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University of Iowa News Release

Jan. 29, 2004

UI Museum Of Natural History Conducts Winter Sloth Dig

The University of Iowa Museum of Natural History, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences department of geoscience and the Iowa Archaeological Society have brought some 40 giant sloth bones to Iowa City, following a winter dig near Shenandoah, Iowa, about two weeks ago.

"Digging in the middle of January seemed crazy, but we didn't want to run the risk of seeing the bones washed away by a spring flood," said museum coordinator David Brenzel.

Pieces of the skeleton of the elephant-sized mammal, extinct for approximately 10,000 years, join dozens of others that crews have gathered since excavating began last September. Museum of Natural History staff and volunteers are currently cleaning, repairing and identifying the bones.

"The evidence continues to indicate there is a complete Megalonyx there, something unprecedented for Iowa and indeed rare in the United States," said Brenzel. "We just need to stretch the search grid a little further when we go back next summer."

The January dig was a first for Holmes Semken, emeritus professor of geoscience, who led the expeditions.

"Eleven degrees above zero made for chilly feet in the morning, but it sure beat the 105-degree temperatures we dug through last fall," said Semken.

The giant sloth bones were discovered in the summer of 2002 near the town of Shenandoah in southwest Iowa, by landowners Bob and Sonia Athen. They pulled fragments from a creek bed and began gluing them together at home, but it wasn't until they brought the bones to the UI that they learned what they had found. Contacted by the Athens, Julie Golden, former curator of paleontology, called Semken, who immediately recognized them as the remains of a giant sloth. The sloth was a furry, plant-eating mammal that weighed 2-3 tons and lived during the Pleistocene Epoch, a time when glaciers covered much of Iowa. The find is one of a few in North America and a first-of-its-kind in Iowa.

Photos of the winter dig, in addition to the rest of the sloth dig photos, can be found on the Museum of Natural History Web site http://www.uiowa.edu/~nathist/Site/whatsnew.html.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 301, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009, gary-galluzzo@uiowa.edu; Program: JoAnn Seeman, UI Museum of Natural History, 319-335-0480, joann-seeman@uiowa.edu