A discovery might paint a better picture in the evolution of the marine mammals, as a whale fossil aged 4 million years old found in Santa Cruz could provide useful information due to its excellent condition. It’s truly a gem when accidents happen to uncover ancient remains.
- The remains were estimated to date back 4 million years
- They belong to the mysticete whale, an ancient ancestor of the baleen whale
- Archaeologists found the skull, jaw, shoulder blades and arm bones
- It’s believed they were moved to Santa Cruz by tectonic shifts and earthquakes
Archaeologist Scott Armstrong from Paleo Solutions’ archeological consultancy service was assigned to monitor a housing development in Scotts Valley, when the team uncovered the well preserved remains of an extinct whale species on September 4th.
Dug up in Santa Cruz County, California, the fossil bones were unearthed from a hill within the small city that were slowly moved there by tectonic shifts and earthquakes over thousands or millions of years, according to Armstrong. The discovery was then carefully dug up to reveal the near complete set of the skeleton’s remains, a rare feat for species who often provide only parts of their bones dug within the shores of coastlines.
The fossils belong to a mysticete whale (or whalebone whale), an ancient ancestor of today’s baleen whale that roamed the waters around 4 million years ago. Many of the parts are perfectly preserved and almost intact, including the skull, jaw, shoulder blades and arm bones that will be sent for further analysis to the Paleo Solutions offices in Monrovia.
The team of workers used shovels, brooms and small tools to slowly dig up the fossilized bones, making sure not to accidentally wreck the potentially fragile remains within the rock. The challenge now remains in the hands of paleontologists, who need to carefully chop off the hard formation without harming the soft bones underneath.
According to Armstrong, if the remains are much more fragile than the rock, it can become very challenging to reveal the accurate shape of the bones, standing in risk at being damaged themselves. However, the team plans on careful examination as it could provide a rare insight into the evolution of whales.
In addition, Matthew Clapham, who is a paleontologist in Santa Cruz has stated that the findings are quite impressive, if only based on the sole fact that “it’s more common to get a piece of the skull or the brain case or some bones”. It’s rare that archaeologist uncover remains that include vertebrae.
The fossils could hide “a lot of interesting details” about today’s whales, as many of them found their roots within early ancestral groups, such as this particular one.
Image source: ngm.nationalgeographic.com