It is “a real career highlight,” says Brandon University professor David Greenwood of his fossil discoveries of two ancient mammals that roamed North America 52 million years ago.
Dr. Greenwood made the discoveries while leading fossil digs in Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park, near Smithers, B.C., in 2010 and 2011. A plant and ancient climate specialist, Dr. Greenwood called in fossil mammal experts, Drs. Jaelyn Eberle from the University of Colorado and Natalia Rybczynski from the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, to identify the ancient jawbones. The finds were published in the July edition of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
The fossils belonged to a distant relative to the tapir about the size of a large dog and a tiny hedgehog relative, smaller than a mouse. The animals lived in an area that, at the time, was a cool upland forest surrounded by tropics.
Dr. Greenwood says very few fossil mammals of this geological period have been described before in Canada. The fossil discoveries are also noteworthy because the early Eocene epoch when these mammals lived marked the height of prehistoric global warming, a period involving significant reorganization of the world’s plant and animal life, he says.