Rare fossil of extinct American lion discovered thanks to Mississippi drying up: ScienceAlert

In late October, a Mississippi resident made a rare discovery along the drought-stricken Mississippi River — a fossilized bone from an American lion that roamed the area about 11,000 years ago, according to McClatchy News.

It is only the fourth ancient American lion fossil to be found in Mississippi, according to the news agency.

Wiley Prewitt, a local resident, stumbled upon what looked like a huge black tooth in the sand and decided to bring the find to a Mississippi Fossils & Artifacts Symposium and Show on October 29.

“I could tell from the teeth right away that it was a fragment of a carnivore’s jaw, but I didn’t dare hope it was from an American lion,” Prewitt told McClatchy News. “It sure seemed right, but I wouldn’t let myself believe it.”

Experts confirmed that it belonged to the species Panthera atrox, commonly known as the great American lion. Researchers believe it was the largest big cat on the continent at nearly 2.4 meters long, 4 feet tall and can weigh up to 1,000 pounds, according to the National Park Service.

It has been extinct for about 11,000 years.

The Mississippi River is a vital transportation route, and its unusually low water levels have disrupted shipping in several states in recent months.

Some locations along the river reported their lowest water levels in 10 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in its latest climate report, adding that barges failed to clear parts of the river and ran aground.

The receding water level exposed objects that were deeply submerged

The fossil is the last vestige of the past discovered by the Mississippi River drought. In early October, the low water level revealed an old sunken ship on the banks of the river.

Archaeologists believe the wreckage is from a ferry that sank in the late 19th or early 20th century after being damaged in a storm, the Associated Press reported.

Although this was the first time the ship had been fully exposed, small sections of the vessel emerged from shallow waters in the 1990s.

“At that time the boat was completely covered in mud and there was mud around it, so only the edges of the sides were visible,” Louisiana state archaeologist Chip McGimsey told the AP when the wreck surfaced in October.

“They had to move a lot of dirt just to get some narrow windows in to see pieces,” McGimsey said.

According to a growing body of research, global warming due to fossil fuel burning amplifies evaporation, making droughts more severe.

Experts previously told Insider that as human-caused climate change warms the planet and exacerbates droughts, more remnants of the past may be unearthed from receding waters.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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