Lo­cal pa­le­on­tol­o­gist un­earths an­cient fos­sil

The Glengarry News - - News - BY MAR­GARET CALDBICK News Staff

“Just wait,” says lo­cal pa­le­on­tol­o­gist George Kam­pouris about the 440-mil­lion-year-old fos­sil he un­earthed last sum­mer that is the ear­li­est crinoid ever found in On­tario.

“I don’t know where it goes from here,” he says hold­ing the hand­somely-mounted fos­silized re­mains of a liv­ing crea­ture from the dis­tant past. “But, I can prom­ise you one thing, this fos­sil is go­ing to ap­pear in Na­tional Geo­graphic Mag­a­zine, ei­ther this year or next.”

The Royal On­tario Mu­seum in Toronto, the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tute in Wash­ing­ton and the LA County Mu­seum have all ex­pressed in­ter­est in ac­quir­ing the trea­sure.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr. Kam­pouris, the crinoid spec­i­men he re­cov­ered in a lime­stone quarry near Lake Sim­coe north of Toronto is among the best fos­sils ever found in Canada and likely the most im­por­tant pa­leo dis­cov­ery in On­tario.

Cri­noids, fil­ter-feed­ing marine an­i­mals that have a body like a plant and live in a sea floor en­vi­ron­ment, make up the class Cri­noidea of the echin­o­derms, 600 species of which are alive to­day.

Like their mod­ern ver­sion, the fos­sil Mr. Kam­pouris un­earthed re­sem­bles a flower with a clus­ter of ten­ta­cle-like wav­ing arms atop a long stem that sway this way and that with the ocean cur­rents.

But cri­noids are not plants. Like their rel­a­tives – sea urchins and starfishes – cri­noids are echin­o­derms that have lived in the world’s oceans since the be­gin­ning of the Or­dovi­ciam Pe­riod, roughly 440 mil­lion years ago. In suit­able habi­tats, they car­pet the sea floor like a dense thicket of other-worldly flow­ers

The rocks in Glen­garry date from the same pe­riod, but in the Lake Sim­coe re­gion where the rich fos­sil beds were found, en­tire sea floor com­mu­ni­ties were buried in a sud­den cat­a­strophic event, pos­si­bly af­ter an as­ter­oid im­pact that would have gen­er­ated a tsunami and trig­gered mas­sive mud­slides on the sea bot­tom, bury­ing every­thing in its path. Mr. Kam­pouris points to a pos­si­ble smok­ing gun. “There’s an im­pact crater in Lake On­tario near Kingston called Char­ity Shoal that’s the right age.”

The beau­ti­ful and com­plete fos­sil was col­lected in more than a dozen frag­ile pieces, which Mr. Kam­pouris painstak­ingly re­assem­bled to ex­act­ing mu­seum stan­dards. What the St-Isi­dore pa­le­on­tol­o­gist needed was a ro­bust back­ing to pro­vide sta­bil­ity for the spec­i­men and one that would em­pha­size the rare find’s aes­thetic qual­i­ties.

Mr. Kam­pouris turned to wood ar­ti­san Ben Wil­liams of Kenyon for a so­lu­tion. Mr. Wil­liams had al­ready cre­ated a num­ber of fos­sil mounts for Mr. Kam­pouris, but given the im­por­tance of the fos­sil and that it is be­ing pre­sented to pos­si­ble buy­ers, he built a solid and hu­mid­ity-sta­ble mount­ing plaque.

The mount is ve­neered in hand­some burly oak and its shape art­fully traces the out­line of the fos­sil. “Ben has a cre­ative eye for tech­ni­cal prob­lems and came up with an out­stand­ing de­sign,” says Mr. Kam­pouris. “The most clever part is hid­den but holds it all to­gether.” The spec­i­men that lay buried in lime­stone, soil and dirt for over 440 mil­lion years is now se­curely mounted.

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