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Ancient rock holds tortoise fossil

Oregon researcher hopes to beat sea to fragile find

NEWPORT, Ore. – A tortoise fossil embedded in 20 million-year-old rock has been found along the Oregon coast, and a researcher is trying to remove it before the sea claims it.

“This is big,” said Bill Hanshumaker, marine education specialist at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Hanshumaker said he is seeking permission to remove the fossil before it is lost to the tides and the sea.

The stone measures about 30 inches long by 24 inches wide, suggesting it was a land turtle.

It was found along a beach in Lincoln County by Carol Ritzert, the owner of a Lincoln City spa.

“It didn’t look like a regular rock. It looked organic,” she said, adding it was her sister, Mary Jo Michaels, who first described it as a turtle.

“Once she said it,” Ritzert said, “I stood back and said, ‘Of course.’ I was so excited.”

Hanshumaker is awaiting the state paleontologist’s report on the find. Meanwhile, he has begun the task of getting the state to grant permission to extract the fossil.

“It’s extremely fragile,” Hanshumaker says. “I’m positive we will lose it if we don’t extract it. It’s only going to take a couple of storms to knock it off.”

How the tortoise wound up buried in mudstone is a mystery.

“It had to get buried very quickly in deep water,” Hanshumaker said. “What was it doing out there? How was it buried so rapidly?”

He says it may have been entombed in an underwater landslide, common during earthquakes.



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