HomeOutdoorsNewsIce Age-Era Fossils Exposed in Sandbars Along Drought-Stricken Mississippi River

Ice Age-Era Fossils Exposed in Sandbars Along Drought-Stricken Mississippi River

by Shelby Scott
(Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

The western half of the U.S. has spent the last two decades or more battling a historic megadrought, however, this year, drought conditions have had a significantly worsening impact on the Mississippi River, a body of water that serves as one of the world’s most important commercial waterways. That said, while the drought has had a negative impact on both the environment and the American economy, it has given scientists the opportunity to uncover and study some ancient finds, including, most recently, a collection of Ice Age-era fossils hidden in sandbars along the river.

CNN reports that fossil hunter Wiley Prewitt had been exploring a newly exposed area of the Mississippi River on October 26th when he discovered a large tooth in the sand. What he didn’t realize at first is that what he found belonged to a long-ago dead American lion, an animal that outsized our modern-day king of the jungle, the African lion.

Reflecting on his discovery of the fossil from the ice age, Prewitt said, “I knew immediately just by the shape of the teeth that it was a carnivore fossil, but of course, I did not know that it was (an American) lion. We all know about those, but you never dream that you’re going to find one…It was hitting the fossil lottery.”

Ice Age-Era Lion Fossil Features in Mississippi Museum of Natural Science

After locating the ice age-era fossil at the end of October, Prewitt took his find to the Mississippi Fossil and Artefact Symposium and Exhibit. There, he met George Phillips, the curator of paleontology at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. Of the fossil hunter’s find, “Phillips said, “When (Prewitt) whipped out that anterior portion of a lion jaw, I knew right away what it was.”

Awed, he continued, “Who would have thought in a million years that another lion fossil would show up, considering that they’re rare, at an event (in) which the theme was the American lion?”

Prewitt’s ice age-era find was just as remarkable as the American lion itself.

Per the news outlet, the American lion has been extinct for the last 11,000 years, perishing at the end of the last Ice Age,. And this one, in particular, left just a fragment of a fossil behind.

The American lion was the largest extinct cat to live in North America prior to the ice age. It was first discovered in 1862, however, went unidentified for nearly another two decades. Scientifically known as “Panthera atrox,” which translates to “fearsome panther” in Latin, the American lion was enormous.

Altogether, these large cats measured 25% larger than the African lion. They reached four feet tall at the shoulder and ranged anywhere between 500 and 800 pounds on average. The heaviest individuals, however, reached to be as much as, or more than, a half-ton in weight.

Prewitt decided to donate the ice age-old fossil to the museum which will help grow its collection dedicated to the American lion.