Sask. girl unearths ancient fossils at Lake Diefenbaker
Six-year-old and her cousins plan to keep hunting for Cretaceous era relics
For Lily Ganshorn, it started as a hunt for meteorites at the beach near her family's cabin at Lake Diefenbaker.
As the day wore on, the six-year-old convinced her father to start breaking nearby pieces of rock which looked like dried-out mud.
"They're so cool," said Lily Ganshorn. "You smash the rocks and then they're so shiny with little animals."
"We found our first ammonite doing that," said Jon Ganshorn, who said his daughter's cousins soon wanted to join in on the hunt. "As soon as we saw that first one, you could tell it was something."
After a few days, one of her cousins found a fossil containing what appeared to be a dragonfly.
Curious, her father sent photos of the fossils to the University of Saskatchewan Department of Geology, where graduate student Meagan Gilbert confirmed the Ganshorns had unearthed remnants of shellfish that swam in the Western Interior sea roughly 75 million years ago.
Fossils from Saskatchewan's 'subtropical' past
"At that point Saskatchewan basically sat right in the centre of this massive seaway that stretched all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic." said Gilbert.
"It would have been really shallow and really warm, it would have been subtropical."
She said the Ganshorns' Creteceous-era fossil find included bivalves and prehistoric oysters. She also spotted ammonites, which "are basically like squid with a shell."
She could not identify the dragonfly from the Ganshorns' photo alone, but noted the shellfish species were often prey for prehistoric sea reptiles.
"They would have been food for things like mososaurs, which were basically like 40-foot crocodiles with flippers instead of feet," said Gilbert. "And for plesiosaurs, these long-necked reptiles that would have swam around with paddles."
For the time being, Lily and her cousins are keeping most of their finds at their cabin. This is where Lily's father found himself building a rock garden last year to accommodate her burgeoning rock collection.
"We have fun to have these hunts," said the six-year-old, who lives in Martensville, Sask.
Her advice to other fossil-hunters was simple.
"Go down to the lake, look around the shore, then find a big grey rock and smash it," Ganshorn said.
Gilbert said she's glad to see people taking an interest in paleontology, but noted provincial officials consider rarer examples of fossils Crown heritage property.
We plan to go exploring all over the place.- Jon Ganshorn
"You can't always take these things home," said Gilbert.
She added it's important for geology enthusiasts to tell scientists about their finds, especially "well-preserved" examples like these.
"These things die and float to the bottom of the sea," she said. "And because nothing comes along and stomps on them or mixes them around, or rolls them around, these things actually do preserve rather well."
Dinosaur Hunter Gang has big plans
Jon Ganshorn said he's grateful a relative recently gave his family a quad, which the children will use to transport their treasures when they return to the shoreline to hunt for more evidence of prehistoric life next summer.
Carrying their finds up the sand hills each day became "quite a workout," Ganshorn said.
"Literally I had a set of cargo pants and they would be completely just packed full," laughed Ganshorn.
"I'm a fairly big guy and I'd be sitting there struggling with my arms full of rocks, my pockets full of rocks."
He said Lily and her cousins have now dubbed themselves the Dinosaur Hunter Gang.
"I'm excited about it, the kids are absolutely excited about it and we go down and get away from the TV and from devices and everything else and get out and search for these fossilized sea creatures," he said.
"We plan to go exploring all over the place."