Ten–thousand years ago Colombia Mammoths, Camels, pre–historic Horses and Saber toothed cats used to roam the Valley. In recent weeks they have been turning up the dirt near Chowchilla that's proven to be a mother lode for Ice Age fossils.
Blake Bufford spends a good part of his day head down, scratching the dirt with a screw driver hoping to find a half-million-year-old fossil. Bufford reports to work next to a landfill near Chowchilla.
Back in the early 90's, all kinds of fossils were found nearby when graders were moving dirt.
"Horses and camels account for 80 percent of the animals of remains that we find all the way down to clams that lived in the rivers," Bufford said. "Fish bones, turtle shells, reptiles, amphibians, birds."
The dirt being pulled out of the big hole is used to cover trash being dumped in the landfill. But because it's undisturbed dirt on Madera County property, the California Environmental Quality Act requires that it be checked for fossils.
And with every pass of the heavy machinery used to pull out dirt from the site, Bufford sees a snap shot of the past
"The valley floor at one time was 70 feet below us," he said. "That was the floor of the valley, so all this sediment across the whole valley has been washed in. The mountains have turned to sand, silt, and clay and washed in."
In the past few decades, 15,000 fossils from 50 different species have been uncovered in this dirt. They're now on display at the Fossil Discovery Center in Fairmead.
Bufford walks as many as five miles a day hoping to find a lost treasure near Chowchilla. He says the shallower they dig and the more sediment they uncover, the more likely it is that complete fossils are found.
In the past two weeks, Bufford hasn't found anything worth keeping. But, before then he uncovered a couple of nuggets, including a couple of molars from a pre-historic horse, pre–historic horse.
To see more
The Fossil Discovery Center gives you a chance to see what used to roam the Valley floor half a million years ago. The center in Fairmead is open Wednesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.