Oreodont fossil lived 32 million years ago in modern-day South Dakota



FARMINGTON — Bob, the brontothere fossil in the Sherman Dugan Museum of Geology, made a new friend this week in the form of a 32-million-year old fossil of a hoofed, hog-like grazing mammal called Mery.

“We’ve got a fossil we’ve lovingly called Bob for many, many years,” John Burris, a member of the museum’s advisory board, said during the unveiling. “And we thought, ‘Well, this needed a name also.’”

Mery was unveiled near Bob on Wednesday at the museum located in the San Juan College School of Energy. She is part of a donation made by the Dugan family in 2013, according to one of the museum’s curators, Donna Ware.

“Eventually, we did an inventory of all the broken little pieces and realized every piece was there, so we ordered the glue and started rebuilding the puzzle one piece at a time,” Ware said. “It took a long time.”

Ware said she and fellow curator Jeff Self spent up to 400 hours rebuilding the complete fossil.

Burris, who is also a geology and science professor at San Juan College, gave a presentation on Mery’s species, the Merycoidodon, before the reveal. Merycoidodon mean’s “mountain tooth,” and the extinct animal is known by its common name, oreodont.


It was one of the most commonly represented mammals in North America, where it lived during the Eocene and Miocene epochs, Burris said. Mery is from the early Oligocene Epoch, about 32 million years ago.

Mery was a short-legged, long-tailed mammal with a short body and four- or five-toed camel-like hooves. She also had highly developed teeth, Burris said, with back teeth similar to a cow’s and front teeth, including canines, similar to a pig’s.

She was a plant-eating animal and likely lived in forested environments — North America’s transition from forests to grasslands at the end of the Miocene epoch may have led to the species’ extinction, Burris said.


Oreodont fossils can be found in abundance in Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming, Burris said. Mery herself came from the Badlands of Oglala Lakota County in South Dakota, and she originally was re-assembled by the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in 1974, Ware said.

San Juan College put out a request for proposals to local students and community members to name the fossil. More than 85 names were submitted, Burris said, and Valentino Levaldo, a sixth-grader at Mesa View Middle School in Farmington, won the competition with the name Mery, which is inspired by the fossil’s species name and is a nod to his grandmother.


“I came up with Mery because the Meryo —  I can’t say the name, but it’s the Meryoakodont or something like that,” Levaldo said. “I looked at that, and I also thought to myself, my grandma is named that. Her full name’s Mary Abeita, so I thought of that, and I named it Mery.”

Lavaldo said other names submitted by his class included Oreo and Mr. Burns, the name of their sixth-grade teacher.


Mery’s installation was partially funded by the Friends of Sherman Dugan Foundation, according to San Juan College Foundation executive director Gayle Dean.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com. 

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