10 Fantastic Fossils Found By Chance

Paleontologists typically study for years to earn their master’s or Ph.D. in paleontology. This extensive academic background enables them to embark on a career searching for and studying ancient animal and plant fossils. It’s exciting work that also explores the relationship between ancient creatures and their contemporary relatives.

So it’s always big news when paleontologists discover a fossil that provides new information about dinosaurs, mammoths, or a whole new species that we’ve never known about before.

But sometimes these experts are trumped by a chance discovery. You can search for a particular fossil for years, just until someone is taking a leisurely stroll along the beach and stumbles across this very fossilized trail of an unknown species. This list includes some of the most amazing fossils found completely by accident in recent years.

Related: 10 Fascinating Things Rare Fossils Have Recently Taught Scientists

10/span> Mammoth fossils found during construction work

In 2016, workers installing a new drain pipe outside of Mexico City made a powerful discovery. As they dug into the road, their tools encountered the remains of a 14,000-year-old mammoth that weighed about 10 short tons (9 tons) when it was alive. A paleontologist on call said the mammoth was most likely cut into pieces after it died, as its bones were scattered 6 feet (1.8 meters) below the surface.

In 2019, Puebla residents discovered a mammoth tusk alongside an ancient wolf fang and a camel skull. Considering the wolf would have hunted camels and mammoths, experts were at a loss as to why their remains would be in one place.

However, the discovery of ancient weapons near the animal remains provided an answer. The huge animals were probably killed by humans and simply left in a heap to decompose.

In 2020, archaeologists finally had a chance to shine a spotlight on their profession when they discovered around 200 mammoth skeletons beneath a construction site in Mexico. The site was upgraded to an airport when giant mammoth traps and fossils were found.[1]

9 Huge centipede fossil found on a beach

If you’re not a fan of giant beetles, you probably don’t want to imagine an 8-foot-long, 100-pound centipede crawling toward you on the beach. A hundred million years before dinosaurs roamed the planet, these gigantic centipedes were the largest bugs living on land. They are believed to have fed not only on nuts and seeds, but also on small animals to maintain their impressive weight.

In 2021, British scientists revealed they had accidentally discovered the fossilized remains of a massive centipede in Howick Bay, Northumberland, England.

The group of scientists had been visiting the beach to study its geology when they encountered a boulder that had detached from a cliff and split in half. As they approached the rock, they saw the fossil in the crack that had formed as they fell.

At that time, the fossil of the centipede (Arthropleura) was only the third to be discovered and the first in England.[2]

8th 200-million-year-old dinosaur bones found in rubble

In August 2021, geology professor Mark McMenamin took a walk on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. Strolling past a group of construction workers, he saw a pile of loose rocks near where they were working. He asked if he could take some of the rocks home to add to his wife’s garden, and when the workers agreed, McMenamin collected about 20 rocks that he thought would work well.

When he got home and inspected the rocks, Professor McMenamin noticed that the rough texture of one of the rocks resembled that of a fossil. He tested it with X-ray technology and, to his astonishment, discovered that the rock contained a neotheropod elbow bone.

Neotheropods were large dinosaurs that lived during the early Jurassic period and were characterized by their sharp teeth and hollow bones. McMenamin researched his discovery and suggested that the dinosaur fed on freshwater fish and may have lived exclusively in the water. Neotheropods existed before the T. rex and were the largest predatory dinosaurs of their time.[3]

7 Boy stumbles upon Stegomastodon fossil

In 2017, 9-year-old Jew Sparks stumbled across what turned out to be one of the most exciting fossil finds in recent years.

Jude was hiking with his family in New Mexico’s Organ Mountains when he tripped and fell over what he first thought was the remains of a cow. As his parents took a closer look, they realized it couldn’t be cow bones, and the longer they all stared at the object, the more convinced they were that they had found something special.

Jude’s parents contacted a New Mexico State University professor, who examined their find and concluded that the boy had stumbled upon a fossilized Stegomastodon tusk. The Sparks family was amazed at this information and started a fundraiser to fund the excavation at the site. After a few months, the entire skull of the Stegomastodon was uncovered.

Stegomastodons are related to the woolly mammoth and were an ancestor of today’s elephants. They are thought to have been hunted by early humans, and their fossils are rarely found intact when exposed to above-ground conditions.[4]

6 85,000-year-old ancient whale skeleton found in jungle

When a group of scientists visited a Taiwanese jungle in 2022, they weren’t looking for ancient whale bones. But that’s exactly what they found. As they made their way across the jungle floor, they spotted something sticking out of the ground in the heart of the jungle valley.

As they approached, they were amazed to find whale ribs stretching upwards from the surface. The group embarked on an excavation project, and after several months they had unearthed more than 70% of the remains of an ancient blue whale, including its 7-foot (2.1-meter) jawbone, tailbone, shoulder blades, and parts of its skull.

Eight of the scientists took it upon themselves to remove the entire fossil on foot and carry the bones on stretchers for seven hours. The massive fossil was the second largest ever discovered on the island of Taiwan and was taken to the National Museum of Natural Sciences for cleaning and preservation.[5]

5 Norway’s only dinosaur fossil found during oil drilling

In 1997, an oil company was drilling in the North Sea at a depth of 7,401 feet (2,256 meters) when, against all odds, the drill struck a dinosaur fossil. More specifically, the drill struck an ankle bone of a Plateosaurus that walked the Earth nearly 210 million years ago in the final Triassic period.

This accidental discovery also made the record books as the deepest dinosaur fossil find of all time. While Plateosaurus were land-dwelling dinosaurs, this one was likely washed out to sea by a tsunami, which would explain why its bone fragments were found so far from shore.

The ankle bone is still the only dinosaur fragment ever found in Norway, but experts believe more fossils may be discovered on the island of Spitsbergen. It is part of the Svalbard archipelago in northern Norway.[6]

4 Remarkably well preserved fossil found during mining

In 2011, a backhoe operator was digging at an oil sands mine in Alberta, Canada, when he saw something strange in the clod of earth he had dumped to one side. Upon closer inspection, he saw a diamond pattern on what appeared to be a roughly textured piece of debris and knew he had spotted something unusual.

And what a discovery it was – the best preserved armored dinosaur fossil ever found, as well as the oldest fossil ever discovered in Alberta. The fossil has been hailed as a new nodosaur species and is currently on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

What paleontologists also revealed is that the dinosaur died shortly after its last meal, which happened to be a mix of ferns and other plants. The digested food in the dino’s stomach was just as well preserved as the creature itself, and the resulting study changed what experts always thought they knew about the diets of large herbivorous dinosaurs – that they ate only soft leaves and harder plant leaves such as saffron. B. largely ignored as conifers.

The stomach also contained a small amount of charcoal, suggesting the reptile grazed on land that had suffered regular wildfires.[7]

3 Man finds 82-foot dinosaur in his backyard

As global construction activity has intensified over the years, increasingly weird and wonderful items have been found by chance at construction sites, in parking lots (King Richard III’s skeleton, anyone?), and even in apartment building backyards.

In 2017, a man was overseeing construction work on his property in Pombal, Portugal, when he noticed bone fragments sticking out of the ground. He contacted local scientists, who began an excavation that would take much longer than anyone thought.

In 2022, it was revealed that the bones belonged to a 25-meter-long sauropod that lived about 160 million years ago. So far the vertebrae and ribs have been uncovered and excavation is continuing. The ribs are almost 3 meters long each and are the largest sauropod ribs ever discovered in Europe.[8]

2 Teacher finds fossil older than dinosaur fossils

Prince Edward Island is a spectacular place, which is why high school teacher Lisa St. Coeur Cormier loves walking her dog on the beach while enjoying unforgettable views.

Keeping her eyes peeled for sea glass, she was walking along Cape Egmont Beach in August 2022 when she saw what appeared to be a tree root emerging from the sand. As she got closer, she realized it was a rib cage connected to a spine and a skull.

She told her mother-in-law what she saw, who then sent some of the photos Lisa took to some fossil experts in the area.

Soon after, scientists and paleontologists flocked to the beach to take a close look at what Lisa had found. They concluded that the bones belonged to a reptile that lived during the Carboniferous Period nearly 300 million years ago, making them older than Jurassic-era dinosaur fossils. The fossil is still being studied, and the exact species will likely be determined towards the end of 2023.[9]

1 Hadrosaur fossil found with skin still attached

Biologist Teri Kaskie was visiting Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park in 2021 when she discovered a fossilized skeleton sticking out of a rock. As she approached the rock, she saw that she had discovered a hadrosaur fossil that was so well preserved that part of its skin still covered the bones.

She contacted the Royal Tyrrell Museum, and experts there confirmed that such a well-preserved hadrosaur fossil is an extremely rare find.

The skeleton beneath the rock is believed to be intact and more skin will also be discovered when the fossil is finally uncovered. What is currently exposed is the tail and right hind foot. The dinosaur is believed to have died after a river bank collapsed on it.

Hadrosaurs were large, duck-billed, herbivorous dinosaurs that roamed North America and Asia in the Late Cretaceous Period, 77 million years ago. It later spread to other parts of the world including Europe, South America and Africa.[10]

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