Found: An Ancient Horse Skeleton in a Utah Backyard - Atlas Obscura
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Found: An Ancient Horse Skeleton in a Utah Backyard

The 15,000-year-old find dates back to the Late Pleistocene age.

The now exposed horse skeleton is ready for documentation.
The now exposed horse skeleton is ready for documentation. Courtesy of Rick Hunter

Over the years, Utah residents have discovered Ice Age creatures such as Huntington mammoths, saber-toothed cats, and a short-faced bear well below ground. Yet, one family’s roughly 15,000-year-old find still came as a shock.

While removing a sandbank from their back yard, the Hill family came across a strange skeleton they could not recognize. So, they got in touch with Rick Hunter, a paleontologist at the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point.

“They showed me a photograph of when that first exposure happened, and I knew right then it was not a mammoth,” Hunter told Fox 13 News Salt Lake City.

Based on the hooves, Hunter surmised the unearthed collection of bones was an ancient horse, but how the horse died and most of its skeleton remained intact is a mystery.

The sediments that encased the horse were from Lake Bonneville, which dates back to the Late Pleistocene age 14,000 to 16,000 years ago and covered much of Utah. “We don’t know how this horse got there. It’s fun to speculate and say maybe a predator was chasing him along the shoreline, horses can swim, maybe [it] escaped that way and was unable to make it back in,” Hunter told Fox 13 News Salt Lake City.

The bones were well preserved, which indicated to Hunter that the horse was buried quickly after it died, before decomposition set in.

Hunter and other paleontologists are working to uncover more details about the horse. They found the horse’s skull fragments and 10 teeth about 50 feet away from the skeleton, which to Hunter means the skull was destroyed somehow.

Once they’ve stabilized and prepared the specimen, they’re hoping to study the ancient horse for several years to come, and one day, display it at the Museum of Ancient Life.