Prehistoric discovery made at Belfast golf course

Dave Stewart
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Student palentologist comes across evidence of fossil footprints that date back 290 million years ago

Matt Stimson, left, a student paleontologist at Saint Mary's University, displays a rock with fossil footprints he and Danielle Horne, a student at Dalhousie University, discovered last week on the shores of the Belfast Highland Greens golf course. Local resident Dennis Halliday, right, helped Stimson and Horne move the rock off the beach so it can be studied and preserved. 

BELFAST — A student paleontologist from Saint Mary's University in Halifax has made what appears to be a historic discovery on the shores of the golf course here.

Matt Stimson was out enjoying a walk with a friend on the shores of the Belfast Highland Greens golf course recently when he came upon evidence of fossil footprints that date back 290 million years, just around the time Prince Edward Island would have been formed.

Stimson had been reading journals on prehistoric findings in the Point Prim area when they took a slight detour down to the golf course.

After getting permission from Keir White, the pro at Belfast Highland Greens, to cross the course and walk along the beach to explore the local geology, Stimson and Danielle Horne, an environmental management student at Dalhousie University, stumbled on a rock that appears to have ancient footprints embedded into it.

"It was more of a reconnaissance walk on the beach more than anything. We weren't expecting to find anything,'' Stimson told The Guardian. "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.''

He's also sure that the footprints were left during the pre-dinosaur era. Dinosaurs walked the Earth between 200 million and 65 million years ago in a period scientists refer to as the Permian period, back when Africa, Europe and North America formed a single continent known as Pangaea.

White isn't quite sure what to make of the historic discovery on the banks of the golf course.

"I think it's pretty cool but I'm going to wait to see what he tells me,'' White said, referring to what Stimson's findings eventually determine.

With the help of Belfast resident Dennis Halliday, the three managed to remove the rock from the beach so it can be preserved and studied. The rock is still on Prince Edward Island until Stimson gets the necessary permission to safely transport it back to Halifax for further research.

Once he's finished with it, Stimson said he wants the artifact to remain on P.E.I. so Islanders can appreciate it. It is also law that it remains in the province.

Stimson wanted to move the rock as soon as possible before the tide washed the rock out into the Northumberland Strait.

"It was a very large and heavy rock but it was very fragile. It wasn't going to last more than a week before it was destroyed,'' he said.

At first glance, Stimson figures the footprints were made by a creature roughly three-quarters of a metre long and 15 to 20 centimetres wide.

Stimson said he found it hard to contain his excitement when he first laid eyes on the rock.

"I was hooping and hollering in excitement. I was like a kid at Christmas.''

Stimson said he plans to document the discovery and submit an article to a scientific journal.

dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/DveStewart

Organizations: Dalhousie University, The Guardian

Geographic location: Belfast, Prince Edward Island, Africa Europe North America

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Recent comments

  • john giziewicz
    May 04, 2013 - 09:13

    Not footprints. They are foot print molds. Too bad they don't have the other half of the slab.

  • Brian
    May 03, 2013 - 13:09

    A lot of morons posting here. 290MYA is obviously an estimate. Secondly, the rock was obviously exposed recently due to erosion (a continuous process), which is also probably how these people found the rock, meaning that yes it was likely due to end up in the water sooner than later.

  • Jakolin
    May 03, 2013 - 12:04

    I feel very sorry for all of those pessimists out there, your lives must be very sad indeed! So what if it turns out to be raccoon prints! What if they aren't? Doesn't anyone understand the concept of imagination anymore?? My goodness I too would be excited to find this, even if it did turn out to be not so unusual a find! Good luck to Matt, hope it is what you think!

  • Cool
    May 03, 2013 - 11:35

    Can't wait to hear the outcome of the research.

  • MH
    May 03, 2013 - 11:21

    How can people be so negative. This sandstone fossil would have eroded very rapidly as can be seen from the edge of the sandstone and needed to be removed and properly preserved. This could mean research, funding and tourism as seen by events at Joggins NS. What a truly historic and remarkable find. It is neat that Danielle Horne who is from Stratford, attended Chtn Rural, was a part of this

  • Promises
    May 03, 2013 - 11:21

    "Stimson said he wants the artifact to remain on P.E.I. so Islanders can appreciate it." Very cool. Maybe it can be displayed in the new PEI Museum that was promised to us - along with interactive informative displays for educational purposes.

  • Loretta MacPhee
    May 03, 2013 - 11:18

    Sandstone??? Who's hungry ?

  • LA
    May 03, 2013 - 10:10

    Clearly he is referring to the fact that once exposed to the elements, like they often are after cliffs wash out in the spring, they are vulnerable to damage or decomposition. But what would he know, he's only a paleontologist.

  • Four meters long?
    May 03, 2013 - 09:52

    You expect us to believe those tiny footprints ar from a creature 12 feet long? It's not a quarter the size of a 12 foot gator's prints.

  • lilley
    May 03, 2013 - 09:31

    Wow!! 290 million years old!! Not 289.99 or 290.19 million years old, but exactly 290 million years old! Astonishing! Looks more like raccoon tracks made 290 days ago. I've got hundreds of these tracks in the soft soil of my garden that will last more than a week or two, or at least until I put the tiller through it.

  • Magnum PEI
    May 03, 2013 - 09:19

    Prince Edward Island was not created 270 M years ago, I was created just after the last ice age as the ice wall retreated, it had pushed silt etc. into this area, then left our big sand bar as it went away. Thus no quantities of of more solid rock just shale and sand stone, very recent on the time line. Fossil rocks would have been kicked and pushed around during those 270 M years so who knows what area this one would have originated.

  • Magnum PEI
    May 03, 2013 - 09:16

    Prince Edward Island was not created 270 M years ago, I was created just after the last ice age as the ice wall retreated, it had pushed silt etc. into this area, then left our big sand bar as it went away. Thus no quantities of of more solid rock just shale and sand stone, very recent on the time line. Fossil rocks would have been kicked and pushed around during those 270 M years so who knows what area this one would have originated.

  • barbie
    May 03, 2013 - 08:22

    "it wasn't going to last more than a week before it was destroyed" yet it is 290 million years old.....seems kind of odd to me

    • Piet Hein
      May 03, 2013 - 10:16

      Barbie, why does that seem odd to you? The rock would be sandstone which is fragile. It could have been buried under the beach or under other rocks and over the thousands of years of tides and erosion it became uncovered and if left to the elements it could have been destroyed. Stimson said it was heavy but fragile so any pounding by the tide or waves would have cracked it apart. Maybe it is footprints of the earliest internet trolls like you and BG and Coon and Out West

    • Townie
      May 03, 2013 - 09:09

      thats because for 290 million years give or take a few weeks the fossil was not exposed to the elements. Now that it was exposed it would deteriorate quickly.

    • barbie
      May 03, 2013 - 14:54

      Piet Hein, I resent being called an internet troll, i very rarely comment on any articles. this one caught my interest as i could not imagine how it could be destroyed so quickly, it has been now explained to me, but you did not have to be so mean.

  • BG
    May 03, 2013 - 07:37

    Explain that again ... how this rock was "evidence of fossil footprints that date back 290 million years" ... and yet this rock "was very fragile. It wasn't going to last more than a week before it was destroyed"!

  • Irene MacLean
    May 03, 2013 - 07:14

    That is so cool. Talk about syncronicity. You sir were in the right place at the right time. This should do amazing things for your career. All the best Matt.

  • Coon
    May 03, 2013 - 07:13

    lol its raccoon tracks people! Big deal! The money these fools waste!

  • out west
    May 03, 2013 - 06:04

    Ya they went out west to work.an never came back.They are the smart one"s. How much is this going to cost us ?

  • Hilary
    May 03, 2013 - 05:54

    Hello my beautiful Prince Edward Island, Goodness those prehistoric footprints look so interesting and kinda cute? well I think so ;) Here`s hoping more prehistoric prints will be found....

  • Somethin' older than me? Go way with ya . . .
    May 03, 2013 - 05:21

    Interesting, how is it that a "290 million years" old rock, "wasn't going to last more than a week (in the water) before it was destroyed''? Darn those scientist kids, if they don't give ya something to think about, eh?.

    • rogerdodger
      May 07, 2013 - 13:20

      is there anything they wont do to get a few more tourists here. but i guess if it works it will be ok