Klondike placer miner makes rare discovery of extinct muskox skull – North

A placer gold miner in Yukon’s Klondike region has found a rare for-the-Yukon helmeted muskox skull and horns.

Stuart Schmidt was using a machine to dig a drainage ditch at his operation on a creek in the Indian River valley, south of Dawson City, on Monday when he noticed what he thought was the tip of a bison horn sticking out of the muck.

“I gave a pull on it and it was solid, finally I managed to get it out of there, I looked at it, I thought I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Schmidt.

“It took me a minute to realize what it was,” he said.

Stuart Schmidt with the helmeted muskox skull he found Monday at his placer mining operation on a creek in the Indian River valley. (Nancy Schmidt)

Schmidt grew up on mining creeks in the Klondike and is knowledgeable about bones and fossils.

Miners began discovering massive tusks, bones and other fossils at the beginning of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898. The Natural History Museum in Paris, the American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution all sent expeditions in the early years of the Gold Rush to collect specimens.

Gold Rush era miners with a mastodon skull. (Dawson City Museum Archives)

Schmidt says it’s not unusual for him to find pieces of extinct animals.

“Over the past several years, there’s been bits of pieces of lion bone, short-faced bear, lots of bison and horse and mammoths, that type of thing, but I’ve never found a helmeted muskox before or heard of anybody that has actually, I think they’re kind of rare,” he said.

The only other similar discovery in the North that Grant Zazula, the Yukon government’s paleontologist, knows of was in the Fairbanks, Alaska, area in the 1920s. He says the helmeted muskox skulls are more common in the southern United States.

Yukon paleontologist Grant Zazula says the skull is a rare find in the North. It will be radiocarbon dated to find out its age. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

Nevertheless, he said he was…

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