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The San Francisco Sunday Call
The Remarkable Bad DreanTCreatures That Once Inhabited California, the Story of Which Is Being Inearthed With Their Bones by Scientists of the State University! Hamilton M. Wright AT Berkeley, in an upper room in Eouth hall in the University of California, there were recently assembled the bones of a prehls torio mammal of massive and startling proportions. Even the skeleton re vealed the prodigious nature of this giant creature, its huge and almost ir resistible bulkiness. The skeleton is that of the prehis torio ground sloth of California, No where else in the world has a skeleton of this particular kind been assembled. No complete skeleton has ever been found. The huge bony framework is comprised of the recovered bones of several Individual specimens, all of which have been so cleverly brought together by Dr. John O. Merrlam, asso ciate professor of paleontology and historical geology at the University of California, and by his associates, that even to the uninitiated layman that huge framework bespeaks the ponder ous stride of this bulky, grubbing creature. Looking at the skeleton one can al most see, stepping out of the centuries, the reconstructed sloth, with its peb bled hide, huge legs, great claws, deep belly, and the altogether terrifying as pect which the cautious scientist tells us it undoubtedly possessed. Once California was a veritable hunt er's paradise. It Is not a travesty on prehistoric California to Imagine the huge mastodon as it must have stalked through the jungle that led from what we call Kearny and Market streets to Twin peaks. Superb, ponderous. Ir resistible, its wicked eyes must have gleamed with vicious contempt at the smaller creatures who fled from its path. One can Imagine the great crea ture riding down small trees between Hs tusks and chest and stripping thrm greedily of their foliage. One, too, can Imagine the prehistoric goat, odd, un gainly, big an a 2 year old st««r, occa sionally wandering: down from the rough mountain regions into the lower edge of the Sacramento valley. And throMghout the Sacramento valley itself and in the San Joaquln valley and southern Cali fornia roamed great herds of bison, camels and wild horaes. In the shades of the dense forests the griant ground sloth, prehistoric cousin of the armadillo of South America, dug deep for roots. Packs of great wolves, greedy and full of the chase, must have ranged the dens* forests and perhaps pulled their quarry down at Santa Cruz. At, per haps, an earlier period, the peacock called, when the roaring of the great American lion as he set out to mak« his kill shook the Jungle In what has come to be the heart of Los Angeles. The huge saber toothed tiger, the great American lion, prehistorio wolf and the enormous prehistoric bear roamed the country in quest of prey. There were no doubt vast herds of the grass eaters, bison, camels, horses and deer. Another herbiveroua mam mal was a prehistoric goat, the bones of which were discovered in a cave in Shasta county and have been as sembled at the University of California in complete skeleton form. This pre historic goat was «aslly as large as a 2 year old steer. How the bones came to be in the cave no one knows. Per haps the carcass was dragged into the cave by some powerful flesh eating animal. It could not have been dragged In by the huge prehistoric bear, an animal mightier and far more formid able than the great kadiac bear of Alaska or the wickedest grizzly Cali fornia ever produced. This bear was evidently extinct before the species of goat represented by the large mounted species came into existence. Others of the grass eaters were the mastodon and elephant. No doubt these tremen When the Mastodon Walked Up Market Street <Jous mammals were ; unmolested; .'• their great size rendered them safe from 1 attack' by the beasts v of prey; only young : or stricken mastodons could have been attacked. : Prehistoric map, If he;lived,then, had no weapons^ with which to -, conquer j such formidable game. . , • ] ,\' »- • . \ , ' ' " Among the fieslTeaters there was an amazing variety of cruel and hungry beasts, and their great numbers, as shown by the many skeletons found, tell of the still vaster numbers of the grass caters upon which the car nivora preyed. Of the flesh eaters the most terrific and formidable were the great cats, the American lion and the ■aber toothed tiger. Hugest of all the cat tribe was this American Uon. Several specimens of the lion are now known. It was a larger, more powerful creature than the African lion of today. The skull was enormous, the jaws massive and when once they had fastened upon th« throat of an adversary nothing could withstand their Irresistible crunching power. From the skulls of the lion and the saber tooth the scientist Is able to pic ture what a battle between the two must have been like, when, vicious and hungry, they met in combat over the carcass of a giant sloth. The tiger, no doubt, would leap at its heavier adver sary, slashing and stabbing with its daggerlike teeth, and striking down as a walrus does. Perhaps the great sabers of the tiger, which were fully eight or nine Inches long, may have stabbed through tha skull of the lion in an Instant. At close quarters, In a prolonged fight, the lion would prob ably win, just as the Asiatic lion Is said to destroy the Siberian tiger when the latter strays into the lion's terri tory. A blow from the lion's paw would easily break off the knlfelike teeth of the saber tooth, or, as the tiger raised its head to strike down- WtLTi «Mth Its sabers, the lion would rush at the throat of its enemy and with Its crunching jaws bite out its life. Perhaps the saber tooth, which had claws larger than/those of the tiger of India, may have ripped open the belly of Its enemy as it was being strangled to death. • The great American lion possibly wandered over here from Asia. The skull of the lion and that of an ex tinct peacock have been found in the famous tar pool at Kaneho la Brea. i ear Los Angeles. As-the only living members of the peacock: family (out- side of tame peacocks) are found In the region of India, and as both the lion and peacock lived her* In the quaternary period, the inference fs that at a comparatively late period, as the historical geologist measures time, North America and Asia may have been connected by a broad belt of land. Tears before the bones of the ground sloth were discovered geologists in ferred that the great teeth of the saber toothed tiger Indicated that it must prey on larger animals with thick necks which could not be killed by a tiger with the ordinary canine teeth. Perhaps the reason that the bones of the saber tooth are so much more plentiful than those of the lion Is that the tiger was more successful In getting a square meal. In any event the giant sloth wa» apparently Just such an animal as the tiger preyed on, and though Its very bulk and thick pebbled hide offered re sistance to most of the flesh eaters, yet when the tiger had once leaped on its quarry and fastened Its huge claws firmly In the sides or back of the sloth it must have had but little difficulty In tearing away the thick fleshy neck and dislocating the vertebrae of Its prey. The saber toothed tiger was greatest of all the saber toothed cats. But saber toothed panthers, lynx and smaller fe lines were common in the west. At the University of California there is the skull of a saber toothed cat about the size of an ordinary lynx. The skull was discovered in Dakota. It took a special set of canine teeth to enable the prehistoric cats to kill the grass eaters on which they preyed. Those with the largest and strongest sabers fed the oftenest and ate the most. Consequently they bred the strongest litters. We can imagine that when the wicked saber tooth lost one of Its tusks It abandoned the chase of the giant sloth and took to preying on smaller and less formidable animals. The sloth probably put up but little fight. Vint depended for Its security upon Its great size and defensive armor. _ Outside of Africa, Asia and the circus tent there Is no living mammal that will suggest Its vast proportions. From the skeleton at Berkeley, the dis tance across the thighs of this creature must have been more than four feet. Perhaps In shape and liM it approached the hippo or rhinoceros as closely as any creature of which the average man knows anything. Vet, as a matter of natural history, it was re lated to neither of these modern behe moths, but belonged to the same family as the little armadillo or ant eater of South America. Its long, heavy, dig ging (laws show that it dug rapidly into the ground with prodigious »trokeg for the roots upon which It fed. Its hide was densely thick and covered with long, coarse hair, and the inner side of the skin contained a great many small pebbiellke bones which formed a sort of coat of mall worn by the knights In the days of chivalry. The claws of the saber tooth, however, could cruelly pierce between the pebbled bones. Just as a shaft from the long bow woald sometimes find its way be tween the links of an armored vest. The first specimen of the ground sloth showing the pebbled armor was found in Patagonia about 13 years ago by Dr. F. P. Moreno of the Chili- Argentine boundary commission. This sloth had outside of its skin a coat of hair like that of a true sloth, but on the inside was this bony armor consist- Ing of pebbled bones somewhat like the hide of its living cousin, the armadillo The collection of the University of California includes more specimens of the species found than were previously known in the museums of the world. In the university collection there are the remains of the following extinct mammals anil birds: The great wolf. coyote, timber wolf, gray fox. the wild cat (of which one of the varieties i» possibly extinct), the great American lion, the saber toothed tiger, bison, small deer, camel, horse, mastodon, elephant, ground squirrel, teratornls <a gigantic extinct bird), California' pea cock, prehistoric goat and the prehis toric bear. Of all this amazing assortment the most specimens have come from the well known oil sump at Ran<sho la Brea near Los Angeles, tn this pool, widely described as tlie death trap of the ages, there have been dug up from the asphalt beds a vast number of skulls and remains of prehistoric creatures. As an active collection agency the tar pool was more efficient than the best fly trap ever Invented. In digging through the asphalt th« geologists In one spot encountered th« hones of not less than seven saber toothed tigers. In four cubic yards of material 17 perfect skulls of the saber tooth were discovered. Besides this. there were unearthed one complete skeleton and 10 perfect skulls of a great prehistoric wolf. Indeed, the tar pool has revealed more of the history of the prehistoric animal life of Cali fornia than any other source. For nearly half a-century the asphalt deposits that stretch through the re gion of the Los Angeles tar pool were known to contain hundreds of bones, but no Investigator had a suspicion of what t;_; bones were. Tn 1*75 Major Hancock, owner of the Ranch© la Brea, Save William Denton one of the huK« fossil sabers that he liad found In tli« asphalt. Sine* that time "W. TV. Oroutt, a noted California geologist, was the first to consider th© bones as those of prehistoric animals. He showed lits collection to F. M. Anderson of Berke ley and in this wky the specimens came to the attention of Professor Mer rlam. Perhaps the most valuable skull among those dug up by the University of California from the asphalt !s that of the great' American Hon. The skull was found by Dr. William Bebb of Lus Angeles in 1908 and he presented It to the university. The skull resembles th« skul! 0/ a lion discovered by " Prof. Joseph -Leidy near Natchez. .Miss.,'; in 1836., Professor Leldy,, called it ; lb* great: American - lion, and while tn*> skull found in California is evidently of a similar variety it is more definitely called ithat of the great | California lion. Remains of the huge prehistoric bear have been found at Potter Creek care, in northern California, and E. L. Fur long secured the first specimen for the University of California. To the average man a bone is a bone, whether it is half a million years old or whether it was picked oft a Christmas turkey, but the vast assortment of bones at the University of California have been so cleverly assembled, under the direction of Professor Merriam and his scientific associates, that the amazing variety of wild life that once lived in California is as clearly revealed almost as if one could see the stuffed speci mens. There is no evidence of the presence of man in California at the time when the creatures described abor« were liv Ins.