Fremont construction project unearths ice age fossils

FREMONT, Calif. (KGO) -- A construction project in Fremont uncovered ice age fossils dating back almost two million years. It's a treasure trove of history that includes surprises. ABC7 News got an early look at this new find.

The fossils are what's left of some of the Bay Area's earliest residents. They are now extinct species of camels, horses, and even giant bison.

"The bison we had never seen before," said Dr. Joyce Blueford with the Children's Natural History Museum in Fremont.

But soon you will be able to see them at the museum.

"This is a very important find that will not be in just some backyard scientific collection gathering dust," said Blueford.

The fossils are a gift from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission that were discovered at a site in the Warm Springs District of Fremont.

"And while we were constructing that project we uncovered what turned out to be an ice age fossil - and then we found more - we found more than 50 specimens," said Betsy Lauppe Rhodes with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

This work is part of a $4.8 billion systemwide seismic upgrade of the Hetch Hetchy water system. Tthat system supplies water to more than 2.5 million people in the Bay Area.

"We are not in the fossil business, we're definitely in the water power and sewer business," said Lauppe Rhodes. "So this is a little different for us. We do have staff paleontologist on each project, who are around just in case."

This isn't the first time fossils have been found in Fremont. In the 1940s a group of young boys dubbed "The Boy Paleontologists" made headlines across the country for their discoveries of ancient fossils in a local quarry. Phil Gordon was one of those boys.

"Between 1943 and 1958 every Saturday, sometimes Saturday, Sunday, sometimes midweek, went to this quarry this gravel pit and dug the fossils," he said.

This undated image from the Children's Natural History Museum in Fremont, Calif. shows ice age fossils that were unearthed during a construction project.


Their discovery was groundbreaking. Now any fossils scientists find from that time are labeled as being from the Irvingtonian Period; named for the Irvington District of Fremont, where Gordon and his friends first discovered them.

"Our motto as little boys was, what we find belongs to the public domain or science," he said.

So they gave most of their collection away.

"We gave them about 20,000 specimens, which are now in the collection at UC Berkeley," he said. "Some are here."

The new fossils will now join the older ones on display, giving children and scientists new materials to study.

"It really shows an evolution of the East Bay," said Blueford.

The museum hopes to have the new bones on display and available for study within the next six months.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel.
Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.