Las Vegas Locals Defend Paleontological Treasure Trove

Mammoth Tusk at Tule Springs

It’s hard to believe that a mere thirty minutes away from the flashy ruckus of Las Vegas rests one of the most amazing paleontological discoveries in America’s history. It’s even harder to believe that it gets very little recognition.

The fossilized remains of Columbian mammoths, American lions, camelops, sloths and other amazing wildlife found in the region date back 7,000 to 250,000 years. The specimens record at least two Ice Ages as well as several global warming and cooling periods.

The first fossils were found in 1902, and six decades later the “Big Dig” took over Tule Springs. With funding from the National Science Foundation, teams of scientists set up camp for four months and excavated two miles of land in order to uncover and study the fossils that were preserved over the centuries. In 1979, 1,000 acres of the land were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The early 2000s had a different plan for the land, and when the Bureau of Land Management announced its intentions to dig up and build on 13,000 acres in the area, locals rose to defend the treasure trove of natural history.

“I had no idea what we were getting into five years ago,” said Las Vegas resident Jill DeStephano, who battled the construction. “I had never done anything like this before. I was naïve. I thought this was so obvious, once we got the word out, of course everyone would say yes, we need to preserve this.”

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Together with some fellow residents, Jill created ‘Protectors of Tule Springs.’ “I thought it would be over in a year or two,” she explained. “Then one consultant said to me, ‘why don’t you go home and play bridge?’ He kept saying things like ‘How much of the Mohave Desert do you have to save? Will 100 acres suffice?’ From my window I could see the beautiful lands of Desert National Wildlife Refuge, and I thought, ‘One day, it will be all built.’”

Eventually, DeStephano teamed up with the National Parks Conservation Association, who began pushing for the space to be declared a national monument.

“When the park service came out and looked at the area, they said this was a missing piece in our fossil record,” explained NPCA’s Nevada filed office program manager Lynn Davis.

Though the decision has not yet been made, support for the cause throughout the area has grown. Officially, in order to make a national monument, one of Nevada’s Congressional representatives would need to introduce legislation. Many are looking to Senator majority Leader Harry Reid.

“When this finally happens, it will be very emotional for a lot of people. They’ve really put their hearts out there,” Davis said.

New Findings Reveal Prehistoric Human-Dog Bonds

Paleontologists have recently unearthed the fossils of three prehistoric dogs, one of which had a mammoth bone locked in its jaws. Researchers believe the bone may have been placed in the dog’s mouth after its death by a human, in a ritual-like burial.

The bone, and other procedures which were performed on the dog’s body before burial, imply that the relationship between dogs and humans may go back farther than previously believed.

Mietje Germonpre, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, explained that the mammoth bone could reveal “that the dog was ‘fed’ to accompany the soul of the dead person on its journey.”  She added that a perforation was found in the dog’s skull, which implies a ritual to release the dog’s spirit after the death of its body.

Rob Losey, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Alberta, said the study certainly reveals that dog domestication occurred much earlier than once believed.
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He said: “The distinctive treatment given to some of the remains also is compelling and this indicates to me that a special connections had developed between people and some canids quite early on- long prior to any good evidence for dogs being buried.”

Researchers believe the dogs were used for hauling loads such as meat, bones and mammoth tusks, as well as firewood.