Issue 5
Monday, 06 July 2020
Charles Darwin University
Patrick Nelson holding a picture of the rare fossil he discovered in Central Australia
Patrick Nelson holding a picture of the rare fossil he discovered in Central Australia

Hobbyist unearths rare 460 million-year-old fossil

By Carl Pfeiffer

Regional Public Relations Officer and self-proclaimed amateur fossil hunter Patrick Nelson has made the discovery of a lifetime in Central Australia, unearthing a rare 460 million-year-old fossil.

Mr Nelson discovered the arthropod fossil embedded in a sandstone slab in the Amadeus Basin, a vast geological structure south of Alice Springs. 

The first of its kind to be discovered in the Northern Territory, the fossil dates back to the Ordovician Period and has generated significant scientific interest.

Mr Nelson began fossil hunting in Central Australia two years ago and said the rare discovery had been the highlight of his ‘citizen scientist’ career so far.

“It’s my best find in terms of significance,” he said.

“I didn’t quite know what it was, but I did know it was different to several other fossils I’ve seen during my wanderings out bush in Central Australia over the past couple of years

“When I found it, it was small and weathered in the sandstone and I thought it might be rare and unusual.” 

Arthropods are animals without spines and have exoskeletons and jointed legs like shrimp, crabs, insects or spiders.

A species of Arthropod called the Trilobite has previously been found in the NT, however this is the first time a different species of Arthropod has ever been discovered.

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory’s Senior Curator of Earth Sciences, Dr Adam Yates said the fossil would have existed “long before mega fauna, dinosaurs or animals existed on land”.

“Nothing like it has been found in Central Australia before and we are excited to identify this rare find,” he said. 

“This new discovery is the first time any sort of arthropod other than a trilobite has ever been discovered from the Ordovician Period of the Northern Territory.

“To find a fully articulated body makes the discovery all the more significant.”