It was last spring on the Iowa State campus, Dr. Matt Hill and I were discussing the giant mammals that lived in Iowa during the ice age.
“Predators you would have seen include direwolves, saber-tooth cats…”
Wait…play that again?
“Saber-tooth cats,” Hill repeats.
The big one! The most iconic predator of the ice age. The one that’s sparked cartoons and sports logos.
At the time Dr. Hill thought they’d lived here, but now, as of this week, he can prove it.
“It’s a really big deal,” Hill said. “These specimens don’t come along every day, especially outside of southern California, so to find one in Iowa is very, very special.”
He’s holding a cast of the actual skull—one he can keep in his office–but the real thing paid a recent visit to Ames.
Discovered in southwest Iowa in 2017, Hill and his colleague, Dr. Dave Easterla waited until last week to let this cat out of the bag. That’s common among archaeologists.
“We get our story straight,” he explained. “We get all of our analyses done and then we put out kind of a comprehensive report on the description of a specimen.”
This cat was a two-year-old male and around 500 pounds. These cats have only been uncovered in about 70 places in America. East of the tarpits in Los Angeles, no one has ever found a skull this complete.
“Herbivores outnumber large carnivores in healthy ecosystems,” Hill explained. “So, that means that the chances of something like this ending up in the fossil record are very, very slim.”
Try to picture it: Iowa around 11,500 B.C. this cat is hunting giants, like the mammoth whose bone just entered the museum at Jester Park.
“There’s megafauna all over the place,” he said. “And they are right on the cusp of entering extinction—vanishing from the planet. And this animal, this specimen, was one of the last saber-toothed cats to walk the western hemisphere in North America and South America.”
Take one more look: one of the oldest Iowans in history…becomes the latest to make it.