National Park Service
U.S. Department of the Interior


For Immediate Release: July 18, 2015
Release No.: 2015-04
Contact: 702-293-8691


LAS VEGAS – Around 10,000 fossil specimens that were excavated from the Upper Las Vegas Wash in 2002 have returned to Nevada. The fossils were discovered by scientists from San Bernardino County Museum and have been curated in California since that time.

“It took three very, very important decisions in order to have these specimens transferred to the National Park Service legally and to have them come back here to Clark County. We never thought we were going to be able to accomplish it,” Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument Superintendent Vincent Santucci told a crowd July 18, at the Nevada State Museum.

The monument was established as a unit of the National Park Service Dec. 19, 2014, to protect and interpret the nationally important paleontological, scientific, educational and recreational resources in the park.

The Bureau of Land Management previously managed the area, and hired San Bernardino County paleontologists to protect the fossils and preserve them for the American public. Santucci said it was always BLM’s intention to bring the specimens back, but he wasn’t sure the paleontologists from San Bernardino County Museum would be as eager to see them go.

“They’ve invested years of hard word out there making collections and preparing them and curating them,” he said. “But they understand the people of Nevada want this.”

In June, the fossil collection was legally transferred from the Bureau of Land Management to the National Park Service and the fossils were transported from California to the Nevada State Museum. Santucci recognized Gayle Marrs-Smith, the BLM field manager for the Las Vegas Field Office; San Bernardino County Museum curators Kathleen Springer and Eric Scott; and Dennis McBride, the director of the Nevada State Museum by presenting them with an official National Park Service arrowhead.

U.S. Representative Dina Titus who was a champion for the establishment of the monument thanked Santucci and those who made this possible.

“It is just so exciting, and I’m just so pleased to be part of it,” she said, adding that she has a replica of a mammoth tooth sitting on her desk.

The Nevada State Museum, located at Springs Preserve, opened in 2011, and now has the space and facilities to properly curate the specimens. The collection of specimens from Columbian mammoths, camels, bison, saber-tooth cats, horses and llamas are stored in the basement.

An exhibit explaining the history of the monument, including how Nevada State Museum scientists discovered an abundance of large animal fossils in the Upper Las Vegas Wash during the Big Dig in 1962, is now on display along with select fossils, including a mammoth tusk.

“The return of the fossils to the place they were preserved, discovered and collected will enhance opportunities for future scientific research and public education at the new monument,” said Santucci.

The announcement was also made that in 2016, during the Centennial of the National Park Service, Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument will be featured in the annual National Fossil Day logo for the Oct. 12, 2016, event.

National Fossil Day is a nationwide partnership promoting the scientific and educational values of fossils. Each year, an annual National Fossil Day logo is created as a graphic identity, which helps to share and promote another story about the fossil record.

After four months as the interim superintendent at Tule Springs Fossil Beds, Santucci said his goodbyes. He is returning to his full time job as the National Park Service’s senior geologist and paleontologist July 22. The monument’s first permanent superintendent Jonathan Burpee will start in September. He made a surprise appearance at the announcement event.

“It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but we’re going to build this park together. Thank you for this wonderful welcome,” he said.


Last updated: July 18, 2015

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