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April 27, 2007 - 10:45PM

Prehistoric camel bones found in Mesa

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Christian Richardson, Tribune

When digging holes for citrus trees, nursery owner John Babiarz is used to encountering river rock and caliche, but finding a pre-historic camel is a bit of a rarity.

However on Wednesday, that is exactly what the 59-year-old discovered after a backhoe plunged into earth and dumped dirt and bones onto the ground along Lindsay Road near McKellips Road in Mesa.

“I was quite shocked to see a camel down there,” said Babiarz, the owner of the Greenfield Citrus Nursery and paleontologist on the side for the last 30 years.

“You never know, somebody could have buried their pet llama 20 years ago, but this thing is in undisturbed rock.”

Brad Archer, curator of the R.S. Dietz Geology Museum at Arizona State University, estimates that the young camel — the size of a small pony — is 8,000 to 10,000 years old and could be a remnant of the Ice Age.

The bones were preserved four feet down in an area known as the Mesa Terrace where the Salt River was located during the Ice Age, Archer said.

It appears that an intact set of bones became disturbed first when crews dug a trench for a water line, then filled it in, only to dig another hole for a citrus tree, Archer said.

The excavation has produced teeth, a lower jaw section, a hoof, a humerus, scapula, vertebrae and some rodent bones, Babiarz said.

Archer called this a unique find for Arizona and said it is the first prehistoric camel to be unearthed in the Valley.

Babiarz said he will work on the dig throughout the weekend. Then, he must get back to planting the citrus trees at the future Wal-Mart site.

Babiarz is well versed in finding bones. In Wyoming he discovered Tyrannosaurus Rex bones, and 10 years ago worked with Archer to find a Colombian mammoth in Chandler.
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