In the 1840s, scientists found remains of a yet-discovered giant sea turtle. The broken arm bone, or humerus, unearthed in the dunes of Monmouth County, New Jersey, helped scientists confirm the existence of a new species, the Atlantochelys mortoni.
Ever since, the lonely half of a turtle's arm has sat in Drexel University's museum.
Now, 160-plus years later, paleontologists have found more missing fossils from the exact same turtle. The two halves of the humerus, their discoveries separated by almost two centuries, fit perfectly together.
"When we put the two halves together, we were flabbergasted," Dr. Ted Daeschler, paleontologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia, told BBC News.
The fossil was first found by amateur paleontologist Gregory Harpel, who thought -- when he first spotted it -- that the bone was a rock. Harpel donated the fossil to to the New Jersey State Museum, where curators contacted Daeschler and the archivists at Drexel about trying to identify it.
Museum officials were skeptical that the two bones could actually be a match.
“I didn’t think there was any chance in the world they would actually fit,” Jason Schien, assistant curator of natural history at the New Jersey State Museum, told RedOrbit.
But, lo and behold, both pieces hail from the same turtle -- both buried long ago in Cretaceous sediments, rock that dates some 70-75 million years old.
A report detailing the remarkable find will soon be published in the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.