MADERA -- A central California museum displaying finds from what's believed to be the largest fossil deposit site on the West Coast has opened.
Paleontologists guided hundreds of guests through the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County at its grand opening on Wednesday, which was also National Fossil Day.
The museum displays fossils found at the Fairmead county landfill across the street. Fossils were first found there in May 1993, when workers spotted some unusual coloration in the soil. It turned out to be a complete fossil of a Columbian Mammoth tusk from an animal that roamed the San Joaquin Valley an estimated 500,000 years ago.
"What was originally thought to be an excavation that lasted only six weeks ended up lasting 17 years, and here we are 17 years later still finding fossils," said museum paleontologist Niranjala Kottachchi.
Since then, about 15,000 fossils have been recovered from the Fairmead landfill, and 20 more years of active digging are planned.
Most of the four dozen species found there are mammals that lived about 780,000 years ago during the mid-Pleistocene period, Kottachchi said.
Animals whose fossils have been found at Fairmead include horses, camels, llamas, rabbits and saber-toothed cats, as well as rodents and reptiles.
The museum was created by the San Joaquin Valley Paleontology Foundation, which also offers field trips, classroom activities and other educational programs. There's also a fossil preparation laboratory on-site.
For more information, log onto http://www.maderamammoths.org.