In the 1990s, a mysterious fossil was accidentally uncovered by an Australian chicken farmer, Mihail Mihailidis. While washing down a large sandstone slab intended for his garden wall, he stumbled upon a 240 million-year-old fossil. Donated to the Australian Museum in 1997, the remarkably well-preserved specimen stumped scientists for nearly three decades.
Recently, University of New South Wales paleontologist Lachlan Hart revealed the fossil’s true identity. It turns out to be a robust amphibian, measuring about 1.2 meters in length. The creature, resembling a mix between a crocodile and a giant salamander, boasted fierce teeth and unique fang-like tusks on its palate. These features suggest it likely hunted freshwater fish.
Named “Arenaerpeton supinatus,” meaning “supine sand creeper,” the fossil hails from a group of extinct animals known as “temnospondyls,” predating the age of dinosaurs. Researchers used an unusual method to study the fossil – enlisting Australia’s border force to X-ray the bulky artifact using a cargo scanner usually reserved for contraband detection.
The discovery, made near Umina Beach, near Sydney, gained global attention in the mid-1990s, and it was even suggested by Time Magazine as a potential contributor to the story of human evolution. Australian Museum paleontologist Matthew McCurry emphasized the fossil’s significance, dubbing it a crucial part of Australia’s fossil legacy.