Fla. Museum fossil dig successful, more volunteers needed through Dec. 17

November 9th, 2005

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History paleontologists and volunteers have recovered more than 1,500 fossils from an ancient clay-filled sinkhole located in western Alachua County since work at the site began Oct. 11, but more volunteers are still needed for the project, scheduled to continue through Dec. 17.

The large-scale excavation of the site approximately two miles northeast of Newberry has uncovered 2-million-year-old fossilized bones and teeth of freshwater and land animals. Florida Museum paleontologists Jonathan Bloch and Richard Hulbert, who are leading the excavation, believe the initial weeks of the dig have been “extremely successful.”

“The scientific value of many of the skeletons we are uncovering is remarkably significant,” Bloch said. “The recovered skeletons of sloths and tapirs will allow detailed study of how these extinct mammals were related to mammals discovered at other fossil sites and to their living relatives.”

Approximately 10 to 15 volunteers are still needed each day, Tuesday through Friday, now through Dec. 17 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Weekend shifts also are available. Volunteers must be at least 18 years of age, maintain a moderate level of physical fitness and be able to work outdoors for a minimum of three hours. Volunteers may work for a single day, a block of days or a regular weekly schedule and can choose to work morning, afternoon or full-day shifts. Experience is not necessary. All volunteers will receive training and will work with Florida Museum staff and University of Florida graduate students. Volunteers are responsible for arranging their own transportation to the fossil site.

The fossils discovered at the site range in size from 18-foot-tall, multi-ton giant ground sloths to small frogs, snakes and rodents. The excavation has revealed well-preserved skeletons of giant ground sloths, a smaller species of sloth that stood approximately 6 feet tall, and tapirs, hoofed, plant-eating mammals distantly related to horses and rhinoceroses.

The numerous skeletons will allow paleontologists to learn how extinct species walked and interacted with their environment. The site also revealed skeletons of mammals of varying ages, ranging from infants to adults, allowing Florida Museum scientists to study how each species changed in size and shape as it developed.

In addition, the initial weeks of the dig produced the first fossils uncovered of a variety of species, but only a small percentage of the sinkhole has been excavated, and Bloch and Hulbert expect many more new species to be recovered.

“We are very excited about the new species we have uncovered with the help of our volunteers,” Hulbert said. “The remaining six weeks of the dig are sure to produce more amazing specimens.”

For more information, see www.flmnh.ufl.edu/vertpaleo/2005_dig.htm or contact Richard Hulbert, rhulbert@flmnh.ufl.edu.

Media Contact: Paul Ramey, (352) 846-2000, pramey@ufl.edu
Writer: Emily Banks