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Picture of the Day

Ancient extinct sloth tooth in Belize tells story of creature's last year

Some 27,000 years ago in central Belize, a giant sloth was thirsty. The region was arid, not like today's steamy jungle. The Last Glacial Maximum had locked up much of Earth's moisture in polar ice caps and glaciers. Water tables in the area were low. The sloth, a beast that stood up to 4 meters tall, eventually found water -- in a deep sinkhole with steep walls down to the water. That is where it took its final drink. In 2014, divers found some of the sloth's remains – parts of a tooth, humerus and femur -- while searching for ancient Maya artifacts in the pool, in Cara Blanca, Belize. Though partially fossilized, the tooth still held enough unaltered tissue for stable carbon and oxygen isotope analysis, which provided clues to what the sloth ate in the last year of its life. This, in turn, revealed much about the local climate and environment of the region at the time. The findings will aid the study of similar fossils in the future, the researchers said.

Visit Website | Image credit: Stanley H. Ambrose/Department of Anthropology/University of Illinois