While digging in Matthew Perkins’s backyard last week in Las Vegas to build a pool, construction workers made an unexpected discovery: bones buried about five feet deep in the soil.
When the foreman arrived a few days later, he came with officers and crime scene investigators from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. They determined that the bones were too big to be human and told Mr. Perkins he could do whatever he wanted with them.
“That was a huge shock to us,” said Mr. Perkins, 35, who moved to Las Vegas last year with his husband.
He started calling paleontologists, museums and universities about the discovery, but nobody returned his calls. He had no luck until he contacted 8 News Now Las Vegas, which helped connect him with Joshua Bonde, a paleontologist with the Nevada Science Center.
Mr. Bonde visited Mr. Perkins at his home in the northern part of the Las Vegas Valley, and sticking out of a soil wall at the construction site were the bones: the jaw of a horse, its shoulder blade, its right front leg and hair.
Workers initially found one bone and odd-looking teeth, and started to unearth more, said Jose Ortega, 44, an excavator. He said he knew they were animal bones but the discovery was nonetheless a first for him.
“I only thought that this was not normal,” he said on Friday.
Excavators have to dig another five feet to retrieve the remaining portions of the animal. The bones will be taken to the science center to be cleaned up and analyzed, and after that they will be put on public display at the center.
Relying on the rock below and above the horse, Mr. Bonde estimated the bones to be 6,000 to 14,000 years old. Two species of horses are believed to have roamed the area, and the bones could be from the Ice Age, a period that began 2.6 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago.
The bones were attached, an uncommon occurrence for specimens in the area because there are spring deposits along the valley. When water flowed through the springs, it moved bones around.
It’s common to find fossils in Nevada, which was a wetland during the Ice Age, Mr. Bonde said.
The Tule Springs Fossil Beds, near Mr. Perkins’s home, was established by the National Park Service in 2014 and “is rich with significant paleontological resources from the Ice Age, including the Columbian Mammoth, extinct horses, camels and bison, and the dire wolf,” according to its website.
Mr. Bonde said he hoped the discovery would draw more attention to the possibility that others may have fossils in their yards.
“Fossils don’t care about political boundaries,” he said. “These fossils in dirt are scattered all over the valley and people have been developing on this for decades. It’s only a matter of time until more are found.”
Although there will be a slight delay in the construction of the six-foot-deep in-ground pool as the rest of the fossil is excavated over the next few weeks, Mr. Perkins said he was glad he connected with Mr. Bonde.
“I hope this brings attention that great people are willing to work with you and help you in any way they can if you find something like this,” he said. “It can be a big discovery or an amazing story at the end.”