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Salmon Fossils Dated to 1 Million Years

by John Dodge
The Olympian, October 19, 2006

Fossil fish found on the banks of the South Fork Skokomish River in Mason County have been identified as sockeye salmon that are about 1 million years old, a research team of scientists announced Wednesday.

The several salmon fossils, discovered on a bank of the Skokomish on Green Diamond Co. forestland, date to the Pleistocene Age, said Gerald Smith, a retired University of Michigan professor who worked on the research team.

It's the only documented recovery of full-body skeletons of fossilized salmon from the Pleistocene Age in the state, James Goedert, an affiliate curator at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington, said at the time of discovery.

The Pleistocene Age lasted from 1.8 million years ago to 11,000 years ago, a time when the watersheds and river systems of today began to form, and the Northwest was home to intense glacial retreats and advances.

The salmon carcasses were entombed in the silty sandstone of the eroding river bank.

Several specimens were removed for analysis and others remain in place at the undisclosed and protected site, Green Diamond spokeswoman Patti Case said.

"The site is still eroding," she said.

The fossil fish were found in August 2001 by two anglers, who quickly notified Green Diamond officials and the Skokomish tribe.

"It took a while for the scientists to agree on the identity and age of the fish," Case said of the five years since the fossilized fish were found.

The specimens are housed at the Burke Museum, but not on display.

The goal is to have plaster casts made of the fossils for display in South Sound, Case said.

A team of scientists studying fossilized sockeye salmon found on the South Fork of the Skokomish River will present its findings at a free public lecture at 7 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Shelton Civic Center, 525 Cota St.

Describing research work will be:

Retired University of Michigan professor Gerald Smith, who works at the university's Museum of Zoology and Museum of Paleontology.

David Montgomery, director of the Quaternary Research Center and professor in the Department of Earth & Space Sciences at the University of Washington.

John Dodge
Salmon Fossils Dated to 1 Million Years
The Olympian, October 19, 2006

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