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Susan Turner and John Maisey

A shark fossil discovered near Campbellton in 1997 by New Brunswick Museum scientists Randall Miller and Jeff McGovern could change the understanding of the evolution of early fish. The fossil is the oldest articulated shark fossil in the world, rare because much of the body has remained intact including the teeth still inside the jaw. The Campbellton fossil has provided new information, for example proof that sharks once had fin-spines on their pectoral fins. This one feature connects two major groups of fish, sharks and acanthodians and could change the way we think of fish evolution.

Experts from around the world have studied the fossil in the New Brunswick Museum collection. One of those scientists is Sue Turner, a vertebrate palaeontologist from Australia and an expert in shark fossils and early fish. According to Turner, the discovery of an intact shark skeleton indicates both the environment and the rock that entombed the fossil were quite special. The rock probably formed from mud at the bottom of a lagoon.

John Maisey, a palaeontologist with the American Museum of Natural History in New York has also travelled to New Brunswick to study the shark specimen. One of Maisey’s interests is the study of shark evolution based on the brain. The New Brunswick specimen preserves one of the oldest known shark braincases. Maisey uses a high-tech approach to examine shark fossils and compare them modern shark skeletons. The use of high-resolution CT-scanners allows the internal structures of fossils to be studied without destroying them. A CT scan is a series of X-rays taken at slightly different angles and then combined using a computer. The shark fossil is almost flat and a CT scan allows scientists to construct a three-dimensional picture. Researchers can digitally manipulate the images and restore the fossil close to its original shape.

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