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Major fossil "bonebed" uncovered in California

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  • Major fossil "bonebed" uncovered in California

    Intrigued after discovering the remains of a fossilized tree in the Mokelumne River basin at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California last Summer, Greg Francek, a ranger in the East Bay Municipal Utility District started poking around. Soon he found roughly a dozen more petrified trees and after looking around for a couple of more weeks uncovered a fossilized bone. At this point Francek decided to call in the experts including California State University, Chico geologist Dr. Russell Shapiro.

    Now a team of paleontologists and geologists from all over the country are working at the site being described as one of California's most important fossil discoveries.

    The site dates back to approximately 10mya (Miocene) and so far they have excavated the remains of a Mastodon, a Gomphotheres,[1], tapir, tortoise, and the remains of several camels and 400 lbs. of fish described as salmon with spiked teeth that could get up to 400 lbs. (181.4 kg).[2]

    And they've only just begun.

    As is typical much of the press is hyping it as the biggest fossil find ever in California, apparently forgetting about La Brea tar pits where approximately 750,000 specimens have been discovered in just two years back in the 1910s. It's only further down that you'll read that it's "one of" California's largest fossil discoveries.

    Source: 'I was looking at the bones of great beasts': Astounding discovery made in Calif. valley

    It started with a petrified tree, half-buried in the mud of the Mokelumne River watershed in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The site intrigued Greg Francek, a ranger for East Bay Municipal Utility District, as he was walking the valley last summer.

    He inspected further, and what he discovered led to one of the most significant fossil discoveries in California history.

    "I looked around the area further and I found a second tree," Francek said in an EBMUD statement released this week, documenting the discovery. "And then a third and so on. After finding dozens of trees I realized that what I was looking at was the remains of a petrified forest."

    Petrified wood comes from trees that were buried in the fine-grained sediments of deltas, floodplains or volcanic ash beds, and turned to stone over millions of years.

    After three weeks of surveying the site, Francek made an even more curious discovery.

    "I located the first vertebrate fossils," he said. "What I didn't comprehend at the time was the amazing fact that I was looking at the bones of great beasts that had roamed this landscape millions of years ago."

    Francek reached out to experts in paleontology and geology from across the country to come inspect the bones, and they're still there today making historic finds.

    Those great beasts include mastodons (elephant-like creatures with unique teeth; the name means "nipple tooth"), gomphotheres (ancestral elephants, but with four tusks) and, incredibly, 400-pound salmon with spiked teeth, among others still to be identified. They even found camel fossils.

    The bones are thought to be from the Miocene era, around 10 millions years ago. The site, the Mokelumne River watershed, is where some 1.4 million Bay Area residents get their drinking water. EBMUD has owned and managed 28,000 acres of watershed land there for a century.

    "The discovery is highly significant because of both the sheer number and diversity of specimens found. Few other fossil discoveries like this exist in California," said Dr. Russell Shapiro of the Chico State Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences in a statement. “The bones paint a clearer picture of life 10 million years ago when animals evolved from living in forests to grassland as the landscape changed."

    Mastodon remains were last found in California by the agency in 1947 during pipeline construction in Contra Costa County. But the current trove of fossils is the largest and most diverse in the state's history.

    "Since this is one of the more significant paleontological finds in California, researchers still have a lot of questions like why are all these fossils in this location? How did they die? What happened and when?" researchers wrote. "The study of this site may take years."


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    1. an extinct elephant-like creature with four tusks, which one source called a "Gonfozer"

    2. for a more complete list and loads of pictures, go HERE

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