Workers building a new swimming pool for a Las Vegas couple got a bit of a shock when they dug up a set of bones that are believed to date back to the Ice Age and may have been buried there for 14,000 years.
Homeowner Matt Perkins told CNN that he and his husband found out about the discovery on Monday morning, when police came to investigate.
It only took the police a few minutes to figure out that there wasn’t a crime scene in Perkins’ back yard.
“They came in, dug up the bone, saw that it was fairly large and at that point told us, ‘Too big to be human. Not our concern anymore,'” Perkins said.
That was a relief, Perkins said, but they were still curious what was down there.
They asked paleontologist Joshua Bonde, the research director at the Nevada Science Center, to come over and take a look.
Bonde told CNN that the center receives calls like this from time to time and usually they end up being nothing. But this time, it was the fossilized remains of a prehistoric horse.
The animal’s right shoulder blade, bones from its right arm and some vertebrae have been exposed so far, he said. He said the bones were still connected in the way they would have been when the horse was alive, which is rare and suggests it was buried quickly before hungry scavengers could scatter its remains.
It was buried about 4 to 5 feet underground, Bonde said.
Perkins also found the horse’s jawbone, a rib and some vertebrae in the pile of dirt excavated for the 6-foot-deep pool.
Bonde said the evidence suggests that the horse lived during the Ice Age sometime between 6,000 and 14,000 years ago.
Researchers at the US Geological Survey will test the specimen to get a more exact idea of when the horse died, Bonde said.
He said the find is a great story that will give people a chance to see how the scientific process works.
“Now we have to do actual science to tell how old it is maybe what species of horse it is. And then where that falls in the greater scheme of the history of Las Vegas and Southern Nevada,” Bonde said.
At the time the horse would have lived, the area was a marshy environment and would have been home to mammoths, camels, saber tooth cats, dire wolves and other mammals that have since gone extinct, he said.
Perkins said that he and his husband were surprised that this doesn’t happen all the time, since there is so much construction in the area.
They’d even joked before all this happened that it if workers found a dinosaur, it might pay for the whole pool.
Instead, they’ve put construction on hold for a bit, so the researchers can study and preserve the fossil.
Perkins said most people want to find a fossil when they’re kids. “I didn’t really grow out of it,” he said.
“To actually have one in our backyard, it’s amazing. It’s a surprise, (We) still kind of can’t wrap our head around it happening,” he said.
Perkins said that once the fossil is unearthed, they plan to loan it to the Nevada Science Center or someone else who can study it, preserve it and put it on display for others to enjoy.