Fossil Friday – horse mandible

We’re continuing our review of our collection of Pleistocene fossils from the Harveston neighborhood of Murrieta, in southwestern Riverside County. This is a diverse fauna with a number of different genera, but it appears that in terms of shear numbers of bones this collection is dominated by horses. Continue reading

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Fossil Friday – strange mastodon vertebrae

A lot of the work done by paleontologists and biologists, especially those that work on taxonomy and systematics, is trying to identify general characteristics that various groups of animals have in common and that differ in other groups. The characters are the raw material that we use to define and identify species, to unravel the evolutionary relationships between those species and group them into higher taxa, and to identify sexes, ages, and other features. But, of course, the smallest unit we deal with is the individual animal, and sometimes fossils are emphatically, stubbornly individualistic. Continue reading

Fossil Friday – camel vertebra

This is a cervical (neck) vertebra of a giant extinct camel called Camelops, which roamed southern California during the Pleistocene Epoch, perhaps less than 50,000 years ago. This particular specimen was discovered in 2002 near Murrieta, and is part of a fauna that also includes horses, mammoths, and giant ground sloths. The view shown here is the right lateral view of the vertebra, showing the ball-shaped structure and large prongs (prezygapophyses) that would have articulated with the next vertebra closer to the head.

Fossil Friday – Smilodon vertebra

The amazing deposits at Rancho La Brea portray a biased view of California’s Ice Age fauna. The vast numbers of sabertooth cats, dire wolves, and other carnivores are impressive to see and have provided a bonanza of scientific studies over the years, but they give the impression that the Ice Age was overrun by predators. In fact, in most deposits herbivores are much more common and predators are scarce, just as in modern healthy ecosystems. Nevertheless, occasional carnivores do show up in these deposits. The early Pleistocene deposits in San Timoteo Canyon, near Redlands CA, are dominated by horses and rodents, with a smattering of deer, sloths, and camels. But among the 16,000 specimens from the site in the WSC collections, there are associated remains of two large carnivores, including a sabertooth cat. Continue reading

Fossil Friday – crocodile jaw

December 8 Fossil FridayA few months ago, WSC hired Dr. Andrew McDonald as our paleontology Curator. Going forward, Andrew and I are going to split responsibility for writing Fossil Friday posts. Today is Andrew’s first post. – ACD Continue reading

Fossil Friday – deer antler

Over the last few weeks we’ve been continuing both our studies of the collection of Pleistocene fossils from the Harveston neighborhood of Murrieta, as well as setting up and learning to use our new 3D scanning and printing capabilities. These two projects have rapidly started to come together. Continue reading

Fossil Friday – ceratopsian rib

A few months ago Dr. Andrew McDonal joined the staff of WSC as our new curator. Andrew has been excavating for several years in the Cretaceous Menefee Formation on federal land in New Mexico, and now some of that material is making its way to WSC. This morning we opened our first Menefee Formation field jacket on public view at the museum’s Exploration Station.  Continue reading

Fossil Friday – printed bison calcaneum

IMG_6056At our annual Science Under the Stars fundraiser last September, or donors provided us with funding to start a #D scanning and printing lab the the Western Science Center. While some of our equipment is still on order, our first printer arrived a few weeks ago and we’ve been printing as much as possible while we train ourselves in its use. During the Valley of the Mastodons Symposium, Bernard Means from the Virtual Curation Lab scanned a number of our specimens. While we wait for our scanner to arrive we’ve been printing some of Bernard’s scans. Continue reading

Fossil Friday – deer humerus

One of the collections at WSC comes from the Harveston neighborhood of Murrieta in Riverside County. While this is a fairly small collection, it’s amazingly diverse, with well over a dozen different species of mammals. A group of us have started going through this collection to document it. Continue reading

Fossil Friday – vacation!


For the past week Brett and I have been in Seattle attending the 2017 meeting of the Geological Society of America, where we were presenting on the “Stepping out of the Past” and “Valley of the Mastodons” exhibits. The meeting ended Wednesday night, and we’re now taking a short vacation to see geological sites in the northwest. But today things took a slight detour. Continue reading