The fossilized remains of an ancient, doglike species known as Archeocyon, that roamed in what is now San Diego County 24 to 28 million years ago, were found almost completely intact.
The ancient skeleton was unearthed in 2019 at a construction site in Otay Ranch, where it was found embedded in a section of excavated sandstone and mudstone.
Since California Law requires that paleontologist be present during the excavation phase of major construction projects, Pat Sena of the San Diego Natural History Museum was on hand at the site when the section of ground where the fossil was located was dug up. He noticed small white fragments of bone protruding from the excavated rocks and arranged to have them transported to the museum to be analyzed.
Unfortunately, the pandemic hit shortly after the discovery was made putting a halt to research until December of 2021 when curatorial assistant Amanda Linn, began working on two of the rocks. Linn spent 120 painstaking hours using small carving tools and brushes to reach the fragile bones of the skeleton embedded in rock. She told the San Diego Union-Tribune, “As soon as you uncover the bones, they start to disintegrate...I used a lot of patience, and a lot of glue.”
Remarkably, only a portion of the tail is missing, otherwise the skeleton is complete.
Post-doctoral researcher Ashley Poust, explained that the team was able to determine the fossil's species once the cheekbone, teeth, and skull emerged from the rock, confirming that it belonged to a group of animals known as Archeocyons, which means “ancient dog.” The fossil dates to the late Oligocene epoch and is believed to be 24 million to 28 million years old.
While Archeocyon fossils have been found in the Great Plains and Pacific Northwest, they have rarely been found in Southern California because over time, the earth's movements in this region scattered, destroyed or deeply buried most fossils from the Oligocene epoch period.
The fossilized remains are still being examined and are not yet on display to the public. The discovery is a tremendous opportunity for the San Diego Natural History Museum’s scientists, including the curator of paleontology Tom Deméré, post-doctoral researcher Ashley Poust and curatorial assistant Amanda Linn.
Photo Credit: San Diego Natural History Museum. Cover Photo: Getty Images.