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Horse, saber-toothed cat fossils unearthed at Riverside County construction site

September 21, 2010 |  7:49 am

It happened more than a million years ago, but the fossilized evidence preserved the scene. A horse not much different from modern horses was enjoying a cool drink at a watering hole in what is now San Timoteo Canyon when a saber-toothed cat sneaked up and grabbed it by the haunch.

After finishing its meal, the cat left the skeleton to be buried in mud from flash floods. That cat, or one very like it, eventually also ended up dead, and its skeleton joined the horse's in the accumulating sediment.

And then, 1.4 million years later, Southern California Edison crews building a new substation for the growing population of Riverside County unearthed the horse — tooth marks still distinct on its leg — the cat and a "treasure trove" of fossils.

Excavation at the site has so far revealed what may be California's oldest example of the saber-toothed cat Smilodon gracilis, a specimen more than a million years older than the Smilodon fatalis from the La Brea tar pits, which carry an array of fossils dating to as recently as 9,000 years ago.

Scientists so far have identified more than 1,450 specimens, including about 250 large vertebrate fossils and more than 1,220 fossils that are rabbit-size or smaller.
Read the full story here.

--Thomas H. Maugh II

Photo: Carl Bennett cleans calcium and dirt deposits off the squashed cranium of a prehistoric giant ground sloth found at the El Casco Substation site. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times