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Lily Ganshorn, Sask. Girl, Finds Fossils Near Lake Diefenbaker

"It looks like they almost came out of an aquarium yesterday, is how well these things are preserved."

10/06/2017 09:58 EDT | Updated 10/06/2017 09:58 EDT
THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Jon Ganshorn
A fossil is shown in this recent handout photo. Lily Ganshorn, 6, wanted her dad, Jon, to break up some muddy shale rocks along the shore of Saskatchewan's Lake Diefenbaker. That lead to the discovery of a fossil called an ammonite and the hunt for more fossils.

SASKATOON — A failed search for meteorite fragments has turned into a big fossil find for a six-year-old girl in Saskatchewan.

Lily Ganshorn was out with her dad Jon in an area around Lake Diefenbaker in August when she spotted a big shale rock. Her father says Lily wanted him to break it and he happily obliged.

"As soon as we break it open, all of a sudden it's like holy smokes ... it just started shimmering. I grabbed it, went out, washed the thing off and this thing is just almost glowing. It was so phosphorescent," Ganshorn said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"And I'm looking at this thing and it's like, man, we found something here."

Saskatchewan part of 75-million-year-old seabed

Ganshorn got in touch with the University of Saskatchewan, which told him to send pictures.

In mid-September, paleontology graduate student Meagan Gilbert confirmed the find as an ammonite — a shelled creature related to a modern day squid or octopus.

Southern Alberta, southwestern Saskatchewan, and an area stretching down into Montana were part of the Bearpaw Formation seabed about 75 million years ago.

That's where the ammonite would have come from, said Gilbert.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jon Ganshorn
Jon Ganshorn and his daughter pose with a fossil in this recent handout photo.

"So you get a whole bunch of these little critters that would have been living at that point in time, that die on the bottom of the sea floor, and then you can find them as big blocks and stuff, because usually there were a lot of them living together," she said.

Gilbert says ammonite fossils aren't uncommon, but the size of the intact, undamaged ammonites the Ganshorns found is remarkable.

Ganshorn says after that first find, he and Lily started daily searches. They found little shells, mollusks and more ammonites. "Next thing you know, we're sitting with like 50 or 60 of these things."

One of the pieces is about the size of a bowling ball.

It looks like they almost came out of an aquarium yesterday, is how well these things are preserved.

Another find appeared to be a mud and shale boulder about three-quarters of a meter in diameter, which, when split open, was riddled with well-preserved mollusk shells, he said.

"It looks like they almost came out of an aquarium yesterday, is how well these things are preserved," he said. "That's been our most dramatic find we found this year. The ammonite was cool, but that last one, that boulder full of shells, was by far the most dramatic."

On another weekend, Ganshorn's nieces and nephews came, too, and the kids formed a dinosaur hunters club.

"It's been a very exciting, educational adventure, to say the least," said Ganshorn.

"My daughter Lily ... she's like, 'Come on kids. Let's go! We're finding fossils. We're going to find dinosaurs.' And then next thing you know you've got half a dozen kids all running down and everybody's going a 100 miles an hour, and then of course we're finding frogs and snakes and all this other stuff."

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