Message #208: From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG To: "'Matthias Giessler'" Subject: This Guy Says The Horse Can-Do Date: Sat, 31 May 1997 20:07:14 -0700 [ Note: Apologies to Frank Loesser -- the Subject words are from the tune "Can Do," from the musical "Guys and Dolls." And, hey, no jokes about Nag -pra please! -- SASIG Ed. ] http://www.azcentral.com/sev/features/sefeatures.shtml Horse of a different era -- John Babiarz is no stranger to digging up 28 million-year-old skulls of saber-toothed cats. But the amateur paleontologist is almost as excited about excavating a 150-year-old horse skeleton he discovered two weeks ago in a stand of palm trees at his Greenfield Citrus Nursery in Mesa. Horse of a different era: 150-year-old bones found in Mesa By Barbara Yost The Arizona Republic May 31, 1997 MESA - John Babiarz is no stranger to digging up 28 million-year-old skulls of saber-toothed cats. But the amateur paleontologist is almost as excited about excavating a 150-year-old horse skeleton he discovered two weeks ago in a stand of palm trees at his Greenfield Citrus Nursery in Mesa. On Friday, workers slid boards under the skeleton to form a platform, then hoisted it out of its tomb with a crane. "It's no saber cat," Babiarz said, waving around a femur picked clean of flesh. "But even if it's just historic, it still tells a story." What that story is is anybody's guess. Babiarz will send bone fragments to the University of Arizona for carbon-dating to determine the skeleton's age. From its condition, he estimates the horse died and was buried where it fell 100 to 150 years ago. The bones have no trace of hair, one of the last substances on a carcass to disintegrate. But they had not become fossilized - when bone is replaced by minerals and turns to stone. That would indicate much older origins. Babiarz also said he believes: The horse was probably a female, since it has no canine teeth. In females, canines are small or absent. The carcass was not devoured by coyotes, which would have ravaged and scattered the bones. The skeleton is articulated, or intact, from head to ribs to tail. Nellybelle passed into peaceful repose. She was probably about 20 to 25 years old when she died and suffered from arthritis, evident in rough deposits on leg bones. Babiarz said the horse may have belonged to one of the Mormon families who settled Mesa's Lehi Valley in the 1800s. When the animal died after years of service, she was either buried or became buried over the next century. She also might have been a wild horse, he said. Greenfield Citrus Nursery is on land that was once the flood plain of the Salt River, whose course has been altered over thousands of years. The Hohokam people inhabited the area from A.D. 900 to 1400. Had the river still run through the land, flooding would have quickly fossilized the horse's skeleton. Babiarz's work crew discovered the horse while digging up a palm tree. Babiarz stopped by the site and saw a leg bone lying by the side of the hole. He instructed the men to dig deeper, and eventually they were able to expose the entire skeleton, imbedded in a block of dirt and clay and held fast by fibrous palm roots. Though he has taken several of the bones into his shop for examination, Babiarz does not plan to dissemble the skeleton and reconstruct it as a model. It will be left in the block of dirt and displayed as it was found - "or you lose the integrity." Babiarz knows how to treat old bones. His office at Greenfield Citrus is filled with saber-toothed skulls, shark jaws, fossilized sea cow skulls, prehistoric pigs - all millions of years old. He regularly goes on digs around the country unearthing treasures of paleontology. Some of his finds are in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Completely self-taught, he points to stacks of books that have been his teachers. He has also worked with some of the leading paleontologists in America. Last year, he was one of the sponsors of the Dinofest exhibition at Arizona State University. His current project is the proposed Scottsdale Museum of Natural History, where he would like his skeleton to be part of an exhibit on the history of the horse. Backers are hoping to house the museum in the Scottsdale Galleria. Such an exhibit could also find a home at the Mesa Southwest Museum, he said. Given the time and effort he has put in to preserve the specimen, Babiarz is determined to find Nellybelle an appropriate resting place. "I wouldn't want to leave it here," he said. "It'll just get chopped up. You want to save it." [Photo /MIchael Meister/The Arizona Republic] Photo Caption: This horse skeleton will not be disassembled and reconstructed as a model. John Babiarz said it will be left in the block of dirt and displayed as it was found - "or you lose the integrity."