efe-epaBy Mariana Gonzalez Guadalajara, Mexico

The recent discovery of the 13,000-year-old bones of a mammoth and of ancestors of the horse and armadillo are further proof of the paleontological riches of southern Jalisco state in western Mexico, an agricultural area where fossils are often in the hands of local settlers without any special steps taken for their conservation.

While walking along a hilltop last June in San Jose de la Tinaja in the Zapoltitic municipality of southern Jalisco, Antonio Vargas Morena, a worker at the community museum and a fan of paleontology, found part of what was later identified as a fragment of a mammoth skull.

The worker notified experts at the Paleontology Museum of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

When they arrived they realized there were also fossils of an ancestor of the horse and of a glyptodon, a mammal related to the armadillo, archeologist Eduardo Ladron de Guevara told EFE this Tuesday.

The fossils come from the great diversity of fauna that lived in the region between 13,000 and 30,000 years ago, and were discovered when rainstorms eroded the surface of the land and left them out in the open.

"During the first visit we saw only part of a mammoth's cranium, and when we returned to do the paleontological rescue, more fossils started to appear. The hill is a deposit of scattered bones and as we walked along the surface we found bones of the glyptodon, the ancestral horse and more mammoth bones," the researcher from the INAH center in Jalisco said.

During the days they were working on the land, the experts realized that finds like this are common in the area, since it was once a region of lakes and lagoons that attracted animals whose bones today are buried here.

"Jalisco is rich in fossils, and people here naturally preserve these bones, which does not constitute a crime at all," but it's not good for their conservation, the specialist warned.

Ladron de Guevara added that, according to Mexican law, anyone can be the custodian of archaeological heritage items that they find in their home, garden, or any part of their property, with previous authorization by the INAH.

Despite that option, "it is not recommended" since the remains tend to deteriorate and suffer damage unless the right conservation strategies are applied.

"A bone is preserved because it remains in stable condition for thousands of years, but when it is removed and exposed to another environment, its degeneration will only accelerate. Furthermore, if you have it in your house it's a little selfish because the rest of the community can have no access to that bit of heritage," he said.

Once the bones of the mammoth and the other animals were recovered, they were taken to the Paleontology Museum in Guadalajara, capital of Jalisco state.

There they are undergoing a process of restoration and conservation so that later they can be studied and exhibited to the public, EFE was told by Ricardo Alonso, the museum's head of research. EFE-EPA mg/cd