Woman goes for a walk, finds prehistoric bison


Wow! I love this story of how Nature Conservancy program coordinator Lisa Wrinkle stumbled across a fossilized bison while on a hike with her mother and her children. Seriously, this is the sort of thing I dreamed might happen to me when I was 5.

I noticed some bone-like material in a cut bank that had been washed out in a previous flood. They were situated on top of what looked like burned rock (an archaeologist term for rock used for hearths or campfires by prehistoric people) which peaked my interest and made me wonder if it might be something more than an animal that had randomly met a harsh fate.

I took a closer look and found that it was a jawbone, teeth and a vertebra. At first glance, the teeth appeared to be cow-like. However, my mom and I discussed the fact that because they were near the burned rock, that they could be prehistoric bison. We were very excited by the prospect because bison fossils are very rare in this area.

I happened to have a cow skull at my house just up the bank from the site and quickly retrieved it for comparison. The teeth looked similar, but not quite the same. We convinced ourselves that we may have stumbled across something significant--and possibly thousands of years old. At this point I was hooked and just had to get to the bottom of this mystery!

Via Kevin Zelnio


  1. I thought I had found a prehistoric bison a few weeks ago,
    but turns out it was just a hub cap. Go figure…

  2. A few years ago, I was once hiking in a remote area of southern California. Down the riverbank, I spotted a large patch of shimmering gold….

    Darn you, deflated mylar balloon!

  3. “The following is a guest essay by Lisa Wrinkle, the Lower Pecos Program Coordinator for The Nature Conservancy in Texas. “

  4. Was it a fossil, or just really old? There’s a difference, isn’t there? Something about rock replacing organic matter?

    1. That’s one type of fossil – in general fossils are the preserved remains or traces of animals, plants, and other organisms from the remote past.

      Early Human footprints and Mammoth frozen in permafrost are as much fossils as petrified dinosaur bones are.

  5. You know why fossil people (arcs, anths, Nature Program Conservation Coordinators.. ecetera) are cool? Its because they write sentences like this:

    “I happened to have a cow skull at my house just up the bank from the site and quickly retrieved it for comparison.”

  6. I have a fossilized Bison tooth I found in connection with burned rock from prehistoric campsites(we call it fire rock around here). The fossil guys I showed it to said it was hundreds, not thousands, of years old. Given that De Soto didn’t report any Bison around here, it’s probably from 1000-1300 AD or so. It’s been in a fire. It was probably from some Native American’s meal. I like it.

    1. Thanks for saving me from mentioning that.

      And to abjpearce: What?! Doesn’t everyone happen to have a cow skull? Mine is just beside my front steps. More delicate bones (cat skull, badger skull, etc.) are kept inside on the window ledges of my front porch.

    2. Piqued, dang it, not peaked. *sighs grumpily*

      I know, huh? Aargh!

      …which peaked [sic] my interest…

  7. Hmm. I’m a geologist and I “just happened” to come across some fossilized dinosaur bones once while out in the field (I’m not a paleontologist, I was looking at other stuff). Of course, I “just happened” to know what the rock formation was, and I “just happened” to know that it was famous for dinosaur fossils (the ones I found are small, virtually unidentifiable fragments).

    My point is… if you’re a geologist, paleontologist, archaeologist, etc. you do know where to look, and where not to look. The chances that anyone else would have come across this bison are slim to none.

    Not saying it isn’t a cool find because of course it is, but some of us see the world in different ways and are more likely to see this kind of thing :)

    1. I’m a paleontologist with a geology background. I agree that it is definitely easier for people with geo, paleo, and archeo backgrounds to find these things because we know where to look, but I don’t think it’s very uncommon for people in other professions to find them as well.

      I live in the midwest, and farmers inspecting their fields and drainage ditches will often find interesting things. We also had mammoth bones come in for identification recently from a guy who regularly took his kids out to look for stuff in stream cut banks just for fun.

      If anybody finds bones, fossils, or possible artifacts that you would like to know more about, I’d recommend contacting your local university’s geology or biology programs, or the office of the state archeologist or geologist, as appropriate. They will gladly help you identify it!

  8. My father-in-law is from Mier, Mexico. He tells of the river near town where, as a child, he would find mastadon bones after a heavy rain. (He has a tooth in his curio cabinet.) His grandmother would tell fireside stories of giants and monsters. The 1950’s: an age of myth in Mier, Mexico.

  9. Man… all I get when I look around are crinoid stems. Last time I went looking i did find some burrow casts. Still… everyone is lucky but me :o(

  10. Re: piqued/peaked. You know, if you’re reading a cool story about somebody stumbling across a neat fossil, and the main thing in your mind is OMG SPELLING MISTAKE, you have a problem. A problem you should deal with quietly and privately. Whatever it is that distracts people with a healthy interest in language into an obsession with stupid spelling and punctuation gotchas is an evil that must be stopped.

    1. It reminds me of being grammar-bombed in 6th grade English class and then going home and correcting everybody’s grammar.

    2. Well, I understand where you’re coming from, to a point. However, I’m not a Nature Conservancy program coordinator. I’m a college drop-out who busses tables for a living. When she types that, it is upsetting to me. I was told that these things matter my whole life; and indeed, I BELIEVE that they DO matter. The reason being that we write to communicate effectively with one another. When she writes “peaked,” it fucks up my whole flow, I have to re-read the sentence, and that is rude. If she was an ignorant youtube commenter, then I could forgive it; but from where I’m sitting, that shit is fucking lame.

      If a mathematician was off by a single numeral in their arithmetic, the result would A) be wrong, and B) it would rightfully annoy anyone else who read their equation. But when people use the wrong word, I’m not allowed to be annoyed? It is disrespectful to your reader if they have to backtrack and decipher what you meant. I don’t know about you, but I read words by how they are spelled (a whole word at a glimpse) not phonically (sounding it out like a kindergartener,) so these things matter. Especially in our English language which contains myriad homophones. Yeah, it’s confusing. Blame the Angles and Saxons. I don’t like it either, but right and wrong words are like coding for the mind. Either your code runs or it doesn’t.

      P-E-A-K=”apex,” which is how I read it, resulting in a trainwreck. P-I-Q-U-E=”irritation.” “Pique one’s interest”=”nag at you until the truth becomes clear,” a more apt metaphor for this response would be hard to come up with. If it didn’t bother you, well… at best you’re indifferent, at worst you’re ignorant (you don’t seem so, but then why defend her?) I am neither. If you don’t wholly understand a word, for Odin’s sake, don’t write it! My pique is legitimate.

      1. Well, ‘lame’ is an ablist slur, and I am not only extremely offended by your ignorance and privilege, it also fucked up the whole flow of reading your long-ass comment! (snorts)

  11. That’s not like this woman had no idea what she was doing, she works in that field.

    I used to live in a small village of southern France named Espéraza, where a hunter found some bone on a hill, brought it back to an elementary teacher, and 15 years later you have a museum next to one of the major late cretaceous fossiles field. Oh and they discovered their own titanosaur species : Ampelosaurus.

  12. I have to agree with noah django – I swear I must have been the last generation where spelling was taken into consideration in every class. I am a science nerd. All of my high school and college classes (1994 college grad) took off serious and real points for any mistake in spelling or grammar on any assignment. The first time a science teacher did that I was very upset and that’s when I got the lecture about your boss in the work world not wanting you to embarrass the company with a spelling mistake in your work.

    Now it’s all “man, it’s the intent that counts, don’t crush their spirit!”

    Get off my lawn.

  13. While wandering around out in the West Texas brush I found a piece of Bison rib…and near it was a broken stone spear point…I have both….

  14. Huh? Doesn’t everybody collect skulls?

    I have so far:
    a rat
    a coyote
    a cow
    a deer
    a horse
    a turtle
    a few snakes

    Gotta catch ’em all!

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