Fossil remains of ancient horse unearthed in Utah family’s backyard

LEHI, Utah -- It's been buried for more than 2 million years, and now the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point is unveiling a major find.

Rick Hunter, a paleontologist with the Museum of Ancient Life, said the fascinating find occurred in a family’s backyard.

“It’s an ice age animal here in Utah Valley, right here in Lehi—pretty rare thing,” Hunter said.

A family was working on a landscaping project when they struck paleontological pay dirt. The equipment scraped along and exposed a skeleton, which is when they contacted Hunter.

“It’s rare,” Hunter said. “It’s really rare. This was under the water of Lake Bonneville back at that time, and so for terrestrial animals to be in there, something special had to happen.”

Mammoth fossils have been found before along the Wasatch Front, but Hunter says this is different.

“They showed me a photograph of when that first exposure happened, and I knew right then it was not a mammoth,” Hunter said.

Hunter thinks this is some kind of ancient Shetland pony, based on a hoof and other details of the find.

“We don’t know how this horse got there,” he said. “It’s fun to speculate and say maybe a predator was chasing him along the shoreline, horses can swim, maybe escaped that way and was unable to make it back in.”

And something unique happened to keep the bones intact.

“We know that he was covered very quickly, because the articulation of the bones was so perfect that that had to happen to hold everything in place before it decomposed,” he said.

Paleontologists are still piecing everything together. Unfortunately, the head is missing.

“We really hoped that it was there, and the direction that it should have been we tested and we dug way far out away from it—It wasn’t there,” Hunter said.

But Hunter says it's still an incredible find, and, if you ever find a fossil in your backyard: “Don’t disturb it. Don’t try to dig it out. Contact somebody that can come and identify it. We're happy to do that at any time.”

Preserving a piece of ancient history for everyone to enjoy.

“We will then study the skeleton and hopefully be able to do a paper and let the world know what we find out about it and then eventually have an exhibit here at the Museum of Ancient Life,” Hunter said.

For more information about the museum, visit their website.