Workers of the Depression era found strange fossilized beasts in the "Texas Serengeti"



Workers of the Depression era found strange fossilized beasts in the "Texas Serengeti"

An illustration showing ancient animals – such as geomotherts, rhinos, antelopes and elephant-like antelopes, with sling-shaped horns – lived near present-day Beeville, Texas, there are about 12 million years.

Credit: Jay Matternes / The Smithsonian Institution

About 12 million years ago, antelopes with slingshot-shaped horns and beasts that were not quite elephants, but which had long trunks and tusks crossed by the "Texas Serengeti "looking for food and care for their babies.

This ancient menagerie was unknown until, during the Great Depression, the government created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and tasked some of its employees with finding and storing thousands of Miocene fossils, a period that lasted about 23 million years. to 5 million years.

Now, after more than 80 years of storage at the University of Texas at Austin, these fossils are finally under study. The fossils even revealed a previously unknown genus of gomphothere, an extinct elephant parent with a shovel-like lower jaw, and the oldest recorded fossils of both the American alligator and an extinct dog parent. . [Photos: These Animals Used to Be Giant]

The fossils collected from 1939 to 1941 are a real treasure, scientists said. Nearly 4,000 specimens, found at excavation sites near Beeville, a town about 145 km southeast of San Antonio, contain 50 species of fossil vertebrates (spine animals), including five species of fish, seven reptiles, two birds and 36 mammals.

During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration paid people for the collection and preservation of fossils in Texas. Glen Evans (left), who has managed much of this WPA project, is portrayed carrying a fossil in a field jacket with a worker.

During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration paid people for the collection and preservation of fossils in Texas. Glen Evans (left), who has managed much of this WPA project, is portrayed carrying a fossil in a field jacket with a worker.

Credit: University of Texas at the Austin Jackson School of Geosciences

The choice of animals is mind-boggling, revealing that rhinoceros, camels, rodents, 12 types of horses and five species of carnivores have crossed what is today the Gulf of Texas coast about 11 to 12 million years ago. 39; years.

"This is the most representative collection of life from this era of the Earth's history along the Texas coastal plain," said researcher Steven May, research associate at the University of California. Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin.

The skull of a jawfly (bottom), collected by the fossil hunters of the Great Depression, is still wrapped in his hunting jacket, along with other skulls of the old parents of 39; elephants.

The skull of a jawfly (bottom), collected by the fossil hunters of the Great Depression, is still wrapped in his hunting jacket, along with other skulls of the old parents of 39; elephants.

Credit: University of Texas at the Austin Jackson School of Geosciences

Matthew Brown, director of the museum's Vertebrate Paleontology Collections, said Matthew Brown, although others have examined specific fossils in this collection.

May also returned to the original excavation sites to see which smaller fossils, such as rodent teeth, could be updated, as the discoveries collected consisted mainly of large "obvious" fossils, a- he declared. There are so many fossils of the WPA era that the project will probably last for years. In addition, researchers plan to do isotopic fossil analyzes. (Isotopes are different versions of an element whose nucleus contains a different number of neutrons.) This will help scientists evaluate the diets and paleoenvironments of some ancient animals, May wrote in his study published online yesterday ( April 11). in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica.

Originally published on Science live.


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