Presenting... Bruno Debattista’s horseshoe crab trace fossil

From 17 April to 26 May 2013

An extremely rare trace fossil of footprints laid down more than 300 million years ago was brought to the Museum recently by ten-year-old schoolboy Bruno Debattista. Thinking that the piece of shale rock he had collected while on holiday in Cornwall might contain a fossilised imprint, Bruno showed the specimen to our Education department’s Natural History After-School Club, which he had been attending each week.

Bruno Debattista with trace fossil

Bruno Debattista with trace fossil

Bruno Debattista with horseshoe crabs

Bruno Debattista with horseshoe crabs

Despite the long odds of finding such a trace fossil, our geologists and education staff were excited to see what appeared to be the trackways left by a horseshoe crab, crawling up the muddy slopes of an ancient shore. These tracks were laid down during the Carboniferous period, some 308-327 million years ago, at a time when the sea was slowly being sealed off as the Earth’s landmasses crunched together to form Pangaea.

Although an animal’s harder body parts, such as shell or bone, are more likely to become fossilised, trace fossils such as footprints are incredibly rare and extremely hard to spot. You can just see the faint trail left by the horseshoe crab, running top left to bottom right of the specimen here.

Trace fossil found by Bruno Debattista

Trace fossil
found by Bruno Debattista

Bruno was specially selected for the Natural History After-School Club by his teachers at Windmill Primary School after showing a particular interest in nature. His extraordinary fossil find should be enough to spark enthusiasm in any would-be naturalist.

Bruno and his family have kindly donated the specimen to the Museum’s collection.

The story in the media

Other features from our Presenting... series
William Burchell
Museum memories
A space traveller’s arrival
Alfred Russel Wallace
William Smith
The science of disguise
Our new Collections Manager - Hilary Ketchum
The Breath of Life
Pine cones, great and small
Charles Darwin's insects
The Oxford Dodo
Fossils of the Gault Clay
A wartime gift
The other Audubon
The wonderful diversity of bees
A plesiosaur named Eve
The Worldwide Web
Dr Buckland and the Bear
Pioneers of Photography
'Flight' of the Dodo
Charles Lyell
Delightful Dung Beetles
John Obadiah Westwood
John Eddowes Bowman
All that glitters...
Daughters, wives, sisters... and scientists
Vesuvius Unlocked

Visiting Us

What's on Exhibitions Operation Earth Visiting as a family International visitors Visitors with support needs Museum shop Youth Forum Swifts in the tower Virtual tour
Visiting us: home
Contact us Accessibility Copyright Site map

University of Oxford homepage