Fossils of a new species of earliest crocodile cousin have been found in limestone once destined for Italian kitchen countertops, a new study says.
The fossils were initially discovered in a limestone quarry in Ferrara, Italy, in 1955 after workers sliced a huge block into four slabs and found the bones trapped inside.
"When the owner noticed the bones, he decided to save" the slabs, said study co-author Federico Fanti, a geologist at the Museo Geologico Giovanni Capellini in Italy.
Scientists performed only a superficial examination of the fossils—enough to determine that they belonged to an ancient crocodile—before the slabs were transferred to two museums in Italy.
The fossils sat unaffected until 2009, when scientists decided to examine them again in more detail.
Analysis of the embedded bones exposed a skull and a few vertebrae that belonged to a formerly unknown species of 165-million-year-old prehistoric reptile now named Neptunidraco ammoniticus.
The newfound creature turned out to be the oldest known member of Metriorhynchidae, a family of ancient marine crocodiles that roamed Earth's oceans for about 30 million years before dying out.