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The jury is out.

I need your help. For jury duty. Everyone raise your right hand. Blah, Blah, Blah. Take your seats. It will be your duty to decide the life, or death, of a new species. Let me lay out the foundation. Several years ago I was collecting in the local Santee Limestone. I was looking primarily for decapods from the Middle Eocene. The formation has a lot of marine fossils, including a good assortment of echinoids. Occasionally I would come across complete specimens and would take them home to clean up. After ten years of this I thought I had collected all of the known species. That is, until the day I met the defendant. I knew right away that I had found something totally new. It was an echinoid in the shape of a triangle. I chiseled it out of the large limestone boulder and took it home for preparation. When I presented it to the curator of the local museum he said it was probably shaped that way because of an earlier injury in it's life. Electrical Engineer Vrs. Doctor of Paleontology? An injury it is! Several weeks later I was back at the same quarry, looking at the most recent excavation, and was stopped in my track by another one of the odd shaped echinoids. Further investigation revealed two more imbedded in large rocks. I spent several hours removing them and added them to my witness list. During the next month I made four more trips to the same location and recovered a total of ten. When I presented them at the museum the second time the vote swung in my direction. It could be something new to science. It seemed cut and dry. But we'll discover that there's circumstantial evidence we must look at. Pictures were taken and promptly Emailed to experts in the field. Some replied. Some didn't. It turns out that most of the experts on echinoids had either passed away or retired. One said he didn't have the time right them. The other said we had a lot of broken pieces. Did I have what it takes to prove it was new? New evidence to consider. Did you know that some of the Eocene crabs in Spain are directly related to those from the Eocene of South Carolina? Back in the Eocene the Atlantic Ocean was a lot shallower and much narrower. That means that there could be some of these odd echinoids in Spain. They might have already been described a hundred years ago. That's the problem facing every paleontologist trying to describe something. You have to have access to all of the literature out there so that you don't end up repeating someone's work. Which can ruin a hard earned reputation. And if I found an expert, would they even consider it as a new species? Every living animal has a long line of previous species behind it. But how much change has to occur before you say something is new? That's a hard call. Some animals change during their lifetime. This has led to juvenile, and adult, fossils being classified as separate species. Would my echinoids have grown to look like the commonly found ones? It's time to deliberate. What's that? A hung jury? Whatever! I never found another one of those echinoids. The few experts I've talked to agreed that they were probably a small, isolated group that had evolved characteristics to meet the local environment. I was fortunate to find them when I did. A few weeks later and the material would have been road fodder. Someday, someone will want to do the research. And a new species will be added to the list. I can only wonder at how many new species are carried off by the conveyor belts every day. Thank you for your time. The Jury is excused.
Location Berkeley County, South Carolina, USA

Date Added10/20/2006

The new echinoids have a distinctive triangular shape.
The larger the echinoid the flater one side becomes.
Comparison of same size echinoids. The one on the left is the most common one from the Santee Limestone. Protoscutella conradi. See any difference?
A full size Protoscutella (bottom) compared with the larger echinoids. As the Protoscutella's get larger, they get rounder. The new echinoids get flater. What type of environment would cause them to do this? Are they Eocene Baby-Boomers? Getting flat bottoms from sitting in front of the TV too much?

Some nice Angustidens from the creek
Some nice Angustidens from the creek
Bag filler day in the Cooper
Bag filler day in the Cooper
Some nice teeth from the creek
Some nice teeth from the creek





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