Scientists in Alberta, Canada, are marveling over a field of late Pleistocene fossils and animal footprints laid bare earlier this year in an emptied-out reservoir.
The 3-square-kilometer site, located in Cardston, near the U.S. border, was discovered in March by a local grade school teacher, who came across some stone points in the Clovis style, which dates to about 11,000 years ago. The reservoir had been emptied last fall for repairs to the spillway. After the last puddles dried out, high winds screaming down from mountain passes stripped away several meters of sediment to reveal scores of animal bones, an ancient hearth, stone tools, and track marks from extinct oxen, bison, horses, camels--a fairly common beast in Pleistocene North America--and mammoths.
A team led by vertebrate paleontologist Jim Burns of the Provincial Museum of Alberta has been racing to make casts of the prints before wind erases them. So far they have salvaged seven mammoth prints, a dozen horse prints, and a half-dozen prints from Camelops hesternus, a thick-coated camel. Carbon dating of a bison bone puts the site at about 11,000 years old, near the end of the last Ice Age, says paleontologist Len Hills of the University of Calgary, who led the excavations.
Fossils of most Pleistocene-era mammals are common, experts say, but the prints are special. The site is "intriguing, mainly because of the footprints," says paleontologist Richard Harington of the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. "It's marvelous."
Hills's team excavated as much as it could before the reservoir was being refilled in early June to provide farmers with water to irrigate for summer sowing. Next fall, the water level will again be lowered to complete repairs. Scientists hope to be able to do more research then, before the site is submerged permanently next year.