Many archaeological finds are accidentally unearthed by construction crews, as was the discovery of a 1.8 million-year-old skull of a giant ground sloth in Southern California.
Buried in the ground since the Ice Age, the skull was found by a construction crew and could be on its way to be displayed at the San Bernardino County Museum.
Work on a new site for a Southern California Edison sub-station was immediately halted when the ancient bones were discovered while earthmovers were flattening out a hilly area west of Beaumont, which is a few miles from the low desert community of Palm Springs, said Rick Greenwood director of Edison’s environment health and safety division.
Any company doing construction on virgin land is required by law to have an archaeologist on such work sites. It was the contracted archaeologist who noticed patches of a white substance around the fossils' location. The license also stipulates that the museum is to receive any fossils that are discovered, Greenwood said.
"It's an extremely important specimen," said Jennifer Reynolds, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County museum. "Finding the skull of an ice age animal is just extremely exciting."
Sloth fossils have been discovered before, such as the ones retrieved from the La Brea Tar Pitts located in the center of Los Angeles west of downtown, but so far those are one million years younger, Reynolds said.
The museum will study the skull remains to gain information on how sloths lived, their evolution and their habitats, Reynolds said.
"Fossils are very, very rarely preserved; so many things can happen to the body of an animal when it dies," she said. "And then when you add to that the passing of more than a million years, the chances of finding a skull are just very, very low."