UNC geologist, students to unveil 221 million-year-old top N.C. fossil

NEWS CHAPEL HILL Having re-assembled the equivalent of a 221 million-year-old jigsaw puzzle, Dr. Joseph Carter and his geology students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will display their work to the public beginning Feb. 27. What they have done, Carter said, is to painstakingly piece together the large skeleton of an extinct reptile known as a rauisuchian, which once roamed what is now North Carolina and ate whatever unlucky creatures crossed its path.

The partial skeleton, which includes the skull, will be erected in Room 039 of the James M. Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence, housed in the Graham Memorial Building. It will be unveiled at 4 p.m.

Former UNC undergraduates Brian Coffey and Marco Brewer discovered the fossil in an undisclosed east-central N.C. site, making what the professor called the most spectacular and important fossil find in North Carolina history. Raking his pick along the ground to expose fresh rock in 1995, Brewer impaled the ankle bone of the prehistoric creature lying just below the surface of an ancient lake or river bed.

Brian brought the bone to me and asked if it was anything interesting, Carter said. I was very curious because Id never seen anything from the Triassic of North Carolina with ankle bones joined together. We went back to look more carefully the next day and found and removed a lot more material.

Carter and students have been working on the remains ever since, including for the past three years, freshmen enrolled in UNCs first-year seminar program. Other top paleontologists quickly agreed to help out too.

About a year after the initial discovery, we started realizing during the cleaning process that we had something really special, the geologist said. It was like a series of Christmas presents that just kept getting bigger and bigger.

The late-Triassic Period animal turned out to be a new species and probably a new genus of rauisuchian, a reptil

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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