Ashfall Fossil Beds

By | September 9, 2016

Twelve million years ago a volcano erupted in North America, spreading a thick blanket of powdered glass (volcanic ash) and killing many prehistoric animals. The animals lay undisturbed until 1971. Welcome to the Ashfall Fossil Beds!



Hills surrounding the fossil beds – Nebraska, U.S.A.

Hundreds of well-preserved mammal skeletons were found at Ashfall Fossil Beds in northeastern Nebraska, many complete, which is incredibly rare. Some of the animals survived the volcano’s first eruption, but ash came to lie about 1–2 ft (50 cm) deep, and gradually filled their lungs as they attempted to graze. Ash is made up of tiny shards of glass—the animals didn’t stand a chance.


These rhinos were among hundreds that died in agony after choking on volcanic dust. So many perished that the site has been called “rhino Pompeii.”


■ Fossils of 17 different vertebrate species, including 12 mammal species, have been found at Ashfall Fossil Beds.

■ They include rhinos, horses, camels, deer, dogs, and birds, all beautifully preserved.

■ The site was discovered when a rhino skull was seen poking out of a gully on the edge of a cornfield.

■ The site is now a protected state park. Special walkways allow visitors to walk over the beds and watch paleontologists at work in the summer.



The skeleton of a Teleoceras

Some of the finds have been reconstructed to show how the animals would have looked, including this fossilized skeleton of a baby barrelbodied rhinoceros (a Teleoceras). Many skeletons have been left in their original position.


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