The remarkable discovery was made on the night shift of November 15th, 2004, at the former Elk Valley Coal Corporation’s (Now Teck) Coal Mountain Operations, south east of Sparwood.
G‖ crew’s Richard Budd (operator of an O&K RH200 Shovel Excavator) noticed something very unusual and very rare in the digging face of the 1896 bench: a fossilized giant ammonite rolled out from the edge of the 23 cubic meter bucket and came to rest near the toe of the face. Fortunately, thanks to Richard’s keen eye and awareness of such fossil potential, the specimen was salvaged from the face, with the help of Luigi Sagrafena operating a Caterpillar 994 production loader.
The miraculous find was set aside in a safe place where it was blanketed by a thin layer of snow later that night. It was eventually moved into the warehouse away from the detrimental effects of the weather.
This is the second of these giant ammonite fossils recovered in the past 30 years at Coal Mountain. The first was about one third the size and was identified as Lytoceras. The fossil specimen found in November 2004 is much larger and very rare in North America. It has tentatively been identified as a ―Titanites occidentalis,‖ (Western Giant), the second only known specimen of this extinct fossil species next to the one discovered in 1947 in nearby Coal Creek by a BCGS mapping team.
In July 1947 a field crew mapping coal outcrops for the BC Geological Survey were working in a drainage east of Fernie. A student had reported finding a ―fossil truck tire‖. A few years later GSC Paleontologist Hans Frebold described and named the fossil as ―Titanites occidentalis” after the large Jurassic aged ammonites found in Dorset, England.
The fossils size and nature of preservation prevented it from being moved to a museum, and therefore disallowed one of the requirements when naming a new species. Only latex molds were made of the Coal Creek specimen.
The recent Coal Mountain ammonite find may now provide paleontologists with a good diagnostic specimen to properly identify and possibly rename it as a new species. The fossil unearthed by Richard Budd is over a meter in diameter and contains both positive and negative impressions. It is massive in size, weighing over 2300 kg including the matrix. The large -scale ribs and the smooth inner whorls are tell-tale signs of the genus ―Titanites?” very similar to the Coal Creek find.
These animals lived in the shallow seas that covered parts of British Columbia during the late Jurassic Period, some 150 million years ago. They were fast moving, predatory cephalopods, with large eyes and numerous long tentacles protruding from the opening in the large end of their shell (imagine a giant coiled squid). When they died in the sea, gasses from their rotting flesh would accumulate in their shell, causing them to float and drift with the currents, where they would eventually come to rest on a sandy beach. The soft parts of their body would have disappeared, leaving only the hard calcified shell, which would have filled with sand due to tidal action. Over time, it would have been buried and eventually fossilized. The sandy beach that entombed the Coal Mountain Ammonite, 150 million years later is mined as the Moose Mountain Sandstone, which forms the footwall of the Kootenay Formation coal deposit at Coal Mountain.
The Giant Ammonite find at Coal Mountain is obviously very significant. Elk Valley Coal Corporation (Teck) has subsequently donated the specimen to the Courtenay and District Museum and Paleontology Centre in Courtenay, British Columbia where it can be studied by paleontologists.
The original fossil will remain on display at the museum. A cast of the specimen financed by EVCC (Teck) and is now displayed at the Sparwood Chamber Of Commerce where the public can view and enjoy this unique local find.
With excerpts reprinted with permission by Brad Pisony (Coal Mountain Operations) for the December 2006 issue of the BC Paleontological Alliance newsletter.