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

Freezing rain warning issued for central Interior Remembrance Day

Highway alerts in place for Begbie Summitt and Pine Pass

BCTF rejects mediator’s recommendations for settlement

Negotiations between B.C. teachers and the province will continue

The Legion’s branch in Fort St. James have donated their building to the community

The building will be used as a homeless shelter in the district amongst other long term community needs

Getting curbside recycling back in the district is still going to be a challenge, says Kat Slorstad

In order to have this service, either the district or Nak’azdli Whut’en need to be primary contract holders with Recycle BC

Faculty at Terrace UNBC campus join strike after failed negotiations

Unfair working conditions required job action demonstration, protesters say

VIDEO: Hong Kong police shoot protester, man set on fire

It was the second protester shot since the demonstrations began in early June

Terrace RCMP investigating suspicious death of a man in Thornhill

Kamloops resident was found unresponsive early Sunday morning, died hours later

Sportsnet fires Don Cherry after negative comments about immigrants

Don Cherry had said immigrants don’t wear poppies like other Canadians do

Trudeau’s new cabinet: Gender parity because it’s 2019? Or due to competence?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will soon appoint his new cabinet

Canada among three G20 countries least likely to hit emissions targets

It says Canada, South Korea and Australia are the farthest off

Conservatives’ Scheer wants Trudeau to open Parliament Nov. 25

That’s five days after Justin Trudeau is scheduled to swear in a new cabinet

Last remaining Centurion tank from the Korean War makes its journey ‘home’ to B.C.

Tank arrives in B.C. the day before Remembrance Day after a more than 4,500-kilometre transfer

‘Your vehicle burns a lot of fuel:’ Victoria drivers wake up to angry notes

‘This handbill was left on your vehicle because your vehicle burns a lot of fuel,’ notes read

Canadians mark Remembrance Day this morning

This year exactly 101 years to the day after the end of the First World War

Most Read