Student palentologist comes across evidence of fossil footprints that date back 290 million years ago
© Submitted photo
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.