Smithsonianmag.com - Full Article
In a forbidding Wyoming desert, scientists and fortune hunters search for the surprisingly intact remains of horses and other creatures that lived long ago
By Richard Conniff
Photographs by Taylor Glenn
One morning in September 2003, Jim E. Tynsky was working on the tip of a ridge above a canyon in southwestern Wyoming. That point of land had become known as “Tom’s Folly” because of a previous fossil hunter’s inability to find anything in the quarry there. Tynsky wasn’t doing much better. With the season racing to its snowy end, he had little to show for a summer of hard work but the commonest sort of fish fossils. Heaps of discarded stone slabs lay around like broken pottery.
Other quarries on this ridge were known for producing extraordinarily detailed and complete fossils, all from the bottom of an ancient lake. Tynsky, the third generation of his family to eke out a living from finding fossils there, knelt down beside a slab still embedded in the ground. He chose a spot along an exposed edge and started to work at it with his chisel and his geological hammer. A fragment of stone broke away above the split. He was expecting to find fossilized fish underneath. Maybe some good ones. What caught his eye instead was a foot.
He cleared a larger area, and the fossil began to take shape as a ghostly shadow across the newly exposed stone surface. It was humpbacked, and the size of a border collie, but with details obscured by the limestone matrix, as if painted over with cake batter. “I got something really cool over here,” Tynsky called out to a helper. “Might be a turtle, I don’t know.” He cleared a bit more and saw that the ordinary cracks in the stone had miraculously spared the fossil. The helper came over to look.
“Oh my God,” he said, after a moment. “You got a horse!” He started jumping up and down. “You got a horse! You got a horse!”...
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