Remains of an ancient horse have been discovered in a family's backyard in Lehi, Utah.
The Hills were only preparing to build a retaining wall and plant grass in their backyard when they came upon remnants of what they first thought was a cow.
The family approached Museum of Ancient Life paleontologist Rick Hunter to examine their discovery, which he confirmed to be remains of an ancient horse the size of a Shetland pony.
The skeleton was missing its head, but everything else was there. Some parts were damaged though due to exposure to weather. The remains, which were found in a sandbank seven feet below the surface, show the horse lying on its left side with all four legs tucked near its torso.
Hunter's team eventually located the bone fragments, molars, and small pieces of the skull within 50 feet beyond the original site. The paleontologist concluded that the skull was shattered and moved when the landscaper cleared the land.
As to how ancient the horse is, he estimates that the animal is of the ice age, which means that it is from 14,000 to 16,000 years ago. He hopes to lock in a more precise age as they study the remains further.
As American Museum of Natural History Horses department of mammalogy curator Ross MacPhee explained to New York Times, horses have roamed North America for 50 million years.
In fact, the continent was dominated by two kinds of horses during the Pleistocene Era from which the horse came from. MacPhee posits that the domesticated horses of today may have descended from one of those breeds.
As to how the horse died, Hunter speculates that the horse may have drowned. He explained that the location in which the remains were found was once covered by a prehistoric body of water known as the Lake Bonneville. The Great Salt Lake as it presently exists is a remnant of the said lake.
Hunter posits that the horse might have stumbled upon a predator and attempted to save itself by running into the lake. While horses can swim, the expert told the abovementioned publication that the animal may have been "trapped out there, drowned and sank to the bottom."
The expert's team intends to reassemble the remnants of the ancient horse and make it a permanent exhibit at the Museum of Ancient Life.
As for the Hill family, the matriarch concurs, saying that "it would be nice" to have the skeleton at the museum as well, although they have been advised to seek appraisal for it in the hopes of getting a tax deduction.
The bones of the horse are not yet fossils. The horse is not old enough for the fossilized minerals in the bone to turn to stone. This poses a challenge for Hunter's team seeing that if the bones dry too quickly, they will crack so they are making sure to "cure them slowly."
The horse will be named "Hill Horse" in honor of the family that found it.