Ashfall Fossil Beds, Nebraska
The Prehistoric Pompeii
In the summer of 1971, paleontolo- gist Mike Voorhies and his geologist wife, Jane, were living out of a station wagon parked in a Nebraska cornfield—their latest stop on a road trip to collect information for a geological map. While there, they noticed a deep gully stripped bare by a recent rainstorm.
Mike Voorhies hiked over to the ravine, where he discovered something odd. Throughout north central Nebraska, the ground contains a layer of silver ash, about a foot thick—the remnants of a massive volcanic eruption some 12 million years ago. But a cross-section of the gully’s walls revealed an ash layer ten feet deep. “I noticed a little jawbone with teeth. I jumped down and started cleaning off the surface of the ash and taking samples of it, wondering what could cause this,” says Voorhies, now 70. He had found the skull of a baby rhinoceros.