It’s not uncommon to glance down at the pavement or the floor of a shopping centre and spot traces of ancient life – ammonites and belemnites can be seen in deposits all over the world, for example. But in the Spanish town of Girona, the paving slabs of one street have offered up a very valuable scientific find. Taken from 40 million year-old limestone in Catalonia, the slabs contain one of the oldest sea cow fossils known to scientists. Sea cows belong to Sirenia, an order that includes manatees and dugongs and which first appeared around 50 million years ago. So this new fossil find, which includes sections of the skull, vertebrae and ribs, could help researchers shed light on the early evolutionary history of this fabulous group (here’s a manatee as proof. They are fabulous.). It’s not clear yet whether the fossil represents a new species or even an adult or a juvenile, but biologists Manja Voss and Oliver Hampe from the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin have teamed up with local collaborators to extract and CT scan the paving slabs to find out more. We’ll be watching this story for developments, but if you’ve wandered through the streets of Girona in the last few years, you just might have passed by an important piece of natural history!
Photograph reposted from Museum für Naturkunde [in German], credited to Manja Voss and Oliver Hampe.