September 2, 2009

Ashfall Fossil Beds

Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historic Park near Royal, NE is an amazing place where you can view fossils of now extinct rhinos, camels, and horses and even elephants that once lived in North America. Many more species of animals have been found preserved here including the Saber-toothed Deer!

Perfectly preserved in ash from a volcanic eruption some 12 million years ago in present day Idaho. It dropped about 1 foot of ash which suffocated the animals when it got into their lungs. The area where they found the fossils was most likely a watering hole where all of these species came to drink. After many years the skeletons became perfectly preserved. The volcanic eruption that caused it all was much larger than the one at Mount Saint Helens (compare them on the map below).
Due to shifting of the earth's crust Yellowstone National Park is now sitting on top of the "hot spot" that formed the volcano which covered Nebraska in a foot of ash.
My mom, dad , and I went out there in mid August to see this place for ourselves. After stopping in at the visitor center we went down to the Hubbard Rhino Barn where most of the well preserved fossils are. Named for the numerous rhino fossils there were also deer and horse fossils as well. The paleontologists uncovered all of the fossils and left them right where they were found. In order to keep them safe they just put a building over it.
Here are some photos of the fossils. They had a number of complete rhino skeletons including the one below.

A rhino head (below)

A small horse skeleton

They also had a couple camels but I couldn't find a photo of a complete skeleton on my camera. Outside of the building they are still finding fossils, but not large skeletons, just bone fragments.

After finding so many fossils it seems that there would be no more, but the excavation continues. They are finding even more rhinos in the barn and they expect to come across many more in the future. Since this is a birding blog I figure I better mention some of the birds that they found there. Exotic birds such as Gray-crowned Cranes, Secretary Bird were found there although I didn't get to see the fossils. To learn more about this site and to see hours and get directions go to: Another fossil bed I personally recommend is the Mammoth Site in western South Dakota's Black Hills. It is an amazing place with numerous mammoth tusks and bones displayed in the same manor. It's website is

1 comment:

Jann said...

It's just mind-boggling to see the remains of extinct animals, isn't it. I've been to the Woolly Mammoth site...the Columbia mammoth remains are actually more impressive as they're much larger but we're all more familiar w/ the woolly. Nice photos and text, Tucker; really awesome that your folks get you out to see interesting sights.