A here-to-fore unknown species of toothless, two-legged crocodile ancestor was discovered in New York. When alive, the 210 million-year-old beast walked upright and had a beak instead of teeth. This is a fantastic discovery... made in the basement of New York's American Museum of Natural History.
And it is not a work of fiction by Lincoln Childs and Douglas Preston.
This seemingly mythic creature lay in wait, in storage, at the museum for nearly 60 years. And it was found by accident.
Museum curator Mark Norell and graduate student Sterling Nesbitt were looking for fossils. Specific fossils. Vaguely logged and catagorized fossils. In boxes. With labels. And maybe some packing peanuts. They opened a plaster cast thought to contain Coelophysis fossils, a small, carnivorous dinosaur. Lo and behold, what did they find instead?They found an archosaur!
Norell and Nesbitt picked their jaws up from the floor and looked at each other in bewilderment. Amazement even. But they recovered quickly."Searching the storage rooms of museums often turns up treasures such as these," Norell said. "Something that people often don't realize is that after you collect, it sometimes takes thousands of hours to remove the stuff from the cast for analysis."
The six-foot-long (2 meter) fossil is an archosaur, an extinct type of animal related to dinosaurs, crocodilians and birds but not a dinosaur or a crocodilian or a bird. In a moment of inspiration and glee, Norrel and Nesbitt named the fossil Effigia okeeffeae. The name recalls both the ranch where the fossil was found and painter Georgia O'Keefe, who had an interest in the quarry.
The archosaur was originally discovered in blocks of rock from the Ghost Ranch Quarry in New Mexico, excavated in 1947 and 1948. At the time, scientists thought that all the specimens were Coelophysis, a small, carnivorous dinosaur that lived at the same time.
"It was collected in this quarry that had literally hundreds of skeletons in it," Norell said. "Museums like ours are giant libraries of stuff."
Giant libraries of stuff. Veritable shelves and boxes full of mysterious things. All in a basement in New York waiting for someone to look for a Coelophysis fossil.
Think about it.