Amazing discovery made in the California Valley


It all started with a petrified tree, half buried in the mud of the Mokelumne River watershed in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The site intrigued Greg Francek, a ranger in the East Bay Municipal District.

He inspected further, and what he recently discovered led to one of the most significant fossil finds in California history.

“I looked further around the area and found a second tree,” Francek said in a EBMUD storymap. “And then a third and so on. After finding dozens of trees, I realized what I was looking at was the remains of a petrified forest.”

Petrified wood comes from trees that have been buried in the fine-grained sediments of deltas, floodplains, or volcanic ash beds, and turned to stone for millions of years.


After three weeks of prospecting the site, Francek made an even more curious discovery.

“I located the first vertebrate fossils,” he says. “What I didn’t understand at the time was the astonishing fact that I was looking at the bones of great beasts that had roamed this landscape millions of years ago.”

Francek contacted experts in paleontology and geology from across the country to come and inspect the bones, and they are still here today making historic discoveries.

These great beasts include mastodons (elephant-like creatures with unique teeth; the name means ‘nipple tooth’), gomphothères (ancestral elephants, but with four tusks) and, amazingly, 400-pound salmon with teeth. pointed, among others yet to be identified. They even found camel fossils.

Illustration of a juggernaut.

Nastasic / Getty Images

The bones are believed to date from the Miocene era, around 10 million years ago. The site, the Mokelumne River Watershed, is where some 1.4 million Bay Area residents get their drinking water. EBMUD has owned and managed 28,000 acres of watersheds there for a century.

“The find is very important because of the number and diversity of specimens found. There are few other fossil finds like this one in California,” said Dr Russell Shapiro of the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at the ‘State of Chico in a statement. “Bones paint a clearer picture of life 10 million years ago, when animals moved from forest life to grassland as the landscape changed.

The remains of behemoths were last found in California by the agency in 1947 during the construction of a pipeline in Contra Costa County. But the current treasure trove of fossils is the largest and most diverse in the history of the state.

“Since this is one of California’s most important paleontological discoveries, researchers still have a lot of questions like why are all of these fossils here? How did they die? did it happen and when? ” the researchers wrote. “Studying this site can take years.”

Find more information and photos of the discovery on the excellent virtual presentation of EBMUD, here.


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