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California paleontologists roam 'valley of the mastodons'

kneebone July 12, 1997
Web posted at: 11:40 p.m. EDT (0340 GMT)

From Correspondent Jim Hill

HEMET, California (CNN) -- In California's sun-baked desert, teams of workers are reconstructing the huge skeleton of a prehistoric mastodon.

The remnants were unearthed and carefully encased in plaster near Hemet, California, as part of a revealing archaeological project. The bones were discovered 40 percent intact, and paleontologist Eric Scott described them as an "exceptional find."

It is only the second discovery of the elephant-like creatures in this inland valley. Once common, they died off mysteriously about 30,000 years ago.

CNN's Jim Hill reports
icon 2 min. VXtreme video

Paleontologists monitoring the construction of a series of dams noticed the bones poking out of the heavy clay.

"It's always a bit of a rush, because most of the time we're out here we find small things," paleontologist Steve Kesler said.

In one pit, experts have scraped away the soil to reveal a long-horned bison, a ground sloth and a western horse -- all extinct.

Before construction began several years ago, no one knew this low-lying area would yield so many prehistoric remains. The inland area has been dubbed "valley of the mastodons."


"It's very helpful in determining what inland California was like," Scott said.

In the past two years, researchers also have found the ruins of human camp sites, perhaps 8,000 years old.

The discoveries indicate that the California desert region once was heavily forested and much wetter. When the dams are finished, the land will once again be underwater, transformed into a reservoir serving 16 million Southern Californians.

But first it will have quenched the thirst for knowledge of the ancient people and creatures that once roamed there.


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