Local family loans prehistoric collection to Las Vegas museum

LAS VEGAS - Las Vegas is known for demolishing most of its past, at least above ground.

The earth remains chock full of prehistoric relics. Now, for the first time in years, a key find is in public hands.

The Gilcrease family was one of the original valley ranchers. As it turns out, their land was also ripe for finding prehistoric relics.

And while researchers have been able to analyze what was found before, they've never actually had it long-term.

Joshua Bonde loves to unlock the past.

"Kind of get away from the hustle and bustle," is how the UNLV paleontologist describes a day in the field. Less than a mile from the northern edge of modern Las Vegas, Bonde finds history.

"You drop down into the wash, it's like you're not in the city anymore. You go to a completely different landscape," Bonde said.

It's the new Tule Springs State Park.

An old spring where prehistoric animals came to eat, drink, live and die.

"Anytime we're out here, there's more bones coming out of the hills. That's what makes this so special is there are so many fossils," Bonde said.

Twenty four years ago, researchers were not far away from the park site when they found a basin of fossils, notably 50 complete mammoth teeth.

"Those teeth are like little time capsules, telling us about the climate in Las Vegas through time." 

But since the find was on private property, most of it stayed in private hands. Until now.

"The crazy thing about these boxes is that it's 14,000 of Las Vegas history sitting in those tubs," Bonde said.

After years of work, the Gilcrease collection is in now at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. The boxes arrived a few weeks ago.

The Gilcrease family is loaning the material to Bonde and other UNLV researchers.

"It's the story of climate, geology, and life in Las Vegas over the last 200,000 years," Bonde said.

Museum staff are now applying for a $91,000 grant to help preserve and display the collection they've wanted for so long.

"It's going to be a treasure trove of information for paleontologists for years."

Much of the Gilcrease site has been explored, and the family has allowed researchers to examine the collection for a long time.

The location where the mammoth bones were found is now home to grazing goats.

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