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Topic: Flora & Fauna     Department: Letters

Forgotten Fossils

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On page 3 of the recent issue appear "snapshots" of four national park units' paleontological resources (HCN, 10/17/11, "A fossil-fueled survey"). Among those highlighted is the 2010 discovery of Barnum Brown's dinosaur dig sites in Big Bend National Park. After six years as chief ranger of that park (1977-'82), I was assigned to Buffalo National River in Arkansas as assistant superintendent. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Barnum Brown had explored a Pleistocene bone deposit on private land near Buffalo River in 1903 and 1904.

According to Brown, among the thousands of bones deposited in this 20-foot fissure were those representing 37 genera and 51 species, of which 24 are considered extinct. Brown wrote that, "This 'ossuary' is probably richer in individual specimens than any so far discovered in North America." It included species from musk ox and saber-toothed tiger to bats, shrews and weasels.

When Buffalo National River was established in 1972, the park's boundary narrowly missed this important site -- a privately owned property that is contiguous with national river lands on two sides. Although the enabling legislation for the national river allows for "minor boundary changes," and landowners have from time to time expressed willingness to sell, government inertia or disinterest has precluded this important paleontological site from being included within Buffalo National River.

Jim Liles
Yellville, Arkansas

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