Have you ever wondered what the climate was like in your neighborhood during the ice age when mammoths and saber-toothed tigers roamed the Earth?
Residents in the Coachella Valley neighborhood of Indio Hills, Calif. now know the answer, thanks to fossils found during a Southern California Edison (SCE) project.
“The desert wasn’t the desert back then,” said Audry Williams, a senior archaeologist at SCE.
The SCE team from Corporate Environment, Health and Safety was on site in Indio Hills during construction of the Devers-Colorado River Project last summer because geological studies indicated fossils were possible in the area.
Paleontologists combed through huge piles of dirt that were dug last July for installing towers. They took four sediment samples to a lab and used a screening process to extract microfossils from rocks and found 22 plant species.
The plant species recovered include pine, spruce, Douglas fir, cattail, oak, alder and willow. Scientists also found animal fossils in the sediment samples, including small rodent bones and a snail.
“This is scientific evidence that shows us what the habitat was at the time,” Williams said. “These plant microfossils tell us that it was cooler and wetter in that region than in modern times and could have been a wetland habitat.”
Scientists determined these fossils are from the Plio-Pleistocene era, the geological period of about 3 million years ago. That’s years before the famous animal fossils at the La Brea Tar Pits, which are from the Late Pleistocene era.
The analyses on these plant microfossils from the Palm Spring Formation provide the first information scientists have for many of these items in the Indio Hills. These microfossils have great scientific importance because they contribute to our understanding of the larger and not yet known fossilized plant life, climate and environment they were buried and preserved in.
“This discovery contributes to our understanding of the paleoclimate in the Indio Hills,” Williams said. “It’s always exciting when we’re able to learn something new about the past.”
Once all analyses are complete, the microfossils are scheduled to be transferred to the Western Science Center in Hemet.
The team that worked on this project is part of the company’s team of archaeologists, biologists and other scientists in Corporate Environment, Health and Safety, which leads the company in environmental compliance. Before construction, this team assesses project areas for important environmental resources. In areas where there is the potential to impact or discover a resource, SCE sends a team to monitor during construction.
“In our work we discover a wide variety of historic and prehistoric resources that contribute to our understanding of the past,” Williams said. “It’s exciting to learn about the history of Southern and Central California."