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Trove of Ice Age Fossils Discovered in Hemet

April 01, 1999| From Associated Press

HEMET, Calif. — Digging for a vast new reservoir in Southern California has uncovered a huge array of Ice Age fossils, including a mammoth that may be the best-preserved bones of the elephant ancestor found in the region, experts said Wednesday.

The mammoth's yellow curving tusks, teeth, lower jaw and other bones were found Monday at the site of the Metropolitan Water District's Eastside Reservoir in Riverside County.

"It's certainly the best-preserved we've found," said Eric Scott, a paleontology field supervisor for the San Bernardino County Museum. "There could be a lot more of this critter."

The museum is overseeing state-required fossil research at the reservoir, a $2.2-billion project scheduled for completion by December. It will hold 260 billion gallons of water, nearly doubling Southern California's surface water storage capacity.

The mammoth was found near what will be the 260-foot-deep lake's bottom.

Thousands of bones from Ice Age species have been dug up since construction began in 1993. The area was cooler and greener during the Ice Age 50,000 to 11,000 years ago.

Mammoth, mastodon, saber-tooth cats, horses, camels and many species now extinct wandered the reservoir site in Domenigoni Valley, which was watered by a stream and possibly a lake, Scott said.

"There's not an assemblage of animals like this anywhere for this time period, not just in the inland valleys, but in California and even perhaps the western United States," said Kathleen Springer, senior curator of paleontology for the museum.

Paleontologists also have found bison, sloth, North American lion, dire wolves, bears, badgers, weasels, peccaries and deer.

The mammoth bones protruding from the ground appear to be from a female in her mid-20s. She had 5- to 6-foot tusks, stood perhaps 11 feet at the shoulder and probably weighed as much as a modern elephant. She died perhaps 15,000 to 20,000 years ago.

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