CHEYENNE — An oil company drilling in western Oklahoma has stumbled across a deposit of camel and horse fossils that date back roughly five million to 12 million years.
The fossils, which belong to an extinct species of camel and horse, were found in July in the Packsaddle Wildlife Management Area.
One of the fossils discovered is a well-preserved horse skull that is tinier than its present-day descendant.
A machine operator for Apache Corp., the Houston-based oil company drilling in Packsaddle, discovered the fossils after clearing away roughly 20 feet of earth. A team of paleontologists and archaeologists has uncovered 13 separate pits containing deposits of bones of varying sizes.
Scientists say the remains are typical prey animals of the Late Miocene period and are species that roamed what is now western Oklahoma in large numbers.
Nicholas Czaplewski, curator of vertebrate paleontology for the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, said it could take years to sort through all of the fossils from the site.
At this point, it’s not clear what exactly scientists will gain from studying the fossils, but Czaplewski said the remains eventually will be compared with “known species” that have been found in the region.
“We also hope to learn more about the anatomy of the animals if their remains are complete enough,” he said. “For example, if we find teeth or skulls associated with other parts of the skeleton like leg and foot bones, then we can build a more complete knowledge of the animals than when we only find isolated fragments, as is more usual.”