CARACAS -  Under the rich Venezuelan soil, paleontologists have found treasures rivaling the bountiful oil: a giant armadillo the size of a Volkswagen, a crocodile bigger than a bus and a saber-toothed tiger.
Oil companies’ surveys of the soil have uncovered a trove of fossils dating from 14,000 to 370 million years ago.
Many of the 12,000 recorded specimens from different eras are now kept in a tiny office of the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research.
A strong smell of oil fills the room as Ascania Rincon opens the drawer of a filing cabinet to reveal the tar-stained femur of a giant, six-ton mastodon from 25,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age.
Unfazed by the significance of the finds already made, the head of the institute’s Laboratory of Paleontology is intent on realizing his next goal: locating human fossils for proof of prehistoric human life in the area. “We are close. You have to keep exploring the area. We have already found spearheads,” he told AFP. “What’s lacking is reliable indication that man hunted the megafauna that we are finding. And lacking are human fossils.”
Located in northern South America, Venezuela has a complex geological structure that leaves it swimming in oil deposits teeming with life preserved from so very long ago. Most of the fossils are concentrated in a large area north of the Orinoco River where the Atlantic Ocean originated 200 million years ago, the paleontologist explained.