City College breaks ground with monumental fossil discoveries

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Desiree Erdmann

Lydia Kaestner brushes at the mass of fossils found by City College alumni, staff and students Christopher Ryan, Anna Hilliard, Melissa Mauas, Lydia Kaestner, Riley Vance-Gydesen, and Eiko Kitao on Saturday Feb.29, 2020, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County, Calif. Kaestner is one of the five people who were on-site when it was found.

Kai Zheng, Opinion Editor

A massive fossil cluster dating back to the Pleistocene epoch was discovered Feb. 29 at the Vandenberg Air Force Base on a geology field trip led by City College lab technician Eiko Kitao. 

This is one of the most significant finds by the department and is thought to contain fossils from ice age animals, such as mastodon and giant ground sloth. 

“We’ve never found such a dense collection of bones before,” Kitao said. 

The department has been trying to extract the fossils on and off for over a year but has only now freed it from the ground.  

“It was a commitment,” Kitao said. “We knew it had to come out.” 

The base has served as an active fossil quarry for City College since 2012, and the geology department has been making regular trips to discover what it holds. 

The sandy cliffs of the site make it ideal for fossil excavation, as sand can easily be dug through. However, the five-person team still spent over 12 hours removing the fossils from the ground. 

“We were there from nine to well past sunset,” said geology major Lydia Kaestner. “It was really exciting.” 

Lydia Kaestner scrapes at the dirt surrounding the fossils found by City College alumni, staff and students on Saturday, Feb. 29, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The Fossil mass was the product of a year and two months of work.
Desiree Erdmann

Lydia Kaestner scrapes at the dirt surrounding the fossils found by City College alumni, staff and students on Saturday, Feb. 29, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The Fossil mass was the product of a year and two months of work.

The team went up the day before to assess the situation and prepare for the dig, and did the bulk of the excavating the next day. 

“We work really well as a team,” Kaestner said. “Everyone rotates out, there’s always someone working on [the fossil].” 

Once freed from the ground, the 350-pound sample proved too heavy for all the students to lift back to the department car.

“That’s when I thought ‘we need to call in the cavalry, we need help,’” said Kitao. 

So, a team of five firefighters was contacted to help lift it and bring the cluster safely out of the quarry. 

Back at City College, Kitao and others began to work on the sample out of the trunk. 

Originally, the sample was thought to be solely a pelvis sticking out of the cliffside. 

After the team brought it back to the geology “core” and started uncovering it, they found it was much more. 

Vertebrae, ribs and a femur from multiple species were visible, as determined by City College radiology students. 

The Channels will continue reporting on this discovery as more information on the fossil cluster is unearthed.