While walking along a local creek in Birmingham, Alabama, Tristen Klavenga came across a rock by the side of the stream that appeared to be covered in scales.
At first, Klavenga thought it might have been some sort of prehistoric palm or tree.
“After further inspection and my friend’s thoughts, I wasn’t too doubtful that it could possibly be a fossilized imprint of fish scales,” Klavenga told Newsweek. “It looks pretty darn scaly.”
The fossil had large scales but did not seem to be a recognizable animal. Tristen Klaven
“I’ve been to this spot hundreds of times but never noticed the fossil until then,” Klavenga told Newsweek. “With the rain we’ve had this season, I think it uncovered the mud and bedrock to expose the fossil.”
Klavenga shared photos of the rock to the subreddit r/fossilid to hear what other users thought it could be.
Several users identified the scaly stone as a Lepidodendron, an extinct type of tree (or more accurately tree-like plant) that thrived on Earth roughly 300 million years ago.
At this time, the Americas, Africa and Europe were all joined together in a single “super-continent” known as Pangea. As a result, Lepidodendron fossils can be found across these continents.
According to the National Park Service, Lepidodendron—also known as “Scale Trees”—grew to about 100 feet tall and 7 feet wide. The plants grew straight up as long unbranched trunks with a cluster of needle-like leaves at their growing tip. As they grew, the plants would shed the leaves from older parts of their stem, leaving these distinctive scale-like scars behind from where the leaves had once been.
Many users on Reddit have congratulated Klavenga on this unusual find.
“This has excellently detailed preservation, a good find to enjoy,” said one user.
“So cool! Had no idea such a thing existed,” said another.
Klavenga, an experienced fossil hunter, said that they too were surprised by the shape and preservation of this particular scale tree.
“I have seen these imprinted fossils dozens of times, but the degree to which this one was preserved, I have not,” they said. “I’ve been collecting fossils as a child and my fascination and intrigue never ceases to persist. To think that you may be the first set of eyes to see this life since the Carboniferous period is pretty amazing.
It’s awesome and humbling to be reminded of the wonders yet to be uncovered by acts of nature or by just simply looking down at your feet once and a while.”
Internet sleuths believe Klavenga uncovered a a prehistoric tree fossil known as a Lepidodendron
Klavenga, a 27-year-old bartender at Mom’s Basement in Birmingham, spotted the fossil under some downed trees.
“It was partially exposed most likely from the heavy rain this season, but as I spotted it, I knew right away it was a fossil, but I wasn’t sure of what exactly,” he told AL.com on Wednesday night. “I figured it was a prehistoric palm, but after some consideration I decided not to rule out if it were maybe a fish of some sort due to its scaly condition. ”
Klavenga turned to Reddit, specifically a subsection of the social media site frequented by fossil fanatics, to ask about his discovery.
“I suspected this was some type of palm at first glance, but after close inspection, it looks pretty darn scaly. Please educate me,” he wrote.
“Lepidodendron or similar. A “scale tree” indeed!” answered the top comment on Klavenga’s post.
The lepidodendron tree first surfaced some 318 million years ago, according to the National Parks Service. The scale trees, now extinct, grew to be 100 feet tall and seven feet wide.
Members of the fossil subreddit delighted in Klavenga’s find.
“This has excellently detailed preservation, a good find to enjoy,” wrote on user.
Another called Kalvenga a “lucky bastard.”
The Birmingham bartender told AL.com that he used to be a park ranger in Turkey Creek, “so I’m used to just looking down and seeing cool stuff.”
“As a kid, critters and fossils were my obsession and as an adult it’s carried over pretty heavily, so I’ve always had a knack for learning [about that] sort of stuff,” he said.