An amateur paleontologist has recently discovered a very large and very mysterious fossil in the Cincinnati region, United States, which has left the professionals puzzled.
The fossilized specimen, a roughly elliptical shape with multiple lobes, totaling almost seven feet in length will be unveiled at the North-Central Section 46th Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America, April 24, in Dayton, Ohio.
Around 450 million years ago, shallow seas covered the Cincinnati region. Despite its size, no one has ever found a fossil of this “monster” until its discovery by Ron Fine of Dayton last year.
Fine is a member of the Dry Dredgers, an association of amateur paleontologists based at the University of Cincinnati. The club, celebrating its 70th anniversary this month, has a long history of collaborating with academic paleontologists.
“I knew right away that I had found an unusual fossil. Imagine a saguaro cactus with flattened branches and horizontal stripes in place of the usual vertical stripes. That’s the best description I can give,” Fine said.
UC Paleontologist David Meyer, left and Carlton Brett, right, flank Ron Fine, who discovered the large fossil spread out on the table. Image credit: University of Cincinnati
The layer of rock in which he found the specimen near Covington, Kentucky, is known to produce a lot of nodules or concretions in a soft, clay-rich rock known as shale.
“While those nodules can take on some fascinating, sculpted forms, I could tell instantly that this was not one of them. There was an ‘organic’ form to these shapes. They were streamlined,” Fine said.
Fine was reminded of streamlined shapes of coral, sponges and seaweed as a result of growing in the presence of water currents.
“And then there was that surface texture. Nodules do not have surface texture. They’re smooth. This fossil had an unusual texture on the entire surface,” Fine said.
For more than 200 years, the rocks of the Cincinnati region have been among the most studied in all of paleontology, and the discovery of an unknown, and large, fossil has professional paleontologists scratching their heads.
“It’s definitely a new discovery. And we’re sure it’s biological. We just don’t know yet exactly what it is,” said David L. Meyer of the University of Cincinnati geology department.
To answer that key question, Meyer said that he, Carlton E. Brett also of UC, and Benjamin Dattilo of the Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne geosciences faculty, were working with Fine to reconstruct a timeline working backward from the fossil, through its preservation, burial, and death to its possible mode of life.
Meyer agreed with Fine that it might be the largest fossil recovered from the Cincinnati area.
“My personal theory is that it stood upright, with branches reaching out in all directions similar to a shrub. If I am right, then the upper-most branch would have towered nine feet high,” Fine said.
In the meantime, the team is playing around with potential names. They are leaning toward “Godzillus.”