Southern Nevada is renowned for its legacy of impermanence. It’s the kind of place where we build and forget, continuously replace the past with the more titillating present.
But within that mind-set lives the larger story of time, visible evidence of tens of thousands of years embedded in the geological strata surrounding the Valley. Fossils surface to provide new clues on how we came to be—a strange juxtaposition between the recent past and the prehistoric. When Sinatra and the Rat Pack were launching a new era on the Strip, one of the state’s largest archaeological digs was taking place at Tule Springs 30 minutes north, revealing a wealth of ice age fossils, bones of mammoths and other animals that roamed in the cool, wet climate of their era.
Yet when it was announced in July that more than 10,000 fossils excavated from the recently christened Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument had been brought back to Nevada following their stay at a California museum—where they were catalogued and surveyed—it lacked the usual fanfare when headliners return to town. Now that more than 23,000 acres of land have been designated as a national monument falling under the National Park Service—a long-fought battle by advocates and politicians—the past will likely have its red-carpet moment. After all, the entire state is a rich study of the prehistoric.
“We have a fossil record that stands from the Devonian Age to the modern era,” says Eugene Hattori, state anthropologist and curator of anthropology at Nevada State Museum. “Because of the process of erosion and deposition there are fossils that are exposed, and it’s a continuing process.”