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Camel fossils found in western Oklahoma date back millions of years, scientist says

An oil company drilling in far western Oklahoma has stumbled across a deposit of camel and horse fossils that are at least five million years old, possibly much older, scientists who've examined the remains say.
by Andrew Knittle Modified: September 2, 2013 at 2:00 pm •  Published: September 2, 2013

/articleid/3878489/1/pictures/2198322">Photo - This photo, provided by Cojeen Archaeological Services, shows a fossilized horse skull found at the Packsaddle Wildlife Management Area during excavation. <strong></strong>
This photo, provided by Cojeen Archaeological Services, shows a fossilized horse skull found at the Packsaddle Wildlife Management Area during excavation.

The Black Kettle National Grassland is just to the south of Packsaddle. This part of Oklahoma is vastly different from the heavily wooded, lush terrains of the southeastern parts of the state.

Millions of years ago, it would not have been unusual to see a camel walking through what is now Oklahoma.

In fact, scientists working at the site said that camels — now associated with the vast deserts of what is now the Middle East — may have originated in North America.

But as to why so many sets of fossils were found clustered together at the Packsaddle site, theories abound among the scientists.

Kyle Davies, a paleontologist working at the site, said he believed it was possible a large flooding event may have trapped many of the animals at the same time. He said such an event could explain why the fossils — many of them articulated — are in such good condition.

During an interview at the dig site Aug. 18, Czaplewski was hesitant to offer an opinion about the relatively large number of fossils that had been uncovered so far.

“As far as why they are clustered ... it will take time to study what contextual evidence is preserved with the fossils,” he said.

“It is possible that they died in the same area but separately from one another over long periods of time, because it had been a waterhole where they came to drink over many generations.”

After the discovery of the 13 sets of fossils, a representative from Apache Corp. indicated that the company would clear more earth away to see whether more remains can be located.

Could a rarer find — something like a saber-toothed cat that would have hunted the camels and horses uncovered by the oil company machine operator — present itself to scientists as they continue to work?

“It's unlikely,” Czaplewski said at the dig site. “I mean, people say we have mountain lions here in Oklahoma now ... but how often do you see them?

“How often do you find their bones lying around?”

by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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