A Sinkhole's Ancient Secrets

Surrounded by a limestone quarry and buried beneath the dirt of an ancient sinkhole there are 2-million-year-old fossils that are finally being unearthed by the Division of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

This fossil site, called Haile 7G, located in Newbery, Fla., was discovered in 2005 and its size gives it the potential to produce a large number of important fossils.

Stretching 30 yards by 70 yards around and going down into the ground about 7 yards deep, the site has a lot of digging for excavators do and unfortunately not all of the soil is fossiliferous.

Constrained by the ongoing development of the quarry that surrounds the fossil site excavators are working seven days a week to find as many fossils as possible before access to the site is cut off.

Volunteers have been brought in to assist in the dig and about 150 helped in 2005.

The fossils being found date to the Pliocene Epoch and consist mostly of mammals like giant sloths, giant armadillos and tapirs.

At the begining of the 2006 fall dig season about 300 specimens from Haile 7G had alread been catalogued and, according to Richard Hulbert, Vertebrate Paleontology Collections Manager at the Florida Museum of Natural history, about as many more are expected to be collected from the site before the digging finishes.

Florida was once home to the site that produced the most individual tapir fossils but that title went to the Gray Fossil site in Tennesse that was discovered in 2000.

Haile 7G's size and the number of tapirs that it has produced so far make it a rival for that title and have lead to the dig being called the Tapir Challenge.

Volunteers dig next to staff members from the Florida Museum of Natural History and University of Florida graduate students.

A simple screwdriver is the digging tool of choice because it allows the digger to break off small pieces of earth to insure that even the tiniest fossils don't go uncollected.

Haile 7G sees many repeat volunteer diggers who each devote at least a morning or afternoon to finding the secrets that have been hidden beneath the ground for tens of millennia.