Short-faced bear fossils found in East Tennessee
Posted: Friday, January 6, 2012 3:00 pm
GRAY (AP) — A fossil-rich paleontology site in East Tennessee has yielded two more finds.
Two specimens of short-faced bears were found within two weeks of each other in October.
Blaine Schubert — assistant professor of geosciences at East Tennessee State University, which operates the site — said one of the fossils is a relatively complete skull, including the upper jaw and teeth, according to The Johnson City Press.
“This is exactly what I had been hoping for as a person who studies bears,” Schubert said. “I was already really excited when we had a lower jaw, because I know that what we had was a new species, a new type of bear that’s never been described before. But now, being able to look at the skull as well, we’ll be able to relate this to other types of bears and see how it’s related and better describe the species and its place at a particular time in Earth’s history.”
He said having skulls of both younger and older bear species is valuable because scientists can see how the animals aged.
“The skull is definitely the most informative part of the body,” Schubert said.
The new specimens are of the genus Plionarctos, the same species as a fossil found in 2003. Only a lower jaw bone and a few teeth were located then.
The short-faced bear uncovered at the site is an ancestor of the spectacled bear of South America, Schubert said.
The animals were not nearly as large as today’s bears.
“You’re looking at something a little larger than a Border Collie,” Schubert said.
The fossil site was discovered a decade ago during a highway construction project.
Steven Wallace, associate professor of geosciences and curator ETSU Museum of Natural History, said only about 1 percent of the site has been excavated and he expects many more discoveries in coming years.
“I think it’ll be quite a while before we reach diminishing returns,” Wallace said. Published in The Messenger 1.6.12