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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

Specimens collected in Antarctica have allowed a team of scientists, including Dr. Ashley Poust of The Nat, to update the fossil record of giant birds. The 50 million-year-old fossils belong to an extinct group of ocean-going birds with large tooth-like spikes in their beaks. This discovery may be the oldest example of truly giant flying birds and adds to our understanding of the evolution of coastal ecosystems worldwide. Read more.

An unusual fossil deposit containing skeletal remains of extinct mammals—including camels, oreodonts, rodents, and possibly a large carnivore—was recently unearthed by The Nat's Paleo Services team at a construction site for new U.S. Land Port of Entry in Otay Mesa. Read more.

South Korean paleontologist accesses 3D models of dinosaur fossils that were collected by Charles Sternberg and housed in The Nat’s collection, resulting in publication of two recent scientific papers. Read more.

A new species of feathered dinosaur has been discovered in China, and described by American and Chinese authors in the journal, The Anatomical Record. The fossil preserves feathers and bones that provide new information about how dinosaurs grew and how they differed from birds. Read more.

The Top 10 Specimens of the 2010s

Posted: December 26, 2019

In the spirit of the decade-spanning top ten lists that abound in our collective news feeds, we asked our curators to nominate two to three of the best specimens that were collected or discovered in the 2010s. We got 17 nominations, and musuem staff and volunteers voted to narrow the list down to “The Top 10 Specimens of the 2010s.” 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