Paleontologists from Florida’s Museum of Natural History discovered a graveyard of extinct elephants known as gomphotheres, the Pensacola News-Journal reported.
The team of paleontologists headed by Jonathan Bloch, the curator of vertebrate paleontology at the museum, uncovered parts of a gomphothere early last year at the Montbrook Fossil Dig.
Calling the discovery a “once-in-a-lifetime find,” Bloch said the recently found skeleton was the “most complete” skeleton of a gomphothere found in Florida and “among the best in North America.”
Isolated bones had been found before at the site, so Bloch’s team did not have any reason to think they would find anything extraordinary. But days after finding skeletal parts, volunteers at the dig uncovered the articulated foot of something quite large.
Montbrook Fossil Dig volunteer Dean Warner, a chemistry teacher, told the News-Journal that he first uncovered one to after another and then ankle bones. As he continued digging, he uncovered what turned out to be the ulna and radius. At that point, the team “knew that something special had been found,” Warner said.
Soon the team realized that there were the complete skeletons of several gomphotheres, including at least seven juveniles and one adult.
According to Jonathan Bloch, the adult skeleton was approximately 8 feet tall at the shoulders. The skull, which included the tusks, measured more than 9 feet in length.
The gomphotheres likely died over five million years ago in or around a river that has long dried up.
Rachel Narducci of the Florida Museum of Natural History said it is likely that the fossils were either transported to the area or selectively deposited. She told the News-Journal that it is likely that members of a single herd or multiple herds “got stuck in this one spot at different times.”
In the last 7 years, those working at Montbrook Fossil Dig have found the oldest North American deer, as well as the oldest known skull belonging to a smilodontine sabertoothed cat.