It seems that this is a good week to go fossil hunting across America, as ancient remains of creatures long-extinct appear to be turning up all over the place. After a 475-million-year-old trilobite fossil washed up on a lake shore in Tennessee, another important paleontological discovery has just been made in Utah, Great Lakes Ledger reports.
The finding is credited to Utah homeowner Bridger Hill, who discovered a 16,000-year-old horse skeleton in his backyard. The fossil dates back to the Late Pleistocene and was dug up by the Hill family during a landscaping project.
“We started to dig with our fingers and found ribs,” Hill told journalists in an interview.
The family unearthed the entire skeleton by themselves and, although the animal’s skull was missing, they could see that the remains belonged to a horse. The bones were found in perfect condition, so the Hills called in paleontologist Rick Hunter, from the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point, to take a look at the fossil.
Hunter was initially sent a photograph of the remains, from which he quickly identified the animal. He later arrived at the scene to date the fossil and to look around for more clues.
Hunter examined the fossil’s hooves and the condition of the bones, which were covered in sediments from Lake Bonneville, an ancient lake that stretched over a big portion of present-day Utah in the Late Pleistocene.
Judging by the impeccable condition of the bones, Hunter ascertained that the animal was interred immediately after its death, before decomposition had a chance to set in. This meant that the age of the sediments could be used to date the fossil, which Hunter estimated was between 14,000 and 16,000-years-old.
According to Fox19, his team believes the ancient remains belong to some type of ancient Shetland pony, although the animal’s presence in the area, which 16,000 years ago was still covered by water, is yet to be explained.
However, the paleontologist did venture a guess on how the horse may have wound up in this particular location.
“It’s fun to speculate and say maybe a predator was chasing him along the shoreline. Horses can swim, maybe it escaped that way and was unable to make it back in.”
Although the fossil was found without a skull, the mystery of the missing head was shortly solved by the paleontologists, who discovered skull fragments about 50 feet from the place where the Hill family unearthed the horse skeleton.
The team plans to continue studying the ancient bones and find out as much as possible about this unusual specimen. The 16,000-year-old fossil is to be displayed at the Museum of Ancient Life.
Though finding the skeleton of an ancient horse in your backyard is undoubtedly surprising, it appears that Utah residents have come across other ice age fossils in the past. The news outlet notes that traces of Huntington mammoths and saber-toothed cats were also uncovered in the area.
At the same time, fossils of ancient horses dating back to the ice age were also excavated in the neighboring states of Wyoming and Nevada, the Inquisitr reported last year.