One hundred and fifty-million-year-old baby bird hide scraper

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Steven Montes (UK)

I was using my metal detector in the foothills of Tucson, Arizona. As I was walking back to my truck, I caught sight of an unusual-looking rock lying on the ground. I picked it up and noticed a fossil that looked suspiciously like the head of a baby bird. I turned the stone over to reveal more of the bird’s body. After showing my unusual find to some friends, I decided to take it to the University of Arizona to learn more.

When I arrived, I was told to take the stone to the Palaeontology Department where I saw a professor and I asked him if I could talk to a palaeontologist. He asked why, so I handed him the stone and proceeded to tell him how I found it. His eyes grew huge with excitement as he examined the piece.

Soon, there were several professors and other people examining the stone in awe. As they talked, I listened. The rock I found was secondary sedimentary solidified limestone, which is not indigenous to this area. I was told that the original source could have been in Canada, China or even South America. I was told that the fossil was indeed of a baby bird. Another professor pointed out other inclusions in the stone including plant matter, twigs, and other unidentifiable objects.

Apparently, there were once other bones near the chest of the bird that had fallen out over time, but the imprints left by the bones are still visible. They could not identify the species of the bird, because all baby birds look pretty much alike at birth. I was asked by one of the professors if I wouldn’t mind waiting a little while longer for one more professor to see the stone. It was fortunate he did, as he pointed out that this stone was also an artefact that had been carved by Paleo-Indians into a tool for scraping the flesh away from the hide of a game animal.

He then asked one of the other professors if he could borrow his microscope to look at the stone more closely. The group moved down the hall and entered a small office. He then examined the piece and stated that there were shiny areas on the sharp edge around the stone that were not visible to the naked eye. He believed that tough tendons and ligaments had polished parts of the stone during its use.

He also stated that the hide scraper was in mint condition. Most hide scrapers that we see today in museums are small ovals that are badly worn from long use and then discarded when they become useless. He said that he had never seen such a fine hide scraper before. He wished that he knew what group of people had carved it, but he speculated that whoever carved the stone might possibly be the first recorded fossil collector.

These tribal people were farmers, artists and traders much like the people of today. The position of the bird and the way it was intentionally carved into a tool made this a true specimen of fossil art. I asked how much this was item worth? His answer was that it was so unique that it was priceless. I asked how I might go about selling my fossil/artefact. A young lady, still full of excitement, suggested that I take a picture of the hide scraper and put it on the internet with a price tag of US$20 million, an idea that did not go down well with some of the others there.

However, she put it this way: there might be someone who owns the biggest diamond in the world, but so what? Other people have diamonds. “Try to think of something that no one else has, and that is what you’ve got”. At the time of writing, I still have not decided what I am going to do with my find

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