It was a typical July day in Carlsbad, California. Construction workers were grading a site where new homes were being built. Then a fossil was discovered. Construction around the area was temporarily halted as scientists jumped in and began carefully excavating the area.

Project Superintendent John Suster told the scientists to “take your time, this is kind of cool.”

Two months later and the fossils of several animals spanning the Pleistocene Epoch, more commonly known as the Ice Age, have been uncovered.

excavating fossils

The fossils were dated and range from 50,000 years old to 200,000 years old.

“It’s really an exciting project in terms of geology and paleontology,” said Tom Deméré, curator of paleontology at the San Diego Natural History Museum.

“The fossils have the potential to tell us a great deal about the climate, the environment, (and) the ecology of that time when they were living,” Deméré said. “They are direct connections with the past, an ancient ecosystem that was once common here. We can understand how climates can change by studying these ancient ecosystems.”

The most surprising find at the Carlsbad site is a massive bison. A skull and partial skeleton were excavated. Scientists aren’t sure exactly what species it is but have narrowed it down to between a giant bison or an antique bison. Bison fossil discoveries don’t happen every day in San Diego County. The only other one ever discovered was several years ago at a construction site near Pala. That bison was identified as a giant bison and lived up to its name. Paleontologists said it likely measured up to eight feet tall at the shoulders.

Giant Bison fossil

Giant Bison

Fossils from at least two Columbian mammoths were also discovered this summer. Columbian mammoths are a bit bigger than the more well-known wooly mammoths. They stand 13 feet tall at the shoulders and tip the scales at up to 10 tons.

Columbian mammoth fossil

Columbian Mammoth

Finding mammoth fossils in this area isn’t surprising. Mammoth tusks have been spotted at construction sites in downtown San Diego and Oceanside.

Other animal fossils discovered at this construction site include ancient horses and turtles.

As for the houses? Construction on those should begin early next year.

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