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The mystery sea beast of Cincinnati

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    Paleontologist David Meyer, left and Carlton Brett, right, flank Ron Fine, who discovered the large fossil spread out on the table -- though none is sure just what it is. (Unniversity of Cincinnati)

  • mystery sea beast of Cincinnati up close.jpg

    Apr. 24, 2012: A close-up reveals the intriguing texture of the seven-foot-long specimen from the Ordovician period, found by Ron Fine, an amateur paleontologist from Dayton, Ohio. (Unniversity of Cincinnati)

The discovery of a very large, very mysterious ‘monster’ by an amateur Ohio paleontologist has researchers baffled and asking for answers.

Around 450 million years ago, shallow seas covered Cincinnati -- and harbored one very large organism. And despite its size, no one has ever found a fossil of this “monster” until its discovery by an amateur paleontologist last year.

The fossilized specimen, a roughly elliptical shape with multiple lobes, totaling almost seven feet in length was discovered by Ron Fine of Dayton, Ohio. He's a member of the Dry Dredgers, an association of amateur paleontologists based at the University of Cincinnati that has a long history of collaborating with professional scientists.

“I knew right away that I had found an unusual fossil,” Fine said. “Imagine a saguaro cactus with flattened branches and horizontal stripes in place of the usual vertical stripes. That’s the best description I can give.”

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The Cincinnati region has been vigorously studied over the last two centuries, making the find even more impressive -- not only because it was the work of an amateur, but also because of its size.

“When I finally finished it was three-and-a-half feet wide and six-and-a-half feet long,” Fine said. “In a world of thumb-sized fossils, that’s gigantic!”

David L. Meyer of the University of Cincinnati geology department and co-author of "A Sea without Fish: Life in the Ordovician Sea of the Cincinnati Region" agreed that it might be the largest fossil recovered from the Cincinnati area.

“It’s definitely a new discovery,” Meyer said. “And we’re sure it’s biological. We just don’t know yet exactly what it is.”

“I’ve been fossil collecting for 39 years and never had a need to excavate. But this fossil just kept going, and going, and going,” Fine added. “I had to make 12 trips, over the course of the summer, to excavate more material before I finally found the end of it.”

'It’s definitely a new discovery, and we’re sure it’s biological. We just don’t know yet exactly what it is.'

- David L. Meyer, geologist

Other specialists have been unable to explain the mystery monster, they said. Fine presented his discovery Tuesday at a regional meeting of the Geological Society of America in his quest for answers.

He hoped to show a wide array of paleontologists what the specimen looks like and to collect more hypotheses to explore.

“We hope to get a lot of people stopping by to offer suggestions,” he said.

In the meantime, the team is playing around with potential names.

They are leaning toward “Godzillus.”

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