Utility crews in Cape Coral, Florida, were conducting business as usual when they came across something rather out of the ordinary. Buried 17 feet (5 meters) below several layers of sediment were the remains of a prehistoric goliath that once roamed nearly every continent on Earth.
The ancient bone fragment measuring about 0.3 meters (1 foot) in length and 25.4 centimeters (10 inches) across is believed to belong to an extinct mammal with a trunk, but the team aren't sure whether it belongs to a mastodon or mammoth, according to an archaeological report obtained by IFLScience.
IFLScience spoke with CJ Haddad, the reporter who broke the story. He told us the experts believe the remains pre-date human population in Florida, but that it is hard to determine an exact timeline.
Experts date the remains to around 10,000 years ago to the Rancholabrean period, defined by a glacial retreat that led to the formation of savannas across Florida, where “herds of mammoth, bison, antelope and horse roamed the peninsula.”
The bone itself is probably part of the distal humerus, a bone that runs from the shoulder down to the elbow to connect the humerus.
"It's a fairly large bone fragment and is unlikely to be the only bone in the area," Ryan Franklin, assistant director of the Archeological and Historical Conservancy Inc., who was called in to assess the fossil, told the Cape-Coral Daily-Breeze.
According to the report, most of these fossil types are found during deeper excavations that involve quarrying, deep utility work, and lake excavations. It’s fairly common to find other fossils around one of this type and there is likely another larger fossil bed nearby that contains the remains of this animal and others. At a site located 5 kilometers (3 miles) away, archaeologists have recovered quantities of broken faunal bone that suggests there could also be a “bone bed” deposit there. Because the fossil probably predates human occupation of the area, it does not fall under Florida statutes that would otherwise halt further development in the area.
Mammoths and mastodons could have inhabited Earth at the same time, but they are two different species within the Proboscidean family, which includes modern-day elephants. While more than 160 extinct species have been found on every continent but Australia and Antarctica, only three remain today.
The fossils will be donated to the Cape Coral Historical Society.
[H/T Cape-Coral Daily-Breeze]