A walk with family turns into an epic discovery.
Paleontologist Jonathan Bloch with the Florida Museum of Natural History said his team would have never uncovered a prehistoric site filled with fossils if it weren’t for a 5-year-old little girl.
“She was walking on this property up around Williston and she was there with her family, and they were looking for arrowheads, taking a walk,” he said. “And this 5-year-old found a handful of bones in the site. And that’s how it was discovered. And that’s when they contacted us about seven years ago. And we very quickly, once we went out there and started digging, we started finding fossils.”
One of those fossils may be the largest remains ever discovered of an ancient ancestor of elephants, also known as a gomphothere, in Florida.
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Bloch called it “a once-in-a-lifetime find.”
He said the dig site is located near an ancient river that ran through North Florida 5 to 6 million years ago.
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After digging at the site over the last seven years, Bloch said his team from the University of Florida has also found a vast array of animals including sabretooth cats.
The team has learned a lot about the animals that used to call Florida home through this unique discovery, but Bloch said the bones are still the property of the landowners.
“Once you find fossils on your land, here in the state of Florida, those are your fossils, it’s your land,” he said. “So the only way that we can study these things and document them for science and things is through cooperation with people around the state. And for the most part, people are very cooperative when it comes to this. They find big, incredible fossils, and people just want to know more about them. And so that’s when we get called in. But it does require a lot of cooperation. So in this case, the landowners have been incredibly generous and they’ve invited us out there to dig for the last seven years and have very much supported our bringing hundreds of volunteers out there and it’s exactly that kind of cooperation that allows us to do this kind of work here in the state of Florida, because let’s face it, most of the great fossils that we find here in the state are in people’s backyards.”
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One of the volunteers helping to uncover ancient bones is Ken Marks. He boasted his favorite find to date is a 5.5 million-year-old rhinoceros.
“I’m a retired computer programmer with no paleontological experience other than what I’ve gained here,” Marks said. “It’s great that they actually allow us to work on really cool fossils.”
Marks said he and his wife are so excited about the fossils that they moved from Boca Raton to Gainesville three years ago so they could spend more time volunteering with the Florida Museum of Natural History.
To learn more about the dig site, how you can become a volunteer and the rare finds being unearthed, check out Florida’s Fourth Estate. You can also watch Florida’s Fourth Estate on Mondays & Fridays at 5:30 p.m. on News 6 or anytime on News 6+.