Fossilised remains of ancient turtle discovered in Christchurch church pillar

The Christchurch earthquake in 2011 has led to the discovery of a turtle's fossilised remains, believed to be 25 to 35 million years old, inside a church pillar.

Fossilised turtle remains found inside a Oxford Terrace Baptist Church pillar. Source: Supplied

The fossil was found inside the limestone core of pillar at the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church, which was built between 1881 and 1882, after the church was demolished following the February 22, 2011, quake.

The pillars of the historic building were being hollowed out so they could be reinforced and reinstated as part of the new building.

Several parts were also gifted to Christchurch sculptor Paul Deans to use in his work, and that's when he made the discovery.

When the artist noticed the fossil he brought it to Canterbury Museum for identification.

Oxford Terrace Baptist Church. Source: Supplied

Senior curator of natural history Paul Scofield said the fossil was a currently unnamed ancient species of turtle.

However, he noticed it has a connection to another specimen in the museum's collection.

In 1880, a similar turtle fossil was donated to the museum by James Tait, a prominent Christchurch builder who worked on many of the city's stone buildings.

Like the fossil discovered by Deans, it was embedded in Oamaru limestone that had been quarried for building masonry.

Oamaru limestone and the fossils it contains dates from the Ogliocene period, when much of New Zealand was submerged beneath shallow, warm seas.

After comparing the two fossils, Scofield said it was likely they were extracted from the same quarry and may even be different parts of the same animal.

The fossilised remains are of a turtle believed to have lived between 25 and 35 million years ago. Source: Supplied

Both fossils include pieces of plastron - the bottom half of a turtle’s shell - and various other bones.

"The limestone these fossils are embedded in is very similar, which combined with the fact that they were both extracted around 1880 makes me think they’re probably the same animal. We will need to do more research before we’re able to say with any certainty," he said.

"Turtle fossils are really rare in New Zealand. No similar turtle fossils have been found in Oamaru in more than 150 years of quarrying there."

They are not currently on display in the museum, though.

"It's amazing that this new fossil was sitting inside a pillar for 130 years. It could have been lost forever, so we’re very grateful to Paul Deans for spotting it, bringing it in and donating it to the museum."