fossil.
At first, Lisa St. Coeur Cormier saw what she thought was a tree root poking out of the sand on Cape Egmont beach as she walked her dog, Sammy, in late August.
“When I looked closer, I realized there was a rib cage,” she told The Washington Post. “And around that, there was a spine and a skull.”
The former middle school science teacher shared her findings with her family, and her mother-in-law passed on the images to PEI’s fossil experts, including Laura MacNeill of Prehistoric Island Tours, which runs tours of sites with fossils on the island. When MacNeill saw the pictures, she knew she was looking at history in the making.
“I was really excited to think what this could mean for the island,” she told The Washington Post.
Canadian geologist and paleontologist John Calder was also a recipient of the photos, and he felt an urgency to get to PEI to take a look at this rare fossil.
“There aren’t very many specimens from this period, so it was an incredible find,” Calder told The Post.
Science page PEI: Island at the Centre of the World posted photos of the fossil on Facebook, and you can see the rib cage, spine and skull Cormier found:
Calder says it will take a year or more for paleontologists to determine the species of the fossil, but for now, they know that the animal lived during the Carboniferous period and into the Permian period, making it very rare. He described it as most likely a reptile or something similar, and potentially one-of-a-kind.
This isn’t the first time in recent years that important fossils have been found on Prince Edward Island. In 2018, fossilized footprints of Bathygnathus borealis were discovered on Cavendish Beach in the PEI National Park. Known as the Dimetrodon, this impressive reptilian predator lived 100 million years before dinosaurs, during the Permian period.
“The fossil legacy of the Island has reached a point where it stands proudly on the world stage,” Calder told The National Post at the time.
Prince Edward Island is so rich in prehistoric fossils because it was one of the few parts of Canada that was not under water during these time periods, he said.
“While most of Canada as we know it today was submerged under water, Prince Edward Island was one of the few places with life on land before dinosaurs even walked the Earth,” the geologist explained.
Though the island was above water during the Permian, now Calder was worried about this new fossil washing away. As the Facebook post from PEI explains, it’s right at the water’s edge, and the dig team made “a huge effort to retrieve it in a short window between tides.”
Wow, what a find!