San Diego Natural History Museum unveils Ice Age bison

Bones rested in North County for 200K years

SAN DIEGO - Paleontologists at the San Diego Natural History Museum Monday unveiled the fossilized bones of an Ice Age bison -- bones that turned to stone and then rested in what is now North County for 200,000 years.

Caltrans officials said the bison was uncovered during excavations for the state Route 76 East project at Pala Mesa, near Bonsall. It is the first fossilized bison found in Southern California, according to experts at Caltrans and the San Diego Natural History Museum at Balboa Park.

"We've never collected a skeleton of a giant bison in San Diego County before," said the Natural History Museum's curator of paleontology, Tom Demere, Ph.D.

Caltrans District Director Laurie Berman told reporters it's always exciting to build a road for people to use, but such discoveries make it even better.

The bison has been moved from North County to the museum, where paleontologists are carefully cleaning sediment from the bones, Caltrans officials said. The state agency usually hires scientists to watch large construction sites for important geologic or anthropologic finds.

"We have the monitors out there if we expect to find something based on the reports during the environmental phase," said Berman.

Demere said the bones are mostly from the back end of the animal, like the hips, vertebrae and lower part of the back.

"We don't have the upper part of the back -- we don't have the shoulders, we don't have the neck, we have the head, but not the lower jaws, we don't have the legs," Demere said. "It suggests that this animal was scavenged."

The animal died, maybe was killed, and "all the good stuff" was taken, he said.

But why should 21st century humans care?  Demere had the answer. 

"Climates have changed dramatically over the last 4.5 billion years and to understand what the scale of those changes are, fossils can really inform us about those changes," he said.

Demere said that gives a better idea of where climate changes are taking us. 

Paleontologists believe the giant bison became extinct toward the end of the last Ice Age as the climate warmed up.


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