The fossils found southeast of LA include a giant cat, ground sloths the size of grizzly bears, camels and other animals
KNBC-TV Los Angeles
Updated 8:30 AM PDT, Tue, Sep 21, 2010Utility workers building a new substation in stumbled on a fossil find that researchers say could fill in blanks in Southern California's history.
In an arid canyon southeast of Los Angeles, the Southern California Edison crew discovered a trove of animal fossils dating back 1.4 million years. The well-preserved cache contains nearly 1,500 bone fragments, including a giant cat that was the ancestor of the saber-toothed tiger, ground sloths the size of a modern-day grizzly bear, two types of camels and more than 1,200 bones from small rodents.
Other finds include a new species of deer, horse and possibly llama, researchers affiliated with the project said.
Workers doing grading for the substation also uncovered signs of plant life that indicate birch, pine, sycamore, marsh reeds and oak trees once grew in the area that is now dry and sparsely vegetated.
The fossils representing 35 species have all been removed from the site and will be on display at the Western Science Center in nearby Hemet starting next year.
The bones are about 1 million years older than those found in the famous La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, said Rick Greenwood, a microbiologist who also is director of corporate environment health and safety for the utility, Southern California Edison.
"If you step back, this is just a huge find," he said. "Everyone talks about the La Brea Tar Pits, but I think this is going to be much larger in terms of its scientific value to the research community."
Greenwood continued: "Some of the things I personally find fascinating are the prehistoric camels and llamas and horses and deer. I don't think most people even have the concept that those types of animals were roaming around here more than a million years ago."
San Diego Museum of Natural History paleontologist Tom Demere said the fossil trove cannot be directly compared to the La Brea Tar Pits because they contain different species and shed light on different eras. Nevertheless, he said the collection could advance scientists' understanding of life in Southern California 1.4 million years ago.
"We have a fuzzy view of what this time period was like in terms of mammal evolution," Demere said. "A discovery like this -- when they're all found together and in a whole range of sizes -- could really be an important contribution."
The fossils were found in San Timoteo Canyon in a part of the ancient river valley about 85 miles southeast of Los Angeles. The region is now arid and dusty and shadowed by the San Bernardino Mountains to the north, but it was lush more than a million years ago, said Philippe Lapin, an archaeologist for the utility.
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