A park ranger in California was working in a petrified forest and discovered a treasure trove of prehistoric fossils. Among the fossils discovered at the site are an exceptionally well-preserved mastodon skull and the remains of a massive salmon that weighed 400 pounds. Paleontologists are saying that this is one of the most significant fossil finds in all of California.
The park ranger who discovered the site realized he was in a petrified forest when he noticed something that looked like wood but was smooth like stone. The ranger says that he realized when he noticed one end was exposed that he could see tree rings inside that he was standing in a petrified forest. A quick search uncovered more petrified trees, and after returning over a few weeks for additional survey, the Ranger discovered the vertebrae fossils.
After discovering the fossils, the Ranger reached out to paleontologists and geologists, who quickly discovered the tip of a pearly bone as they remove the surrounding rock. Eventually, they discovered that the small bit of bone was the extremely well-preserved skull of a mastodon. Working over the past year, the paleontologists have uncovered hundreds of animal specimens constituting dozens of different species within a forest of 600 petrified trees.
Fossils that have been discovered so far include the giant salmon, an extinct camel that was the size of a giraffe, and a gomphothere, an ancestor to elephants. The remains of rhinos, giant tortoises, horses, and other creatures have also been discovered in the area. Scientists believe the bones were probably carried to the region by floods, and debris from lava flow further inland.
When the extinct creatures lived, paleontologists say the region would’ve been an oak forest surrounded by an ancient ocean. The paleontologists are keeping the location of the dig site a secret to prevent anyone from looting it. The mastodon skull will be put on display at the Gateway Science Museum later this fall.