When he started uncovering large bones, retired chemistry teacher Dean Warner was assisting at a dig site for the Florida Museum of Natural History.

In a press statement from the museum, Warner recalled, “I started coming upon one toe and ankle bone after another.” “As I dug deeper, I began to unearth what turned out to be the radius and ulna. Everyone was aware that something extraordinary had been discovered.

Eight full skeletons of gomphotheres, an extinct subspecies of elephants discovered in the fossil records of Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America, were the “something special” in this case.

A once-in-a-lifetime find

As stated in the news release, “this is a once-in-a-lifetime find,” according to Jonathan Bloch, curator of vertebrate palaeontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History. It is among the best gomphothere skeletons from North America and the most complete one from this time period found in Florida.

The discovery was made at the Montbrook Fossil Dig, a remarkably rich hoard of fossils that date back about 5 million years. The area, according to scientists, was originally a river that gathered and dumped the remains of extinct species along its banks.

The location has the fossilised remains of a variety of animals, including sharks, turtles, alligators, shrimp, deer, herons, saber-toothed cats, rhinoceroses, llamas and camels. In 2015, the property was accidentally found by landowner Eddie Hodge’s granddaughter. That’s why palaeontology is great.

Nevertheless, the gomphothere find is significant even by Montbrook standards.

The collection manager for vertebrate palaeontology at the museum, Rachel Narducci, remarked, “We’ve never seen anything like this at Montbrook. At this location, we typically only uncover a single piece of a skeleton.

This is because bones from decaying animals would have been dispersed by the water of the ancient river. Narducci continued, however, by speculating that the gomphotheres may “have been caught in a curve of the river where the flow was reduced.”

Scientists and volunteers encase a fossil in plaster to keep it intact before removing it from the site for further study

Next step: Assembly

The set of skeletons consists of one adult, which was Warner’s first fossil find, and eight juveniles, which were found shortly after. Officials from the museum, however, think that rather of passing out all at once from a catastrophic event, the animals may have died gradually and accumulated in the aforementioned curve.

The discovery will aid research into the biology and anatomy of these extinct elephants. The finest part, though, according to Bloch, “has been sharing this process of discovery with so many volunteers from all over the state of Florida.” Our objective is to put this enormous skeleton together and display it with the famous mastodon and mammoth that are already on display at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

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