Ancient Anteater-Like Fossil Found In Bighorn Basin

Aug 15, 2014

A paleontology field school in the Bighorn Basin found an incredibly well-preserved fossil of an ancient anteater-like mammal this summer. The fossil is a Palaeanodon, a ground-dwelling insect eater the size of a cat that lived about 53-million years ago. Colorado State University Field School Instructor Kim Nichols discovered the skeleton and says the fossil is a very rare find because so much of the animal’s skeleton was found. Such small creatures are hardly ever discovered intact.  Its excellent condition is also unusual, Nichols says.

“Why was this one preserved so well? I have no idea. It was just good fortune. I have to tell you, this was the find of my life. I was just thrilled. As I said, the students, this was their second day in the field so they weren’t as excited as I was.”

A paleontology field school in the Bighorn Basin found an incredibly well-preserved fossil of an ancient anteater-like mammal this summer. The fossil is a Palaeanodon, a ground-dwelling insect eater the size of a cat that lived about 53-million years ago. Colorado State University Field School Instructor Kim Nichols discovered the skeleton and says the fossil is a very rare find because so much of the animal’s skeleton was found. Such small creatures are hardly ever discovered intact.  Its excellent condition is also unusual, Nichols says.

“Why was this one preserved so well? I have no idea. It was just good fortune. I have to tell you, this was the find of my life. I was just thrilled. As I said, the students, this was their second day in the field so they weren’t as excited as I was.”

Nichols says it was only the second day of the dig when she found it.

“And I looked up the slope and I saw what I thought was the modern bones of an animal. And I went up a little closer and when I picked them up and took a closer look, I realized immediately that they were fossils. But as I kept looking around the slope, I kept finding more and more of the same individual.”

Nichols says as much as half the skeleton has been recovered including part of the skull, all the legs and many fingers and toes. 

Nichols says the area where it was found near Greybull was once a rainforest and now produces an amazing numbers of interesting fossils, including ancient horses, tapirs and extinct carnivores.

She says the skeleton will need two years of labor to remove all the sediment before it can be turned over to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where she hopes to see it eventually displayed.

Nichols says as much as half the skeleton has been recovered including part of the skull, all the legs and many fingers and toes. 

“I looked up the slope and I saw what I thought was the modern bones of an animal. And I went up a little closer and when I picked them up and took a closer look, I realized immediately that they were fossils. But as I kept looking around the slope, I kept finding more and more of the same individual.”

Nichols says the area where it was found near Greybull was once a rainforest and now produces an amazing numbers of interesting fossils, including ancient horses, tapirs and extinct carnivores.

She says the skeleton will need two years of labor to remove all the sediment before it can be turned over to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where she hopes to see it eventually displayed.