Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee released a press release today announcing the unexpected discovery of a massive squirrel skeleton on campus. The remains of the large rodent were reportedly found by students enrolled in an excavation course, digging near an old servants’ cottage.
“The unusually warm winter allowed the class to continue working straight through to spring, giving our students the chance to move all the way into some exciting late-Pleistoscene contexts, including evidence of very early paleoindian activity,” said Steve Wernke, associate professor of anthropology, who is teaching the course.
“And that’s when I found the fang,” said freshman student Sandeep Kumar.
The skeleton appears to be roughly the size of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and it is believed to be an ancient ancestor of modern squirrels. Although very little is known about early squirrel species, researchers have long suspected that these large animals were actually ferocious predators that regularly snacked on other large critters, such as cave bears or saber tooth tigers.
“Until now, the paleosquirrel was believed to be a myth,” said Angela Santiago, a Ph.D. candidate in Earth and environmental sciences whose dissertation research focuses on carnivorous Pleistoscene megafauna. “Though its modern descendants only rarely consume insect or small animal life, Cornelia’s dentition suggests she was predominantly carnivorous.”
Students also found what appeared to be stone arrow and spearheads nearby, suggesting that ancient humans may have once hunted—or defended themselves against—the paleosquirrel. It has been suggested before that these large rodents may have once raided human communities for food, leading to the construction of large, wooden fortifications. In any case. researchers from Vanderbilt University plan on requesting a grant to fund their ongoing study of the paleosquirrel. However, many expect this proposal to be rejected due it being nothing more than a prank.
Happy April Fools’ Day.