90 million-year-old turtle found in New Mexico

The unearthed turtle hails from the the late Cretaceous Period.
By Brooks Hays  |  Nov. 3, 2014 at 6:10 PM
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TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.H., Nov. 3 (UPI) -- Paleontologists have unearthed a 90-million-year-old fossilized turtle in southern New Mexico, near the town of Truth or Consequences.

What may have looked only like a pile of stones to the untrained eye, seemed a bit unusual to to Jeff Dornbusch, a volunteer with the local museum who first spotted the ancient rubble more than a decade ago. But when tried to find the spot on a number of follow-up hikes, the outcropping proved elusive.

Ten years later, he happened back upon the rocks and subsequently recruited a team of paleontologists to return and investigate further. He was surprised to learn that he had led scientists to the site of an ancient fossilized turtle.

"I never really knew this area as a place for marine fossils -- shells and stuff in the mountains," Dornbusch told The Las Cruces Sun-News.

The unearthed turtle -- a specimen of the Adocus genus -- hails from the the late Cretaceous Period. Researchers know this because of the ground from which the fossilized fragments were gathered -- a chunk of dirt from stratum known as the Crevasse Canyon formation.

Today, southern New Mexico is dry steppe and desert. But 90 million years ago, the landscape was much different, says Tom Suazo, one of four scientists with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History who helped excavate.

"Basically, what this is a swampy, near-shore environment," he said.

Though Suazo and his colleagues located portions of the turtle's shell and spine, the scientists are hoping much more of the turtle can be located once back in the lab in Albuquerque. Researchers dug up and plastered a large portion of dirt, which they will comb through in a controlled setting.

Once further examined and cleaned up the fossilized turtle will go on display at the natural history museum in the state's largest city. Dornbusch, who first located the fossil, is hopeful that his find will eventually come closer to home -- to Geronimo Springs Museum in Truth or Consequences.

"After it's all said and done, we're hoping it will make its way back down here to the museum," said James Renn, a scientist with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The ancient turtle was discovered only a short distance from where a group of friends on a bachelor party trip found a three-million-year-old stegomastodon fossil in June.

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