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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
Discovery of Fossil Provides Insight into Bosque del Apache's Past
Region 0, April 2, 2008
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On February 22, Geologists Dave Love, Richard Chamberlin with the New Mexico Bureau of geology and Mineral Resources, and New Mexico Tech Graduate Student Colin Cikoski, were conducting a geologic mapping project in the Bosque del Apache NWR, when Love discovered the fossilized remains of prehistoric mammal that went extinct several million years ago. The remains were of an Oreodont, a sheep-sized herbivore that was fairly common in the western U.S. during the Miocene Period, roughly 10 to 15 million years ago. 


“The discovery of this specimen gives us a better picture of what the Bosque must have looked like millions years ago,” says Chamberlin. “When this particular animal died, the Bosque was a grassland savannah, with rolling hills, shallow rain-filled basins, streams, and sand dunes. Though arid, it was not the desert that it is today.”


The oreodont collapsed in a stream and its remains were covered by several feet of sand, blown by the wind and carried by the stream, itself. Years later, the area was covered by water, which deposited several additional layers of sand and cobble. Time and the elements slowly cemented the sand and cobble together in a process known as Diagensis. Millions of years later, the fossilized Oreodont remains were exposed again by wind and water.


On March 4, the fossilized remains were removed from the canyon wall by a team from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. “The remains will be thoroughly studied and eventually returned to the refuge,” says Refuge Manager Tom Melanson.

Contact Info: Kevin Painter, , kevin_painter@fws.gov