Russ Ball (left) and another team member work to extract an ancient turtle fossil from along the Puntledge River in January 2021. (Credit: Derek Larson)

Russ Ball (left) and another team member work to extract an ancient turtle fossil from along the Puntledge River in January 2021. (Credit: Derek Larson)

84-million-year-old turtle fossil being studied at Royal B.C. Museum

Discovery made by fossil hunter in Courtenay in January

An approximately 84-million-year-old fossil discovered in Courtenay earlier this year may be an entirely new species of ancient sea turtle.

The Puntledge River, which runs for 49 kilometres at the north end of Courtenay before flowing into the Courtenay River, is a well-known site for fossils, and a favourite spot of fossil hunter Russ Ball. In January, Ball was examining the area when he found what looked like a sea turtle that could be a couple feet in length.

While many fossils have been found along the river, it is rare to find vertebrate ones. Vertebrates are animals that have a backbone, like birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. Invertebrates, on the other hand, include insects, spiders, worms, crustaceans, mollusks and coral.

But, backbone or no, after 84 million years the fossil had to be handled extremely carefully.

READ ALSO: Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The ancient turtle fossil is estimated to be 84 million years old.(Credit: Derek Larson)

“Turtle fossils are very fragile,” Ball told Black Press Media in April. “You take the whole block with all the fossils in it.”

Now housed at the Royal B.C. Museum, palaeontology collections manager Derek Larson says it may be one of two known species of ancient sea turtle from the area, or – more excitingly – a newly discovered species.

“Either way, this discovery is a win for palaeontology in B.C.,” Larson said. “If the fossil is a known species, we’ll learn a lot of new information about that species because these specimens are rare and, so far, incomplete. If the fossil turns out to be a species that is new to science, that could exponentially advance our understanding of marine ecosystems millions of years ago.”

Studying the fossil is a priority for the palaeontology team, but Larson cautioned it can take time. Having determined the age of the turtle based on the fossil shells located nearby, it’s now time to chisel away the rock surrounding it. The millimetre by millimetre process is done with the help of a miniature air-powered jackhammer, called a pneumatic air scribe.

Larson said the discovery speaks to the value of citizen science, noting that they may never have found the turtle specimen if it wasn’t for Ball and other volunteers. He encourages everyone in B.C. to keep an eye out for fossils, but says fossil collection laws should be reviewed first.

READ ALSO: Punjabi dining set added to Royal B.C. Museum’s ‘100 Objects of Interest’ collection

With files from Mike Chouinard


Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Royal BC MuseumVictoria

Just Posted

B.C. ambulance station in Revelstoke is expected to get a new system called the Scheduled On-Call (SOC) this fall. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
B.C. ambulance changes could put Revelstoke residents at risk, warn local paramedics

Paramedics said to expect a substantial increase in ambulance response time starting this fall

South Slocan’s Ti Loran is among the recipients of this year’s Neil Muth Memorial Scholarship. Photo: Submitted
Neil Muth Memorial Scholarships awarded to 4 students

Students in Creston, South Slocan and Revelstoke are sharing the honour

Dawn Low worked for the City of Revelstoke for 22 years. She became CAO for our community in 2019 and held the position until May, 2021.
Revelstoke’s Dawn Low hired as CAO for Armstrong

Dawn Low was the CAO in Revelstoke until end of May

The Five-Cairn Trail is roughly 25 km long and traverses between two icefields. A friend and I hiked it in 2009. (Liam Harrap)
Liam’s Lowdown: That time I got rescued in Iceland

Sometimes we need to call for help and thank goodness it comes

Singer-songwriter Jann Arden is pictured with a draft horse. (Canadian Horse Defence Coalition)
Jann Arden backs petition to stop live horse export

June 14 is the International Day to End Live Export of Animals

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

(Dave Ogilvie photo)
One injured after being pinned by fallen forklift near Peachland

West Kelowna emergency crews responded to reports of a person stuck under a forklift

Penticton Overdose Prevention Society co-founders Desiree Franz, Shane Surowski and Stephanie Lines have created the city’s first unsanctioned public overdose prevention site using an old wine-tour bus. The site began operations in June 2021. (Desiree Franz/Facebook)
Volunteers launch Penticton’s first public supervised injection site

2021 is on pace to be the deadliest year for overdoses in Penticton on record

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

This goose family went for a leisurely stroll down Vernon’s Main Street Saturday, April 25. (Dave Deshane photo)
Controversial Vernon goose cull won’t fly this year

Necessary permit procedures held up at a federal level

Mounties cover a burgundy truck with a tent at Buckerfields in West Kelowna on Monday, June 14. The RCMP is investigating after a woman’s body was found inside the truck. (Amandalina Letterio/Capital News)
West Kelowna RCMP investigating suspicious death after body found in truck

Police responded to a truck parked out front of a Main Street business where the body was found

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

Most Read