Local paleontologist unearths ancient fossil
“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.