Fossils found in Yukon in 1973 were from ancient rhino, turtles

Tiny bits of teeth and pieces of bone were found near Wolf Creek

Illustration showing the habitat of paleontologists believe ancient rhinoceros roamed in Yukon about eight million years ago, based on fossils discovered near Whitehorse by a teacher leading students on a hike near Whitehorse in 1973. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Illustration by Julius Csotonyi

Joan Hodgins remembers the “wonderful day” in April 1973 as she hiked up hills and hopped over creeks with half a dozen kids participating in an outdoor program she led near Whitehorse.

Along the way, the 22-year-old educator plopped what looked like tiny bits of teeth and pieces of bone into a couple of plastic bags as her students asked why she was collecting the pieces by an old copper mine near Wolf Creek.

“I said it sure shines nice in the sun and I’m not sure if anything is anything,” Hodgins told them of the fragments in the bags she’d take home to Regina.

In 1998, she decided to give the bags to an employee of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum before he headed to Yukon, where they were kept on a shelf among the territory’s fossil collections.

Now, they have been identified as belonging to a rhinoceros and two species of turtle that paleontologists believe lived about eight million years ago.

“I’m not what you’d call a hoarder but I keep things like that,” Hodgins said from Whitehorse, where she was visiting friends from her home in Eastend, Sask.

A study based on her discovery — identified with the help of Jaelyn Eberle, a curator of fossil vertebrates at the Museum of Natural History at the University of Colorado Boulder — was published Thursday in the journal American Museum Novitates.

“What are the chances?” said Hodgins, who spent three years in Yukon in the 1970s.

She credited Yukon paleontologist Grant Zazula, a co-author of the research, for contacting her in 2014 and working to get the fragments identified.

“They could still be sitting in collections and eventually thrown out if nothing was done with them,” Hodgins said. “Because of his curiosity and his commitment to the fossil world he has brought all of this about.”

Zazula said Eberle, an expert on pre-ice-age mammals, was contacted as “probably the best person in the world to work on this.”

She used a tool called a scanning electron microscope to reveal the structure of tooth enamel that would have come from an ancient relative of today’s rhinoceros from an age when the climate was much warmer in Yukon.

“We have literally truckloads of woolly mammoths around here but we never find anything that predates the ice age until this discovery,” Zazula said, adding the find fills a gap in the story of the evolution of life in the Arctic and Yukon.

The rhinoceros would have been a big animal, perhaps three metres long and a couple of metres tall, about as big as today’s black rhino in South Africa, Zazula said.

“We’re not used to seeing such big animals today in North America so it’s pretty neat to envision what life was like back then,” he said, adding the rhino and turtles would have gone extinct about four millions years ago as the weather started to cool and they could no longer feed on leaves from trees.

KEEP READING: Scientist finds fossil evidence in southern Alberta of sabre-toothed cat

“It’s really exciting to learn about this time period, especially in the North where there’s a lot of concern about global warming and what are the kind of changes that are going to happen in the landscape.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Ticket prices going up for Agassiz bylaw infractions

Early fee payments will now see a 20 per cent discount, but most fees still higher

Short term rentals now allowed in Agassiz

Kent council approved bylaw changes to allow AirBnBs after a second public hearing

Agassiz, Harrison organizations receive more than $140K in gaming grants

Grants will go to support local sports, arts groups for the 2019-20 fiscal year

Brother of Chilliwack homicide victim killed in Surrey on Remembrance Day

Andrew Baldwin shot on Nov. 11, three weeks after Keith Baldwin shot in downtown Chilliwack

Volunteer organization provides first aid and rescue services

Main fundraiser, the Winter Extreme Ski and Board Swap, takes place at Abbotsford Exhibition Park Nov. 16 and 17

VIDEO: Agassiz, Harrison honour Remembrance Day

The annual ceremony took place at AESS, followed by a moment of silence at the Agassiz cenotaph

Seguin lifts surging Stars to 4-2 win over Canucks

Dallas is 6-0-1 in last seven outings

UPDATE: Metro Vancouver bus drivers to refuse overtime as transit strike escalates

Overtime ban could disrupt 10-15 per cent of bus service in Metro Vancouver

‘City that protects rapists’: Sexual assault survivor slams Kelowna mayor for defending RCMP

Heather Friesen spent the morning handing out flyers around city hall calling out the mayor

South Surrey man and city settle beef over backyard cow

Asad Syed, who kept a calf on his property last year, met City of Surrey in court Tuesday

Batten down the hatches: Wet and windy weekend on the way for coastal B.C.

Environment Canada issues special weather warning for Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island

BC Liquor Stores to move fully to paper bags by March

Vancouver Island to be the first to convert to paper bags in November

Tolko shuts B.C. divisions for two weeks over holidays

Head office to close from Dec. 23-27; two weeks’ downtime runs Dec. 21-Jan. 6

B.C. government working with RCMP to address $10 million in budget cuts

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth issues statement following report of RCMP cost-cutting

Most Read