Teacher Stumbles Upon Wildly Rare Fossil on Beach That Could Be 300 Million Years Old

by Caitlin Berard

Is there anything more relaxing than a walk on the beach? For high school teacher Lisa Cormier, it’s the perfect way to unwind after a hard day’s work. A resident of Prince Edward Island in Canada, Cormier often finds herself at the nearby shores, enjoying the sea breeze and the soothing sounds of the ocean while getting some exercise with her beloved dog, Sammy.

Every now and then, Lisa Cormier stumbles upon pieces of sea glass. As sea glass can take decades, even centuries, to form, the tiny stone-like finds are wonders in themselves. But on this particular day, Lisa and Sammy were about to find something they could never have imagined.

While walking through the sand, the high school teacher saw what she thought was a limb or tree root sticking out of the ground. Upon further inspection, however, she realized that it wasn’t an ordinary piece of debris at all but a fossil.

“I saw something about two feet long with a strange shape,” Cormier recalled to The Washington Post. “When I looked closer, I realized that there was a rib cage. And around that, there was a spine and the skull.”

As a former science teacher, Cormier immediately recognized the find as a fossil. Unlike the monstrous sea dragons recently found in the U.S. and U.K., however, this one was quite small. Worried that the delicate find might be destroyed by the tide or the elements, Cormier called in the experts.

Fossil Experts Set to Work Identifying the Species

John Calder, a geologist and paleontologist from Halifax, Nova Scotia, joined forces with a Parks Canada crew, and together, they carefully dug up the fossil. They began by digging a two-foot trench around the skeleton, careful to leave a wide margin between the edge of the trench and the fossil itself.

“We were racing against time to get it out before sunset,” Calder explained. “It took a lot of digging and fine chiseling. Once you start doing it, you’re committed to retrieving it in a short window before the tide comes in.”

After several hours of hard work, the fossil was finally free of the ground beneath. Taking great care to maintain the fossil, the crew then lifted it out in three pieces.

With the fossil successfully removed from the earth, plans are in motion to send it to a paleontology lab in Nova Scotia for a CT scan. After it’s scanned, the fossil will then be sent to a museum, where the remaining rock will be removed and the specimen within studied.

Even fossil expert John Calder isn’t quite sure about the identity of the fossilized creature. “It will probably take a year to figure out exactly what this is,” he said. “We’re not 100 percent sure that it’s a reptile.”

What he does know, however, is that Lisa Cormier made an incredible find. According to Calder, the fossil appears to be from the Carboniferous or Permian period, making it around 300 million years old.

“A fossil like this comes up every 50 years or 100 years,” he told CBC News. “I mean there’s no real frequency, but it’s rare. And this could be a one-of-a-kind fossil in the tree of life … of the evolution of amphibians, to reptiles, to mammals to us.”