Student Makes Exciting Marsupial Fossil Discovery

Student and the Major Fossil Find in North Dakota

An intern with the North Dakota Geological Survey stumbled across a rare, fossil mammal jaw during a public fossil dig in south-western North Dakota last month.  The tiny fossil around two centimetres in length is a jawbone, complete with sixth teeth, it came from a Cretaceous marsupial mammal that scampered around along with the last of the dinosaurs.  The fossil has been identified as being from a Glasbius twitchelli, a mouse-sized marsupial that lived around sixty-five million years ago, it represents the most complete lower jawbone found for the species.

Sean Ternes was helping to explain fossil hunting and preservation techniques as part of a public outreach event taking place in Slope County, near to the town of Marmarth.  He wandered away from the group and began to explore an area where some of the techniques discussed could be practiced.  He found the bones of a rabbit, looked down to explore them further and then he noticed a very different coloured bone about thirty centimetres away from the rabbit’s carcase.

The Beautifully Preserved Fossilised Jawbone

Tiny jawbone fossil compared to one cent piece.

Tiny jawbone fossil compared to a one cent piece.

Picture Credit: Press Release

Commenting on the discovery, Clint Boyd, a senior palaeontologist with the North Dakota Geological Survey team stated:

“This is an incredibly significant find!  This species has never been found in North Dakota before so this gives us new information when comparing faunas in neighbouring States.  Finding a complete mammal jaw from the Late Cretaceous is very rare, and the specimen Sean found may be the most complete lower jaw ever found for this species.”

Fossils of Glasbius twitchelli are known from Montana and Wyoming, but this is the first time a specimen has been discovered in North Dakota.

For Sean, finding the fossil was a really exciting experience, but he does not see himself forging a career in palaeontology.  He has ambitions to work as a field prospector for minerals rather than fossils, however, he certainly has a keen eye.

Sean stated:

“When I found out that it was the first of its kind in North Dakota, it was pretty surreal.”

Sean Explaining How He Found the Fossil

On knees searching for fossils.

On knees searching for fossils.

Picture Credit: Press Release

Looks like sharp-eyed Sean has got what it takes when it comes to field work.

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