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

A local letter writer would appreciate if cyclists would think more about safety while riding in the area of River Road in North Langley. (Black Press Media files)
LETTER: North Langley route popular with cyclists but letter writer urges caution

A road user has concerns about some of the cycling habits she’s seeing in the area of River Road

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole spoke to members of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce via a Zoom chat with chamber CEO Colleen Clark on Friday, June 11. (Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
Conservative leader talks tourism, trade, SkyTrain with Langley Chamber

The virtual fireside chat included talk about childcare and the budget

Deeba Mostafaie-Mehr, Setare Maleki Rizi, and Olivia Chen Xu from R.E. Mountain Secondary are recipients of three prestigious scholarships. (Langley School District/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley STEM students shine as recipients of prestigious scholarships

Three students from R.E. Mountain Secondary recognized

The new Langley Memorial Hospital emergency room opened for its first patients on Tuesday, May 4. (Government of B.C./Special to the Langley Advance Times)
LETTER: Aldergrove woman underwhelmed with new hospital ER

New ER is nice but needs adequate staffing, local woman writes

Graduation ceremonies will look different for the class of 2021. (Black Press Media files)
Ryan’s Regards: 2021 grads deserve more than a round of applause

Students have had a difficult 15 months, incomparable to most eras other classes graduated into

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

Most Read