The 'Hole in the head' skull

Collecting fossils can sometimes be tricky and it is best if you can identify what you are excavating before youattempt to dig it out to avoid damage - but even the experts can get it wrong sometimes.

Staff drilling on Lord Howe Island

Staff drilling on Lord Howe Island
Photographer: R Jones © Australian Museum

In 1980 a combined American Museum of Natural History/ Australian Museum field trip went to Lord Howe Island to collect fossils of the extinct horned tortoise, Meiolania platyceps, from beach rock on the island. Storms had washed large amounts of sand away from Neds Beach, uncovering the beach rock and exposing Meiolania bones. At low tide it was decided that some of these bones would be excavated using an electric drill.

The exposed bones were identified as a shoulder girdle by the world expert on Meiolania, who shall remain nameless. An Australian Museum staff member cut the block containing the bones from its surrounds using a series of drill holes. Since it was known what was being excavated, the holes were carefully positioned to miss the partly obscured bones. To everyone's surprise and consternation, when the block was removed, it was found that it was not a shoulder girdle at all, but a fine skull of Meiolania with a neat 2 cm hole drilled right through it.

This skull is now commonly referred to as the 'hole in the head skull' and will forever be a source of embarrassment for those who know how the hole got here.

Robert Jones , Palaeontology
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Tags fossils, fossil, palaeontology, Collection Stories, turtle, tortoise, skull, specimen, Meiolania,