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The two were doing a survey of local plants and animals for the Department of Energy, which at the time was considering the area for a nuclear-weapons test site.

On this particular day they were looking for evidence of juniper trees, which live at similar elevations in other regions.

As the Waterman display amply demonstrates, pack rats do their business in their dens, and in arid regions the excretions can accumulate into rock-hard masses, called middens, that persist for thousands of years. Whatever happens to be lying about the den also gets mixed in: grasses, twigs, leaves, spines, seeds, feathers, rocks, bugs, bones.

The concoction is protected by the pack rat’s urine, which acts as a bactericide, so the organic matter doesn’t decompose.

Hence pack rat middens provide a complex and continuous fossil record in parts of the world where fossils are scarce and continuous records unheard of.