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© CNET simbakubwa1
Matthew Borths discovered a giant prehistoric lion on his lunch break.
While examining drawers at the Nairobi National Museum in Kenya, Borths, a carnivore paleontologist, opened a drawer of Ice Age specimens and noticed a row of huge teeth staring back at him. He immediately realized the gigantic jaw was not an Ice Age specimen at all. A few years earlier, Nancy Stevens, a paleontologist at Ohio University, had opened the same drawer and noticed the same set of teeth.
The fossils, which date back 22 million years, were originally unearthed when Kenyan researchers were scouring the African plains looking for ancient ape bones decades ago. They'd been hidden away in the wrong museum drawer for years. When Borth and Stevens came along, the duo quickly realized they had found a new species of prehistoric lion. The team were able to examine portions of the creature's skull, its jaw and parts of its skeleton and discovered it is the oldest specimen of a group of mammals known as hyaenodonts.
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The new carnivore has been dubbed Simbakubwa kutoaafrika, which is Swahili for "big lion from Africa". It is described in a study published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology on April 18, which suggests the beast was bigger than a polar bear and had canine teeth as big as an adult foot.
Related slideshow: Best places to see fossils of dinosaurs and other extinct species (Provided by Photo Services)
Museum für Naturkunde, Germany
This Berlin museum features the Brachiosaurus, which is the tallest dinosaur in the world, on display at 41 feet, 5 inches (12.6 meters). The place is also home to a diverse collection of bones from varied species excavated mostly from Tanzania in the 20th century.
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Dinosaur National Monument, US
Well-preserved remains of about 1,500 dinosaurs such as Stegosaurus and Diplodocusa are on display at this monument located on the border of Colorado and Utah. You can hike through the 1.2-mile (1.9 km) Fossil Discovery Trail and see several dinosaur fossils.
(Pictured) Dinosaur fossils preserved in rock.
Grand Canyon, US
Several marine fossils such as crinoids, brachiopods, and sponges can be found at this national park in Arizona. Remains of extinct marine arthropods called trilobites can also be seen in Bright Angel Shale formation here.
(Pictured) The trilobite fossil in Bright Angel Shale layer.
Glacier National Park, US
The national park in Montana is home to fossilized algae mounds known as stromatolites or “sliced cabbage” due to their ring formation. The geological feature can be best viewed along the east of Going to The Sun Road on Logan Pass.
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National Dinosaur Museum, Australia
Located in Canberra, the museum houses a collection of dinosaur fossils and bones and footprints of various animals. Other attractions here include a garden with imposing dinosaur figures and animatronics.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, US
Brachiopods, crinoids and fusulinids are common fossils found in the back-reef sediments of this Texas park, while in the fore-reef, fossils such as trilobites, brachiopods, sea urchins, algae, and bryozoans can be seen.
Iziko Museum, South Africa
This museum in Cape Town has fossils of prehistoric animals from the country’s Karoo region. It exhibits the remains of Euparkeria, a distant relative of dinosaurs, native to the region and Jobaria, a sauropod from Africa.
(Pictured) A blue whale skeleton.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, US
Located in Oregon, the monument has well-preserved fossils spanning over 40 million years. Around 40,000 fossils are on display at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center here.
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Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, US
A part of the Colorado Plateau, the region is famous for its dinosaur footprints that can be seen at the Carl Hayden Visitor Center, Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center and Wahweap District Ranger Office.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, US
This Colorado monument houses the remains of a rhinoceros-like extinct mammal called brontothere. Apart from 1,500 fossils, visitors can get a glimpse of the Big Stump – massive petrified redwood stump – and North America’s first fossilized butterfly.
Petrified Forest National Park, US
The national park in Navajo and Apache counties in Arizona is famous for its petrified wood fossils. Over the passage of time, quartz crystals were formed within fallen logs of wood as groundwater dissolved ash into silica, thus replacing wood cells with stone.
Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, US
The Montana site became popular after a 70-million-year-old plesiosaur fossil was discovered by hunter Dave Bradt in 2010. The surrounding region is a prominent fossil zone as one of the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons was found here in 1988.
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(Pictured) This July 14, 2011 image provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services shows fragments of bone protruding from a fossil.
Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, US
More than 70 partial skeletons, 12,000 individual bones and single dinosaur eggs have been found in this quarry in Utah, making it a prolific fossil source for paleontologists.
(Pictured) People view dinosaur bones at the quarry.
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, US
Fossils of extinct creatures such as the six-foot-long beardog, the pig-like dinohyus and a short rhinoceros called a Menoceras can be seen at the national monument in Nebraska. Ancient animal bones are exhibited at the Visitor Center here.
(Pictured) Fossils of animals on display at the Visitor Center.
Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite, USA
Apart from footprints of dinosaurs that are preserved at this site in Wyoming, there are trilobites, brachiopods and several invertebrate fossils that can be collected from here without a permit. (Pictured) Observation platform at the monument.
Devonian Fossil Gorge, US
This Iowa region is popular for its Devonian era (416 million to 358 million years ago) fossilized ocean floor that was revealed following the 2003 and 2008 floods at Coralville Lake. The place offers camping opportunities at Dam Complex, the Sandy Beach Camp and Sugar Bottom.
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(Pictured) View of the 2008 flooding at the lake.
Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, US
Located in Idaho, this landmark is famous for the largest deposit of Hagerman horse (pictured) fossils in North America. The Hagerman is linked to modern horses.
The researchers believe that Simbakubwa was one of the apex predators of its era and although it is part of the hyaenodont group, it is unrelated to modern-day hyenas.
"From its teeth, we can tell Simbakubwa was a hypercarnivore, which means its diet was over 70% meat," says Borths. "Simbakubwa barely has any grinding surfaces on its teeth, so it wouldn't have processed food that wasn't meat very efficiently."
Their analysis suggests that these giant carnivores originated in Africa around 30 million years ago, moving further north over time, as the continents of Africa and Eurasia collided. At the same time, the ancient relatives of modern day cats, hyenas and dogs began to filter south.
"It's a fascinating time in biological history," Borths says. "Lineages that had never encountered each other begin to appear together in the fossil record."
© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. borths-vs-simbakubwa But Simbakubwa ultimately went extinct around 10 million years ago as global ecosystems shifted thanks to tectonic movement and changing climates. Borths and Stevens have been investigating why that might be, hoping to better inform present-day studies of how ecosystems respond to these sweeping changes.
"Understanding large-scale patterns of how organisms respond to environmental change through time can offer insights into ecosystem fragility and resilience in the modern world," explains Stevens.
And to think, it would have remained off the fossil record entirely, if not for a Kenyan museum storing away the sample and some inquisitive paleontologists checking a few extra drawers.
"Discoveries like this one underscore the importance of museums as troves of information about our planet's past," says Stevens.
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