Since the Middle Ages ...

Since the Middle Ages, humans have mined a rich deposit of shale stretching across Europe for copper, zinc, silver — and fossils. In 1992, a fossil collector in eastern Germany pulled a strange skeleton out of this rocky layer. It had a pointy crown of horns, thin limbs and peculiar rods stretching out from its chest.

"These are a really weird set of bones. They don't seem to exist in pretty much any other vertebrate animal," said Adam Pritchard, an assistant curator of paleontology at the Virginia Museum of Natural History and former Peter Buck postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

The fossil, it turns out, is an ancient reptile named Weigeltisaurus jaekeli, a reptile that lived over 250 million years ago — before the dinosaurs.

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