A Pleistocene Ecosystem
by Wesley Gordon
page 19


Chapter 5. Identifying and Naming a New Species

From site T2 the boys had dug remains of plants, invertebrates’ fishes, frogs, toads, turtles, seals, camels, horses, badgers, deer, several kinds of rodents, a fragment of a mastodon tooth, and a section of a mammoth tusk.  the figure below shows a tusk similar to the one excavated by the group. 

Workmen digging for clay uncovered this 10.5 foot section of a mammoth tusk.  The tusk was probably about 13.5 feet long.  To keep it from breaking, Dr. D.E. Savage is applying burlap (soaked in plaster of Paris) to the specimen.

On a particular Saturday one of the group was striking gently through the sand at sire T2. Suddenly he hit something. He put aside the pick and contained working carefully with a knife. Frequently he used a toothbrush to clean away the sand. Soon teeth were exposed. Work proceeded rapidly because the sand was fine and dry. In about twenty minutes the specimen was picked up and the sand underneath gently brushed off. It was a lower jaw bone with five teeth intact so well preserved that the application of a preservative (shellac) was unnecessary.

The structure of the lower jawbone of coyote from Locality V3604, site T2, indicates tthat the coyote had four premolars (P_) and three molars (M_).  The first premolar (P1) and the last molar (M3) are missing.  The distance between the second premolar (P2) and the second molar (M2) was one of the measurements taken to determine the species of this fossil.  (To indicate a molar in an upper jaw, the numeral is placed above the line. M1, for example, would would indicate the first molar in an upper jaw.

The jaw’s first premolar and last molar were missing. Noting the holes where these teeth had been, one of the boys commented, “That’s some kind of dog.”

“Yes, but it’s too small to be dire wolf,” added another boy.

“It can’t be fox, either. Too small,” said the director. The newest member of the group said he was sure it was some kind of dog because it resembled a modern dog jaw. But they all agreed the specimen represented an animal they had never found before.

 As was his custom, the director took the specimen to Berkeley for identification. Donald E. Savage, who was studying and describing the Irvington fauna, examined the specimen and found it to be a coyote (Canis). The boys were right; the animal was a dog. But after further study, Savage found that it had dome unusual features. Did this specimen represent a type of coyote new to science? He knew that many weeks of work would be necessary before he could be certain.


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