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Teen-agers find paleontological remains in Pine Nuts

by Sheila Gardner

The Bureau of Land Management’s historical archeologist headed into the Pine Nut Mountains Tuesday for a closeup look at large animal bone fragments that two teen-age boys discovered embedded in a hillside while they were motorcycling.

“Wow,” said Gary C. Bowyer as he looked over fossilized fragments Derek Prosser brought to his Ruhenstroth residence. “These are definitely not cow bones. They’re huge.”

Prosser and a friend, Dustin Turner, were riding their motorcycles in the Pine Nuts on Thursday when they found the site.

“There was no trail. We were just going up and coming down a hill and we found this hole and found a bone the size of a helmet,” said Prosser. “I have to give Dustin (Turner) the credit. He found it, but we just left and didn’t think anything of it.”

Prosser, 18, said after they thought about the discovery for a while, the boys returned and started poking around to see what other ancient secrets the hillside might yield.

“I was thinking, ‘That bone is huge. It’s too big to be any animal – any cow or horse that’s crystallized.’ We went back and started looking at it and wiping the dust off and then we found all these little bone pieces.”

Prosser collected several pieces of bone, including one that resembles a huge ball joint, and took them to his residence where Bowyer looked at them Tuesday before heading up to the site.

“I’ve seen coyote bones and skulls and I knew that these were different,” Prosser said.

The bones are sandy colored, striated with amber and smooth to the touch. The broken-off bone which protrudes from the hillside in the Pine Nuts is about 12 inches in diameter.

He also found evidence that he and his friend weren’t the only visitors to the site. There was a cup from a convenience store half-filled with a soft drink placed next to a pile of smashed bone fragments.

“It looks like there has been another person up there who just dug a hole in the ground and smashed the bones. It just must have been someone stupid,” Prosser said.

Prosser enlisted the help of Greg and Cindy Lee, the parents of Dustin Lee, a fellow motorcycle enthusiast.

“At first, they thought I was exaggerating,” Prosser said, “but when they saw what I had, their jaws just dropped to the ground.”

Cindy Lee, realizing the potential historical value and vulnerability of the site, made several telephone calls to verify the find and protect the discovery.

“I must have made a dozen telephone calls and Gary (Bowyer) was the first guy we called who called us back and was really intrigued and felt that the site was significant,” Lee said.

She also received information from her daughter, Courtney Lee, a geology major at Brigham Young University who grew up riding horses in the Pine Nuts.

Cindy Lee said she wants to make sure the site is protected and that Turner and Prosser get the credit for their discovery.

“It’s our history,” she said. “We live here, we eat, sleep and die here. But something else has eaten, slept, had its children and died here, too. It’s kind of sacred. I almost feel like we’re trespassing. Even though each of us has had our era, it’s fascinating to me who enjoyed our playground before we did.”

Lee said the BLM officials told her that they may organize an “emergency excavation” to remove the bones because the site is close to civilization and could be subject to more tampering and vandalism.

She hopes the boys who found the bones get a chance to help.

“I told them (BLM) if they need emergency excavators, we have enough kids here who are heads up and completely trustworthy. They realize the seriousness of this discovery and that it’s part of our history,” she said.

Prosser said he feels protective of the site.

“We kind of just fell into the right place at the right time,” he said. “This is just too weird.”

After viewing the site, Bowyer said he wouldn’t speculate on the age of the fossilized remains.

“Identifying these types of bones is considerably outside my field of expertise,” Bowyer said. “I’m going to start making massive phone calls.”

Bowyer praised Prosser, who admits he’s more comfortable talking about motorcycles than mastodons.

“He had the sense to pick up those bones and contact somebody,” said Bowyer who gave up a day off Tuesday to look at the site. “He and Cindy (Lee) deserve a lot of credit.”