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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Several dignitaries received plaster replicas of an Ice Age mammoth tooth on Monday to help mark the dedication of a new national monument in a fossil-rich area at the northern edge of the Las Vegas valley.
The Las Vegas Paiute Resort Tribe hosted the commemorative event at a tribal resort overlooking the site now called Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, about 25 miles north of the Las Vegas Strip.
"Whether you've been here a couple of years or hundreds of years, we're all going to benefit," Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins said with a nod to Tribal Chairman Benny Tso seated nearby.
Tso said later the 56-member tribe, which operates a smoke shop and the golf resort, might become known as a gateway to the site for eco-tourists and paleontology buffs.
"When people see Vegas, they see the lights," Tso said after the ceremony. "But we're here, and we've been here."
Congress designated the new national monument Dec. 12 as part of a sweeping lands bill included in a defense spending measure. President Barack Obama signed it last week.
The designation had been sought by paleontologists, business groups, local governments and other organizations both for the site's historical significance and its potential as a tourist attraction.
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and Reps. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford each received one of the foot-long Columbian mammoth tooth casts dating back some 16,000 years. Archaeologists in the 1950's found evidence that humans may have been present at the site more than 28,000 years ago.
Officials credited U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, with agreeing to support national monument designation after a tour of the site earlier this year with Horsford and North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee. Bishop is chairman of the House Natural Resources Public Lands and Environmental Regulation subcommittee.
Lynn Davis, of the Tule Springs National Monument Coalition, noted that national monument designation capped a decades-long campaign by paleontologists, business groups, local governments and others focused on the site's historical significance and its potential as a tourist attraction.
Other fossils prove that bison, American Lions, sloths the size of modern automobiles and an Ice Age camel known as a camelops once visited the more than 35-square-mile site bordered today by the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, unincorporated Clark County, the Paiute reservation and the vast Desert National Wildlife Refuge.
Protectors of Tule Springs chief Jill DeStefano said paleontologists have known about the significance of the site since the early 1900s.
Fossil finds span two ice ages, DeStefano said, and Willard Libby, winner of the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1960, conducted groundbreaking research on carbon dating of fossils at the site 50 years ago.
The site is the second national monument in Nevada. Lehman Caves was designated a national monument in 1922 before being made part of Great Basin National Park in 1986.
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