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Paleontology Research

Recent Projects and Discoveries

It's a Mammal's World

In spring 2022, our Paleontologists formally described two new fossil species from our collection. The first, a 120,000-year-old extinct capybara, was discovered in 1994 during construction of a shopping center in eastern Oceanside. The second was a cat-like sabertooth predator from about 42 million years ago, and found during road construction near College Boulevard in Oceanside. These specimens from two different ends of the Age of Mammals, illustrate the incredible diversity of the San Diego region's fossil record.

An Invaluable Volunteer

Since 2018, Paleontology Volunteer Gabriel Vogeli has been spearheading a long-term project to create 3D images of our fossils using a process called photogrammetry. To date, Gabriel has created 3D models of more than 1000 fossils, many of which can be seen here. Now fully retired, this molecular biologist-turned-paleontologist is pursuing his interests in the historical sciences of geology and paleontology.

San Diego Underwater

In 2021, Museum Paleontologists discovered thousands of small, oceanic fossils during pipeline construction right in our own neighborhood—Balboa Park! There were fossil scallops and oyster shells, crabs, sea urchins, and bryozoans, as well as bones from sharks, rays and bony fish. This marine fossil deposit was about 120-170 feet above modern sea level, indicating these animals lived during a much warmer time in Earth's history, when major ice sheets were non-existent and the ocean had much more water in it.

Exploring Santa Cruz Island

In 2021, our Paleontologists mounted an exploratory expedition to the US Channel Islands. This trip built on a previous visit by our team several years prior, with the goal of finding more evidence of both ancient and relatively modern animal life. We found a huge trove of fossils! Within moments of arriving to one site, we found what will be a very important mammal fossil (once described), and the discoveries just kept coming. We ended up adding more mammal and bird material to our species list (including sea otter), as well as fish, sharks, and crabs.

Paleontology News

The Future of Our Past

Posted: May 9, 2023

We're making major progress on an important initiative that will bring our region’s paleontological past to life—and into the limelight. Soon, every step of our paleontology work—from fossil preparation and specimen curation to collections storage and research—will be on display.  Read more.

A Turtle-y Cool Fossil Find

Posted: May 5, 2023

Did sea turtles go extinct in the Pacific Ocean when the Dinosaurs died out? Were they here all along, swimming below the radar? Turns out the answer was sitting in a small box, on the third shelf of a large cabinet, deep in The Nat’s paleontology collection.   Read more.

Paleontologists describe new species of sabre-tooth false-cat, showing early evolution of carnivores during time of global climatic instability.  Read more.

The San Luis Rey River Valley is home to the first fossil evidence of modern capybara ancestors in North America  Read more.

Just how do you find out how many of these dinosaurs lived on our planet? Scientists used the fossil record of T. rex and the principles of population ecology to estimate dinosaur demographics and the chances of finding an extinct animal in the fossil record. Read more.

Selected Publications

Bisconti, M., Pellegrino, L., Carnevale, G. The chronology of mysticete diversification (Mammalia, Cetacea, Mysticeti): Body size, morphological evolution and global change. April 2022. Earth-Science Reviews.

Park, T., Ekdale, EG., Racicot, RA., Marx, FG. Testing for Convergent Evolution in Baleen Whale Cochleae. Feb. 2023. Convergent Evolution: Animal Form and Function.

Poust, AW., Holroyd, PA., Deméré, TA. An Eocene sea turtle from the eastern North Pacific fills a Paleogene gap. May 2023. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.

Zack, S., Poust, AW., Wagner, H. Diegoaelurus, a New Machaeroidine (Oxyaenidae) from the Santiago Formation (Late Uintan) of Southern California and the Relationships of Machaeroidinae, the Oldest Group of Sabertooth Mammals. March 2022. PeerJ.

Holen, SR., Deméré, TA., Fisher, DC., Fullagar, R., Paces, JB., Jefferson, GT. A 130,000-year-old archaeological site in southern California, USA. April 2017. Nature.

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Fossils of our Region