An amateur paleontologist has discovered a fossil of a very mysterious organism dubbed Godzillus that lived in shallow seas in what is now the Cincinnati region about 450 million years ago.
The fossilized specimen, a roughly elliptical shape with multiple lobes, totaling almost seven feet in length, was presented on April 24 at the 46th Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America.
“I knew right away that I had found an unusual fossil,” said Ron Fine of Dayton, who discovered the fossil. He is a member of the Dry Dredgers, an association of amateur paleontologists based at the University of Cincinnati.
“Imagine a saguaro cactus with flattened branches and horizontal stripes in place of the usual vertical stripes,” he added. “That’s the best description I can give.”
The enigmatic fossil was excavated in 2011 from the lower Kope Formation near Covington, Kentucky.
“While those nodules can take on some fascinating, sculpted forms, I could tell instantly that this was not one of them,” Fine said. “There was an organic form to these shapes. They were streamlined. And then there was that surface texture. Nodules do not have surface texture. They’re smooth. This fossil had an unusual texture on the entire surface.”
For more than 200 years, the rocks of the Cincinnati region have been among the most studied in all of paleontology, and the discovery of an unknown, and large, fossil has professional paleontologists scratching their heads.
“It’s definitely a new discovery,” said Dr. David Meyer of the University of Cincinnati, a co-author of the presentation. “And we’re sure it’s biological. We just don’t know yet exactly what it is.”
To answer that key question, Dr. Meyer and his colleagues from the University of Cincinnati were working with Fine to reconstruct a timeline working backward from the fossil, through its preservation, burial, and death to its possible mode of life.
“What things had to happen in what order?” Dr. Meyer asked. “Something caused a directional pattern. How did that work? Was it there originally or is it post-mortem? What was the burial event? How did the sediment get inside? Those are the kinds of questions we have.”
“It has helped, that Fine has painstakingly reassembled the entire fossil,” Dr. Meyer added. “This is a daunting task, since the large specimen is in hundreds of pieces.”
“I’ve been fossil collecting for 39 years and never had a need to excavate. But this fossil just kept going, and going, and going,” Fine explained. “I had to make 12 trips, over the course of the summer, to excavate more material before I finally found the end of it.”
Even then Fine still had to guess as to the full size, because it required countless hours of cleaning and reconstruction to put it all back together. “When I finally finished it was three-and-a-half feet wide and six-and-a-half feet long,” he said. “In a world of thumb-sized fossils that’s gigantic!”
“My personal theory is that it stood upright, with branches reaching out in all directions similar to a shrub,” Fine said. “If I am right, then the upper-most branch would have towered nine feet high. “
As Dr. Meyer with colleagues assist Fine in studying the specimen, they have found a clue to its life position in another fossil. The mystery fossil has several small, segmented animals known as primaspid trilobites attached to its lower surface. These small trilobites are sometimes found on the underside of other fossilized animals, where they were probably seeking shelter.
“A better understanding of that trilobite’s behavior will likely help us better understand this new fossil,” Fine said.
Although the team has reached out to other specialists, no one has been able to find any evidence of anything similar having been found.
“The mystery monster seems to defy all known groups of organisms,” Fine concluded. “And descriptions, even pictures, leave people with more questions than answers.”