Serendipitous Find

Turtle eggs. Photo: Palm Beach Post

Loggerhead turtle eggs.
Photo: Palm Beach Post

It’s one of those stories which, if it were written in a story, would be labeled implausible.

An amateur fossil collector is walking along the banks of a river when he sees a strange-looking stone sticking out of the mud. He bends down to have a closer look, and realises that the stone is, in fact, a bone. Thinking it might be a dinosaur fossil, he takes it to a museum.

The curator at that museum also happens to be someone who has seen another fossil that looked similar at another museum, a fossil that had been found 163 years earlier, origin unknown. He thought it might be interesting to compare the two.

And as it turned out, the two fossils did indeed have something in common: They were two halves of the very same bone.

More evidence that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Ancient sea turtle bones found 163 years apart are a perfect match.  Photo: Drexel University

Ancient sea turtle bones found 163 years apart are a perfect match.
Photo: Drexel University

The fossil half that was found in 2012 by Gregory Harpel on the banks of a brook in New Jersey and donated to the New Jersey State Museum and which was matched to the fossil half found in 1849 and kept in the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University did more than surprise by its mere discovery.

The location of the original fossil find hadn’t been recorded – now paleontologists know its origin. Monmouth County, New Jersey.

The bone that was broken millions of years ago, and the discovery of the second matching half, proved bones and fossils can stay intact when exposed to air for much longer than expected.

It helped researchers further describe the giant sea turtle, Atlantochelys mortoni, that swam the seas in 70 million to 75 million years ago during the Pleistocene or Holocene eras. The sea turtle most resembled the loggerhead turtle, which is currently considered endangered.

However, A. mortoni was the largest known turtle in history, measuring over three meters (10 feet). Much larger than the loggerhead, and at least as impressive in size as the wild tale of two matching fossil halves found over a century-and-a-half apart.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (C. caretta) Photo: Jorge Candan

Loggerhead sea turtle (C. caretta)
Photo: Jorge Candan

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