Remains of 35-million-year-old turtle discovered in ruins of Christchurch church

A rare 35-million-year-old turtle fossil has been discovered in the quake ruins of a Christchurch church.

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The remains of the giant turtle is now in the hands of the Canterbury Museum after an artist using the stone alerted experts. Source: 1 NEWS

“As soon as I saw it, I recognised it immediately as, undoubtedly, a turtle,” a senior curator of natural history at the Canterbury Museum, Dr Paul Scofield, said.

“It's big - it's two or three metres long ... The shell would have been on this outside and it hasn't survived and then you've just got one of the vertebrae surviving.”

The limestone once formed the pillars of the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church when the 2011 earthquakes shook the secret free.

"We wouldn't have found the fossil. It would have still been in the Corinthian column at the front of the Baptist church," he said. 

An artist was planning to use the broken pillar in his garden when he made the accidental discovery.

“It chipped away easily from that and I thought, ‘Righto, keep on going until there wasn’t any more'. I thought, ‘That has got to be a bone’,” Christchurch sculptor Paul Deans said. 

He then alerted the Canterbury Museum. And there's a twist - the museum already had a part of a turtle fossil gifted to it in 1880.

It turns out the find is likely to be the rest of it.

“It sat here in the museum for 140 years awaiting its counterpart,” Scofield said.

The church where the discovery was made has since had a complete rebuild but some of the pillars have been restored and still remain.

It's more than likely they contain more fossils. 

The near-complete fossil will now undergo studies and testing, but it's hoped it will go on display in the museum the future.