"We were the best kept secret in Pinellas County," said Boca Ciega Millennium Park's supervisor Judy Jarosz. Last Saturday that changed when Jarosz and park staff held a press conference to announce that a significant fossil find had been discovered in a stream that runs through the park. Bones being excavated are from the Columbian Mammoth, including its jaw and tooth, tusks, hind leg bones, along with other prehistoric bones from llama-like camels, giant sloth, giant turtles, white tailed deer, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, horses, and giant armadillos.
Archaeologists and paleontologists from the University of South Florida and Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry will perform carbon and core testing soon to date the bones.
Said Jarosz, "I was told this was the most significant find in Pinellas County in 100 years…We're lucky this one was on county park land. In the future, these types of sites will be fewer and fewer because of development." The last major find was Seminole Field in 1924 that was destroyed by a housing development.
Jarosz said that after learning about the find's significance she was, "Overwhelmed, especially because of trying to secure the site." Pinellas County sheriff's deputies help the park's staff keep fossil hunters and the curious out. "The bones belong to the people of Pinellas County." said Jarosz.
Jarosz said they've decided to name the mammoth "Ciega", not to be confused with "Sierra", the name of the girl who chanced upon the bone bed.
Sierra Sweeney, a 16 year old Seminole high student, found the first bone four weeks ago. Her home in North Redington Beach happens to be directly across the bay from where she found it. During a hike in the park, Sierra ditched her shoes and the trail for the stream. "I took my shoes off and walked through the stream. I looked down and saw a huge bone that could not be a rock. Most of it was exposed, but we dug and found that it was bigger and bigger. I thought, 'Oh my God, are these people bones?'
Sierra enlisted her older brother Sean's help to identify the 65 lb. bone. Internet research helped them to determine it was from a mammoth. Sean contacted a professor he interned with and paleontologists and park officials were notified of the find.
Sean, a former St Petersburg College Aero Space Engineering major, is now a Geology major. The experience with Sierra and Ciega convinced him to change his major to Geology.
Their mother Deborah said Sierra has a knack for finding things and is like a magnet. "When we'd hunt for rubies in North Carolina she'd find the largest. She's finding more bones, usually large ones at the site now as a volunteer." Deborah also pitches in as a volunteer.
The site has been divided into 5-meter sections. Park employees and volunteers are entering the ankle deep stream and bringing up bone fragments from the muck by using a screen and the flow of the stream to funnel away silt.
Anyone interested in volunteering to help with the excavation may contact the park at (727) 588-4882 for information.
The site is restricted to park staff and volunteers but some of the bones will be on display during the park's Discovery Day and Nature Festival Saturday, March 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Other activities at the family friendly event will include children's games and nature crafts, a moon walk, pony rides and a petting zoo along with educational exhibits, demonstrations and nature based products for sale. Refreshments will be available. The park is located at 12410 74th Ave. N. in Seminole.
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