The mood was celebratory on a remote, rock-strewn beach in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Stephanie Pierce and her paleontology team had uncovered a fossilized jaw measuring more than a foot and were snapping selfies when they were struck by a question.
“Oh, my God, how are we going to get this out?” Pierce said, laughing.
Gap in the fossil record
The curator of vertebrate paleontology at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology and assistant professor in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology was in Nova Scotia after winning a Putnam Expedition Grant to walk in the footsteps of Alfred Romer, a Harvard paleontologist and biologist for much of the 20th century who specialized in vertebrate evolution.
An entire era of the fossil record is named after Romer, who identified the unexplained scarcity in tetrapod fossils from the early Carboniferous Period, when animals first crawled out of the ocean and walked on four legs. “Romer’s gap” spans the period 360-345 million years ago, and to this day remains a mystery.