News, Science

Science teacher discovers rare fossil

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Lisa St. Coeur Cormier spotted a rare and extremely old fossil in PEI. Photos by Laura MacNeil.

Lisa St. Coeur Cormier, a high school science teacher in Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada, thought it was a tree root. But then she took a closer look.

It turned out to be something very rare—and possibly 300 million years old.

Cormier was taking a stroll in Cape Egmont, PEI, in late August when she came across the fossil. She realized it wasn’t a tree root when she looked at it carefully and noticed an impression of ribs, a spine and a skull of what looked like some kind of animal.

Cormier and her mother-in-law sent a photo of the find to Laura MacNeil, a geologist who owns a company called Prehistoric Island Tours. They asked her to confirm that what Cormier had seen really was a fossil.

MacNeil runs tours of sites where prehistoric fossils have been found. She also helps people identify fossils and visited the site of Cormier’s find to take more photos of it.

MacNeil contacted John Calder, a geologist and paleontologist, who examined the fossil and led a team of scientists to study it. He told CBC News it could be as much as 300 million years old. He said it’s probably from a reptile of some kind—likely one that is unknown to scientists.

Scientists spent 5.5 hours to carefully excavate (dig out) the fossil from the ground so they can study it more in-depth to try to figure out exactly what kind of animal it is. That research could take a year or more, Calder said.

“This is an incredibly significant discovery here on Prince Edward Island. It is the second of only two articulated skeletons found on PEI,” Laura MacNeil told TKN in a message. “This creature lived approximately 300 million years ago, which is about 60 million years before the evolution of dinosaurs. This find tells us there is a great potential for future scientifically-important fossils that could be discovered on PEI.”

THINK & DISCUSS

  1. Researchers may use a “CT scan” to help them get more information about the fossil. What is a CT scan, and how might it help determine the age of the fossil? What are some other ways fossil scientists (paleontologists) figure out how old something is?

2. What did you learn from this article? What questions do you still have (and how will you find the answers)?

3. The article includes a quote from Lara MacNeil, who used the phrase “articulated skeleton.” If you didn’t already know that phrase, what in the article helped you understand what she means by that? Now look up the phrase—did it mean what you thought?

4. What other words did you find challenging? How did you figure out what they meant?

5. The article notes that the fossil is of a creature that may have lived 240 million years before dinosaurs. Why is that significant?

6. Where is Prince Edward Island? Find it on a map.

7. Get creative! Make up a quote from one or more of the following:
-the tourism marketing manager for PEI Tourism;
-the creature whose fossil was found;
-Cormier’s dog, who was with her when she found the fossil;
-a dinosaur whose fossil was also found in the area;
-a paleontologist in British Columbia.
(Example: “I sniffed out this fossil first,” said Cormier’s dog. “She gets all the credit, but make no mistake—I’m the one who led her to it!”)

8. The era 300 million years ago is known as the Permian Period. What can you find out about this time period?

9. It took more than five hours to get the fossil out of the ground. Why do you think it took so long? What kinds of tools do paleontologists use to excavate fossils?

10. This story has attracted the world’s attention. Compare how various news media around the world have written about it. How are the articles the same? How are they different? (Links to some world news articles about it are below.)

11. What does a paleontologist do?

LINKS

CBC News (Canada): https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-300-million-fossil-found-pei-1.6564455

The Weather Network’s article about the find, including video of the excavation: https://www.theweathernetwork.com/ca/news/article/school-teacher-stumbles-upon-fossil-that-may-be-300-million-years-old-pei

Daily Mail (UK): https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-11174639/High-school-teacher-finds-fossil-animal-Canada-older-dinosaurs.html

Atlantic CTV News (Canada): https://atlantic.ctvnews.ca/p-e-i-teacher-discovers-300-million-year-old-fossil-1.6047906

Washington Post article (US): https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2022/09/02/rare-fossil-canada-dinosaur-cormier/

Website for Prehistoric Island Tours in PEI: https://www.prehistoricislandtours.ca/