Fossils found in the Yukon show ancient rhinoceroses and turtles roamed the Territory 8 million years ago

It was a warm spring day in April 1973 when Joan Hodgins took her class on a hike to an open pit mine at Wolf Creek.

While kids were playing on the tailing piles, Hodgins was collecting rocks and that is how she found the fossils.

“I was picking things up and looking at them” Hodgins told APTN News.

“I don’t know if anything is anything and I kept them for a number of years”.

Many years later, Hodgins left the Yukon and moved back to her home in Saskatchewan.

That’s where she met a paleontologist from the Royal Regina Museum.

The paleontologist was heading to the Yukon for work so she gave him a few of the fossils she had collected.

Hodgins’ fossils made it back to the Yukon, but due to lack of resources at the time the fossils were placed on a shelf and sat there for more than 14 years.

In 2014, a Yukon paleontologist named Dr. Grant Zazula found the fossils and took an interest in them.

Zazula sent the fossils to a colleague at the University of Colorado for further study.

“We didn’t know what it was,” explained Zazula. “All different mammal groups have kind of fingerprints so the fingerprints for the rhino family, or the horse family, or the bear family or what not.

“And these had the fingerprints from the rhino family. So it was clear that these represented the teeth of ancient rhinos”.

Zazula contacted Hodgins to share information. Hodgins sent Zazula more of the fragments that she had found at Wolf Creek.

The fragments Hodgins sent were later found to be from a species of Painter Turtle, a giant Galapagos turtle and an ancient Northern Pike.

“In total we have rhinos, we have turtles, tortoise and then another piece of fish fossil fragment that represented an ancient northern pike,” Zazula said.

“All these fossils together really tell us about a really strange ancient ecosystem that lived in the Yukon eight million years ago.”

Hodgins said she’s excited about the findings and is happy to of contributed to this piece of history. Hodgins continues to explore and collect things from the land around her home in Saskatchewan.

“I love the land, was born on it and grew up on it. Hiking and everything is always something. It fits in somewhere,” she said.

“I still work with children and take them out on hikes and still pick up things and add it to my collection.”

Reporter / Whitehorse

Chris was born in Toronto but has lived all over Canada. He moved to the Yukon in 2009 where he lived and worked in Dawson City. Chris’s background is in radio broadcasting and he has worked with CFYT 106.9, CBC Yukon, and CHON FM as a host and show producer. Chris joined APTN News in May.