Park Ranger Discovered a Mysterious Treasure Trove of Several-Million-Year-Old Fossils

A park ranger researching a petrified forest in California unearthed a treasure trove of prehistoric fossils, including a superbly preserved mastodon head and the remnants of a 400-pound (181 kg) monster fish, according to SFGate.

Paleontologists discovered hundreds of fossil species at the Mokelumne River watershed in the Sierra foothills southeast of Sacramento.

The fossil site goes back around 10 million years to the Miocene period and is one of the most significant such finds in California.

“There aren’t many other fossils finds like these in California,” said Russell Shapiro, a paleontologist and stratigraphy professor at California State University, Chico.

The location was discovered by chance.

According to an EBUMD statement, Greg Francek, a ranger naturalist with the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), which provides drinking water for the area, was wandering along the watershed when he observed something that looked like wood but was smooth like stone.

“I came upon a petrified tree,” Francek remarked in an audiotape that was provided with the declaration.

“This tree was partially covered in the burial layers, and I could see the tree rings within because one end was visible.”

When he looked about, he noticed another, then a third, and so on, and it immediately dawned on him that he was wandering through a petrified forest.

Frank returned a few weeks later to undertake a more structured study, which is when he discovered vertebrate fossils.

As a result, he contacted paleontologists and geologists, including Shapiro.

Shapiro didn’t expect to find anything, but he was pleasantly surprised: as his crew started excavating, they discovered the tip of a pearly bone, and as they scratched away from the surrounding rock, a pair of tusks, teeth, and a head began to emerge.

According to Chico State Today, it was a mastodon that had been amazingly preserved.

“What you’re looking for is the tip of a tusk,” Shapiro told CSU Today. “Not only do we have the tip, but the full thing.” And it’s stunning ivory. It’s incredible.”

Shapiro and his colleagues have discovered hundreds of animal specimens from dozens of species during the last year, all within a forest of 600 petrified trees.

Among the ancient species discovered by the scientists were:

The massive fish was an ancestor of modern-day salmon.

A camel the size of a giraffe that went extinct.

Elephants descended from the mastodon and the gomphothere.

The crew has also discovered rhinos, huge tortoises, horses, and tapirs. According to Chico State Today, the bones of these ancient species were likely transported to the region by floods and debris flows from volcanoes further inland.

According to Chico State Today, the location would have been an oak woodland surrounded by an ancient ocean when these long-lost species existed.

For the time being, the researchers are keeping the site of the fossil dig a secret. Those who wish to visit the mastodon will be able to do so in late October at the university’s Gateway Science Museum.

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