435million-year-old fossil starfish discovered in Maam Valley

Dr Eamon Doyle who discovered the starfish.

Dr Eamon Doyle who discovered the starfish.

A new species of fossil starfish discovered in the Maam Valley has been found to be 435 million years old, according to the latest issue of The Irish Journal of Earth Sciences, published by the Royal Irish Academy.

The fossil has been named ‘Crepidosoma doyleii’ in honour of its discoverer Dr Eamon Doyle, geologist for the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark and Clare County Council. The specimens are housed in the National Museum (Natural History ) in Dublin.

The study by international researchers from the USA (Prof. Daniel B Blake ), Holland (Prof Stephen K. Donovan ) and UK (Prof. David Harper ) describes a new species of an ophiuroid starfish, commonly known as a ‘brittle star’.

Brittle stars first evolved around 500 million years ago and have survived relatively unchanged to the present day, although the ocean that was home to ‘Crepidosoma doyleii’ disappeared 400 million years ago due to plate tectonic movements of the Earth’s crust.

Prof David Harper, Durham University, a co-author of the study, said the remote areas of the west of Ireland continue to yield some exceptional fossils with a significant impact on understanding of the history of life.

“These unique specimens of fossil starfish from the Silurian rocks of Connemara are a key piece of evidence in the hunt for past life in the ocean that covered Ireland, some 435 million years ago. We owe a great deal to the painstaking efforts of Dr Eamon Doyle who combed these distant mountains for fossils during his PhD studies at University College Galway,” he said.

Dr Sarah Gatley of the Geological Survey said that this discovery by Dr Doyle in the area of the Joyce Country aspiring Geopark highlights the need to protect our geological heritage and underlines why the Geological Survey support the three UNESCO Geoparks as well as the aspiring Geoparks in Ireland.

Dr Doyle said that he is delighted with the honour afforded to him by these eminent international palaeontologists.

“I wish to thank Clare County Council and the Geological Survey for their support and I look forward to presenting some new fossils from the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark in the near future,” he said.

For more visit www.ria.ie/irish-journal-earth-sciences or www.burrengeopark.ie



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