Nova Scotia students find 290-million-year old fossil footprints

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Matt Stimson, a geology student at St. Mary's University in Halifax, is becoming renowned for his work with ancient fossil footprints, having already helped with an important discovery last year, and now finding the tracks of a creature that lived along the south shore of Prince Edward Island, around 290 million years ago.

He's already been credited with helping to examine a set of 315-million-year-old tracks, left behind by a creature similar to a salamander, that were found along the beach at Nova Scotia's Joggins Fossil Cliffs. These are considered the world's smallest known fossil vertebrate footprints, and Stimson joined paleontologist Gloria Melanson and Spenser Lucas of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in penning a research paper that appeared in the journal Ichnos last August.

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Stimson shares this latest discovery with Dalhousie University student Danielle Horne. The two were walking along the beach of Belfast Highland Greens golf course — to the southeast of Charlottetown, PEI — specifically to look for fossils, when they spotted this amazing find.

"I was hooping and hollering in excitement. I was like a kid at Christmas,'' Stimson said in an interview with The Guardian.

"It was more of a reconnaissance walk on the beach more than anything. We weren't expecting to find anything,'' he added. "We came across this phenomenal block of fossil footprints. We're not entirely sure what animal left the tracks yet. I can say that it was made by an early tetrapod, an animal with four legs, perhaps a reptile or amphibian or something in between.''

At 290-million-years-old, these footprints would have been left behind at a time when what is now the east coast of Canada was still pushed up against the lands of southwestern Europe and northwestern Africa. This time pre-dates dinosaurs by about 90 million years.

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According to The Guardian, Stimson, Horne and local resident Dennis Halliday removed the apparently fragile rock from the beach, so that it wouldn't be destroyed by the surf. It stays in P.E.I. for the time being, though, until Stimson can get permission to take it to Halifax for study. He hopes to work with other researchers to get a research paper published about the find, and once he's done, he plans on returning the fossil to the people of P.E.I so they can appreciate it.

(Photos courtesy: Matt Stimson)

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