IRVINE : Site Yields Ancient Remains of Animals

Researchers monitoring the construction of an apartment complex in Irvine have unearthed animal remains dating back thousands of years, a discovery that may uncover secrets about Orange County's past.

Paleontologists have found what appear to be an elephant tusk and some remains of an extinct type of bison at the site near Campus Drive and Jamboree Road.

"These are critters that died about about 10,000 years ago," said Dudley Varner, the executive director of the Natural History Foundation of Orange County. "It's all part of evidence that has bearing on Orange County's prehistoric past."

Fran Govean, a paleontologist monitoring the discovery, said it could provide clues about the area during the Pleistocene epoch, which is characterized by the appearance of modern man.

"One fossil tells you a lot," she said. "Ten will tell you more."

Although this month's find is described as important, Govean stops well short of calling it earth-shattering.

"It is significant," Govean said. "But to say it is the only find of this type is not right. At this point we are only adding to our knowledge."

Varner added, "if we were to find a spear point embedded in one of them, that would be news."

Govean, who works with LSA, Associates Inc., an environmental consulting firm, said the site near the John Wayne Airport, was probably once a shallow marine area into which creeks emptied.

Mola Development, the master planner for the area, hired the consulting firm. Mola has since sold the site to another developer.

Development at the site has continued without interruption. The remains have been encased in plaster and are being studied at a lab, Govean said.

But Govean said those hoping to come by and take a peak at the excavation would find nothing but a hole in the ground. No bones are showing, she said.

"I think we're all fascinated by distant times," Varner said. "It's part of the public intrigue with dinosaurs. We'll never really know what caused them to become extinct."

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