Scientists Marvel at Prehistoric 'Bear-Dog' Fossil Find in California's San Joaquin Valley
The Associated PressThe Associated Press
RKELEY, Calif. Feb 26, 2005 — Scientists are marveling at a fossil find in California's San Joaquin Valley that has produced the remains of a never-before-seen badger-like creature and a monstrous predator that looks like a cross between a bear and a pit bull.
Among the discoveries was the skull of an animal that appears to be an entirely new genus within the same family as otters, skunks and weasels.
"It just blew me out of my mind," Xiaoming Wang, associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, said after seeing the fossil of the badger-like animal. "It looks like it was very ferocious."
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A team led by paleontologist J.D. Stewart recovered bones from 25 species of vertebrates, as well as birds and snails, that date to roughly 15 million years ago. The best-preserved 1,200 specimens now make up a permanent collection at the University of California, Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology.
The dig is a legacy of California's power crisis of 2000-2001. The fossils were unearthed during construction of new electricity transmission lines at the so-called Path 15, the infamous utility bottleneck in the state's north-south electricity conduit near Los Banos.
Also found on the site just west of Fresno were the most complete remains yet discovered in the San Joaquin Valley of a bear-dog creature that ruled what once was a savannah-like environment.
Stewart, a research associate at the National History Museum in Los Angeles, said his team found a jaw bone and an inch-long fang from what they estimate was a 200-pound creature.
"They look something like a large pit bull," Stewart told the San Francisco Chronicle. "They're very tough customers."
Also found was the most complete skull ever of the early horse Merychippus californicus, Latin for "ruminant horse of California."
The three-toed horse stood only 3 1/2 feet tall from its shoulders to the ground, said Stewart, adding that the animal marks a milestone on the evolutionary path of horses.