The Roar of the Bay

The Roar of the Bay
The Roar of the Bay

Monday, April 25, 2011

Oldest reptile fossil returns to N.S.

What is reputed to be the world's oldest reptile fossil is returning to Nova Scotia for the first time since it was sent overseas more than 100 years ago.

The Hylonomus lyelli is 312 million years old and was discovered in a petrified tree stump near Joggins in the Bay of Fundy, 250 kilometres north of Halifax.

The fossil was uncovered by Nova Scotian geologist John William Dawson in 1859 but was handed over to the British Museum around the turn of the century. It's now part of the collection at the Natural History Museum in London.

The skeleton is on display for the next six months at the Joggins Fossil Centre until Oct. 31.

"If you look closely, you can see elements that you would recognize," said the centre's chief paleontologist Melissa Grey.

"Bits of the jaw with teeth and the back bone and the tail and [some] of the leg as well."

The fossil is so delicate, it had to be delivered by hand.

The Hylonomus lyelli is only about 20 centimetres but it figures large in the evolutionary tree of life — it's considered to be the first lizard-like creature to come out of the sea and live on land.

"This is the world's oldest known fossil reptile," Grey said. "So it's very important to our understanding of vertebrate life, animals with a backbone and that includes us.

The Hylonomus lyelli is the ancestor of subsequent reptiles, including dinosaurs and mammals. It looks very much like reptiles of today with its slender body and tail, and fed on insects.

It was declared the Provincial Fossil of Nova Scotia in 2002 and the area where it was found, the Joggins Fossil Cliffs, was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2008.

Original post: CBC News Apr 24, 2011 6:37 PM AT

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