Fairmead Fossils

San Joaquin Valley Paleontology FoundationFairmead Solid Waste Disposal Site
21739 Road 19 / Avenue 22 At Road 19
Chowchilla, CA 93610
Latitude: 37.06468
Longitude: -120.1991




The Fairmead landfill site is located west of Highway 99, between Madera and Chowchilla.

Fossils at Fairmead waste disposal site first came to the public's attention in May 1993, when mammoth remains were discovered while expanding the landfill. Thankfully, the fossils were discovered on land belonging to Madera County, so the prehistoric remains came under the protection of the California Environmental Quality Act. In response to the discovery Madera County contacted Dr. Robert Dundas, a paleontologist on the staff of the University of California, Berkeley. When he first arrived at the site to view the newly excavated area, fossils of many animals were seen to be scattered over an area nearly five acres in size at a depth of about 34 feet.

The discovery of vertebrate fossils at landfills, or other major construction projects in California, is not uncommon. Usually, the remains of one or a few animals are found at most sites. However, the quantity and scale of the finds being recovered at the Fairmead Site are exceptional. The recovery of the fossils began in June 1993, and has continued unabated for more than 15 years. Since 1993 more than 13,000 fossils have been found. Usually, fossil sites cover about an acre, but, again, the Fairmead Site is extraordinary in that it covers more than sixteen acres, and fossils have been found from depths varying from fifteen to more than sixty feet below the surface. 35 species have been identified at the landfill, including Columbian mammoths, sabertooth cats, sloths and horses.

The Fairmead Site represents one of the largest middle-Pleistocene fossil excavations in North America. This would make the fossil assemblage about 600,000 years old. These fossils are of particular significance for California and the western United States because there are few sites known from this time period, especially with so many species present. Paleontolists place the fossils in the Irvingtonian Phase of the North American Land Mammal Ages.

In response to this important discovery the San Joaquin Valley Paleontology Foundation was established in 1994 to develop tours and provide educational outreach programs for the general public. The Foundation, in partnership with Madera County, opened the Madera County Fossil Discovery Center, which is located on a four acre parcel at Avenue 21 1/2 and Road 19 1/2. The ground-breaking ceremony of the new facility took place on February 17, 2009. After 17 years in the making, the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County celebrated its grand opening on Wednesday, October 13, 2010 on National Fossil Day.

Preliminary Report

The Fairmead Landfill Locality (Pleistocene, Irvingtonian), Madera County, California: preliminary report and significance [by] Robert G. Dundas, Randall B. Smith and Kenneth L. Verosub. PaleoBios, Volume 17, Numbers 2-4, pages 50-88. September 13, 1996.

Other Sources

Importance of Landfills on Paleontologic Resources and the need for expediting the recovery of fossils

Columbian Mammoth (Mammuthus Columbi) from the Late Irvingtonian Fairmead Landfill Locality, Madera County, California (abstract)

Revised Temporal Resolution of the Late Irvingtonian Age Fairmead Landfill Fauna, Madera County, California (abstract)

Dundas Paleontology Lab

Paleobiology Database