Construction crews in Southern California have made a wild discovery. Workers were digging at a building site in San Timoteo Canyon when they unearthed hundreds of ancient animal fossils. Researchers say the bones hold important clues about the history of the region.
Nearly 1,500 fossils were recovered from the dusty canyon. The remains are about 1.4 million years old. They include the bones of a bear-sized ground sloth, a new species of deer, several small rodents and more. A giant cat fossil was also found. Scientists believe the animal was an ancestor of the saber-toothed tiger. Signs of plant life were uncovered as well.
"This is a just huge find," says Rick Greenwood, a scientist studying the site. "I don't think most people even have the concept that those types of animals were roaming around here more than a million years ago."
Stuck in the Mud
San Timoteo Canyon is located about 85 miles from Los Angeles. The area of the canyon where the fossils were found was once part of a lush, green river valley. Today, the region is dry and plant life is sparse.
Most of the fossils are well preserved. Experts say a muddy lake bed or marsh may have trapped thirsty animals that wandered over for a drink. From there, the creatures may have fallen victim to predators, or simply could not free themselves. The mud helped to protect the animal fossils.
Filling in the Blanks
The remains are a million years older than those discovered at the famous La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Scientists studying the bones will be able to learn more about how the animals adapted to changes in the environment.
"We have a fuzzy view of what this time period was like," says paleontologist Tom Demere. "A discovery like this—when they're all found together and in a whole range of sizes—could really be an important contribution."
About 35 different animal species are represented in the fossil collection. Scientists began removing bones from the site last fall. The project was completed this summer. Starting next year, the fossils will be on display at the Western Science Center in the nearby city of Hemet, California.