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Newly discovered fossil named for Avon River and Hantsport enthusiast

Chris Mansky gives a presentation at the Blue Beach Fossil Museum to elementary students (photo credit: Sonja Wood).
Chris Mansky gives a presentation at the Blue Beach Fossil Museum to elementary students (photo credit: Sonja Wood). - Submitted

Fossil preserved majority of skull of newly discovered genus, species of fish

HANTSPORT – A new discovery at Blue Beach has been named for the Avon River where it was found, and the man who first discovered the beach’s fortune of fossils 24 years ago.

The fossil containing the new genus and species was found by University of Calgary professor Jason Anderson during the summer of 2015, who was visiting Chris Mansky, who first arrived at Blue Beach as a fossil enthusiast.

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The specimen, named Avonichthys manskyi, honouring the Avon River and the type of animal – ichthys is Greek for fish – along with Mansky, has officially been named a new discovery after three years of examinations and tests.

The ventral side of the Avonichthys manskyi fossil, which is confirmed to be both a new species and genus found by Dr. Jason Anderson on Blue Beach during the 2015 summer (photo credit: Conrad Wilson, University of Calgary).
The ventral side of the Avonichthys manskyi fossil, which is confirmed to be both a new species and genus found by Dr. Jason Anderson on Blue Beach during the 2015 summer (photo credit: Conrad Wilson, University of Calgary).

“The chance to bring something to popular culture is important. It drives a lot of attention on need of that kind of research to understand life today,” said Mansky, who now runs the Blue Beach Fossil Museum with his partner, Sonja Wood.

‘Lots of discovery yet to be made’: Mansky

When Mansky first arrived at the beach, he knew he was standing on special ground that contained then-unearthed secrets crying to be discovered.

A famous site up the river existed, and prompted him to examine this beach, which appeared to be largely undiscovered in the world of fossil hunters. After six years of discoveries, he opened the museum, which is now his full-time job.

“I still didn’t understand how rich or significant any of this was. The more I got into it, the more obvious it became there was lots of discovery yet to be made,” he said.

Since then, Mansky has continued collecting fossils with the help of Acadia University students, local enthusiasts, and professors like Anderson from across the country.

It was on one such beach dig that this newest fossil was found, but it’s not the first time a groundbreaking discovery has happened on this beach, where the world’s oldest horseshoe crab was found eight years ago and named Paleolimulus woodae in 2014 in honour of Wood.

This fossil, which preserved the majority of a skull belonging to a very old fish, is but the latest discovery to be made at the beach, according to Mansky.

“It’s just great, especially in terms of a long-term goal for Blue Beach,” said Mansky.

The fossil's dorsal side, showing the majority of a skull belonging to a very old fish (photo credit: Conrad Wilson, University of Calgary).
The fossil's dorsal side, showing the majority of a skull belonging to a very old fish (photo credit: Conrad Wilson, University of Calgary).

“Everything found is a high probability to be a new species.”

Thousands of fossils and not enough space

The museum currently rotates a collection of over 10,000 fossils, which amounts to over 100,000 pounds of rock.

Each fossil has been found over the past 24 years on the beach, whether by Mansky or others, with all noteworthy finds being donated back to the museum, which displays them proudly.

Mansky says the beach has revealed fossils like the world’s oldest collection of vertebrate footprints, walking animals with limbs, some of the earliest parts of trees and the origin of fresh water fishes.

He says this variety of prehistoric fossils is found nowhere else in the world that he knows of.

“All of this modern ecosystem owes their origin to Blue Beach. It’s a time period nobody has ever really sampled before,” said Mansky.

“This beach is 350 million years old. Scotland, the eastern U.S., these places have similar fossils, but they’re 15 million years newer. This is a sneak preview, and we’re a unique little window into the past.”

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