Dawn Horse fossil to be featured in Smithsonian exhibit

The rare three-toed Dawn Horse fossil discovered by Jim Tynsky in his quarry in the Green River Formation near Kemmerer, Wyo. Tynsky’s rare fossil is prepared and packed for delivery to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in D.C. Kemmerer Gazette photo.


KEMMERER, WYO. — More than fifteen years after its discovery, the famous three-toed “Dawn Horse” found by local fossil hunter Jim Tynsky will greet millions of visitors in a new exhibit projected to open in 2020 at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

“It’s the best place it could be at,” said Jim Tynsky, fossil hunter and owner of Tynsky’s Fossils. “I am really happy. I have wanted to see it go there for a long time.”

Back in 2003, shortly after Tynsky’s discovery, Dr. Kirk Johnson traveled to Kemmerer to view the specimen of the genus Hyracotherium, formerly known as the Eohippus or “dawn horse.”

Johnson was one of the first scientists to become interested in the spectacular find and examined the fossil before any preparation work had begun. He is currently the Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and working on a new exhibit featuring the Green River Formation.

The Green River Formation which spans over Wyoming, Colorado and Utah was created by three ancient great lakes. Their sedimentary layers feature some of the most well preserved scientific discoveries from the Eocene animal and plant life.

At the time of the discovery, Johnson was the chief curator and vice president of research and collections at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Tynsky found the horse specimen in September of 2003 at the Lewis Ranch quarry, which is located in the area known as Fossil Lake — the Wyoming section of the Green River Formation. Lewis Ranch is located across the highway from the Fossil Butte National Monument about 13 miles from Kemmerer.

Tynsky reflected on that day of the discovery and remembers how he had just returned from a show in Denver and was eager to get back to the fossil quarry here in Wyoming. As the first clank echoed in the quarry with the sound of his chisel against the stone, Tynsky spotted a leg in the corner of the split limestone. Scott Banta was working alongside Tynsky that day. After a closer look, Banta said, “I think you got yourself a horse, Jim!” The specimen measured around 24 inches long with a six-inch skull.

In a 2004 interview with the Gazette, Tynsky said he carefully drove the specimen to Danny Elmer in Deadwood, South Dakota, for prepping. Everyone was meticulous in the treatment of this one-of-a-kind specimen. Tynsky also said he intended to store the fossil in a bank vault for preservation until he could find a buyer. Tynsky stated, “If I don’t get a lot of money out of it, I’m going to keep it.”

He did keep the fossilized treasure hidden and protected in a steel fire-proof vault for many years. It wasn’t until earlier this year that Tynsky decided to take it to a rock and gem show in Tucson, Ariz., where Dr. Johnson’s interest in the fossil was rekindled and he reached out to Tynsky.

A buyer had been found. “He called me and told me he was interested,” Tynsky said.

Johnson had obtained a private donor to make the purchase possible. It took about seven months for the deal to close.

The Smithsonian sent a specialist team to prepare the fossil for the transportation from its 50-million-year-old neighborhood. It made the journey to D.C. in late April via the museum’s private van.

Although Tynsky would not disclose the purchase amount, he did agree to let it go. “It was worth the wait. I am very happy.” Tynsky said. The Smithsonian now holds all the rights to the fossil specimen, including the mold which is used to make replicas. Tynsky is content with his exchange, as he explains he has a really good picture of the horse hanging in his house.

He plans to join the more than seven million visitors the Smithsonian hosts every year and make the trip to D.C. once the exhibit in on display.

Tynsky continues to dig for fossils every day. Residents and vistors can check out his impressive variety of fossils on display at Tynsky’s Fossil Shop, located at 716 J. C. Penny Drive. Those interested in trying their luck at finding fossils can schedule a quarry tour with the company. Call 307-877-6885 for more information or go to tynskysfossilfish.com.