An Oxford schoolboy has discovered what appears to be an extremely rare fossil of footprints from more than 300 million years ago.
Ten-year-old Bruno Debattista, who attends Windmill Primary School in Oxford, brought a piece of shale rock containing what he thought might be a fossilised imprint to the after-school club at Oxford University's Museum of Natural History.
Oxford University Natural History Museum experts were astonished to find that it appeared to contain the trackways left by a horseshoe crab crawling up the muddy slopes of an ancient shore around 320 million years ago.
Chris Jarvis, education officer at the Museum and organiser of the Natural History After-School Club, said: 'Footprints of this age are incredibly rare and extremely hard to spot, so we were amazed when Bruno produced them at our After-School Club.
'Still more impressive is the fact that Bruno had a hunch they might be some kind of footprints, even though the specimen had some of our world expert geologists arguing about it over their microscopes!''
Bruno's fossil has been confirmed by the Museum as likely showing footprints of a pair of mating horseshoe crabs laid down during the Carboniferous period, some 308-327 million years ago. At this time, the sea was slowly being sealed off as Earth's landmasses crunched together to form Pangaea. Bruno and his family have decided to donate the fossil specimen to the Museum's collection.
The Natural History After-School Club is run by the Museum's education department and encourages Year 6 children to develop their interest in the natural world, in the hope that some might become the next generation of geologists and zoologists.
The club's weekly sessions look at rocks, fossils, insects and other animal life, and members are encouraged to make observations and collect specimens to be shared each week.
Bruno was specially selected for the Club by his teachers, after showing a particular interest in nature. He collected the fossil while on holiday in Cornwall last summer.
'Unfortunately, the excitement and motivation that many children instinctively feel for studying nature is often lost during their teenage years as it is seen as "uncool" or a bit "weird," and science can become text-book oriented and exam-driven during secondary school,' Chris Jarvis said.
'The club is our attempt to encourage children to value and extend their skills and knowledge and to follow their interests. I hope it is helping to create a group of kids that will continue to share their interests into their teenage years and beyond.'
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