A turtle fossil estimated to be 90 million years old has been uncovered in southern New Mexico, suggesting the desert state was once a swamp, capable of supporting marine life.
Jeff Dornbusch, a resident in the region, was out hiking in the mountains when he came across some unusual rocks that were later identified as pieces of the ancient fossil. He reported his accidental discovery to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The fossil was found on federal property, not far from the city of Truth or Consequences. The team excavating the relic first combed the area around the find, collecting small pieces of shell and bone. Excavation of the body revealed large sections of shell, along with an entire fossilized spine, which excited some team members taking part in the dig. The main fossil, about 30 inches in diameter, was covered in plaster, in order to preserve the ancient artifact for transport to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, where it will be placed on display. The find will need to be carefully examined by researchers at the museum, in order to determine how much of the body was preserved in the find.
Dornbusch is a volunteer with the Truth or Consequences Museum. He first noticed the unusual rocks more than ten years ago, because their gray color stood out against the brown hue of most of the surrounding features. However, he was never again able to find the exact spot of the distinctive collection until two years ago, when he notified the BLM.
The Crevasse Canyon formation where the turtle was discovered dates from the Late Cretaceous Period, allowing researchers to date the find.
The BLM has an agreement with the natural history museum, in which the research and educational institution is granted the power to excavate and display such finds. Any such artifacts of vertebrates found on federal property are legally the property of the federal government, and private citizens face stiff penalties for removing protected fossils.
"We have about 25,000 BLM fossils in our collection," Amanda Cantrell, geosciences collections manager for the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science said.
The turtle was a member of the now-extinct genus Adocus, which exhibited smooth, contoured plates. It lived in the United States and Baltic regions of Asia.
The ancient turtle fossil may also be lent out for display to the Geronimo Springs Museum in Truth or Consequences.
Just six miles to the west of the ancient fossil find is the aptly-named Turtleback Mountain.