Stephanie Leco’s rare discovery shocked the scientific community because the 26-year-old amateur paleontologist unearthed the jaw bone of a fish thought to be extinct in North America at the time, the Associated Press reports.
Stephanie Leco made the discovery during her participation in the First Dig for Everyday People, which is held in August at the National Park located near Holbrook, Arizona, in the state’s Petrified Forest National Park.
Speaking with reporters about her remarkable discovery, Leco gave the following statement.
“I wouldn’t expect to run into something like this ever again, I didn’t expect it the first time…Okay, it wasn’t a T-Rex, but, honestly, I feel like this is much cooler!”
According to Fox News, the fossil is approximately the same size of a pinky fingernail. It was reportedly dug up from the site of what used to be a lake or pond in the Late Triassic period, where it is common to find fossils from the era of the dinosaurs. What makes Leco’s find so interesting is because the fish was thought to be extinct in North America and fossils were only previously discovered in the country of China.
“People who actually study this group of fish might start setting their sights in our direction now,” said park paleontologist Bill Parker.
Leco was thrilled to make such a rare discovery and she told media outlets that as a kid, she used to dig in the backyard of her house in hopes of finding the fossil of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Leco made the discovery while she was searching the dusty surface of a hill while applying her knowledge of art to differentiate colors, patterns, and textures between bones, rocks, and charcoal. While she was focusing on an area in search for smaller objects, she discovered the jawbone. Leco already had in her possession a collection of several tiny teeth and the tibia of a lizard, but she immediately knew her newest discovery was something special. She was unable to identify the fossil so she brought it to Matt Smith, director of the preparation of fossils in the park.
The two carefully wrapped up the fossil and it took to a lab where it was closely examined under a microscope. In the laboratory, it was confirmed that the fish fossil was closely related to the genus, Saurichthys. Leco received the exciting news via an email from the park. Since her remarkable discovery, Leco says she feels a greater fascination with paleontology and even bought a couple of books on the Triassic to learn more about her rare find.
[Image via YouTube screenshot]