A team of experts has unearthed an ancient whale fossil in Santa Cruz County, California. The surprisingly well-preserved bones are estimated to be around 4 million years old.
The discovery was initially made on September 4, when construction workers found fragments of prehistoric bones in a housing development site, located in Scotts Valley, off Santas Village Road. Upon the discovery, project leaders contacted specialists from Paleo Solutions, a business that provides paleontological and archeological compliance and consulting services.
Starting from September 17, two paleonthologists and an archeologist led the excavation efforts, which brought to surface a nearly intact whale fossil.
Fragments of the extinct mammal’s skull, jaw, vertebrae, shoulders and arms were carefully dug out and cleaned by workers, using shovels, brooms and other tools.
The bones were so fragile that they couldn’t be extracted from the rocks without risking extensive damage. As a result, scientists opted instead to plaster the remains to shield them from the elements, and maintain them in good condition.
Afterwards, the skeleton was transported to the headquarters of Paleo Solutions, in Monrovia, Los Angeles County. According to Scott Armstrong, the company’s Field Director, the fossil has been analyzed and is believed to be an ancient ancestor of the baleen whale (Mysticeti). This species includes mammals such as the blue whale, the largest animal in the world.
The ancient marine animal is believed to have lived 4 million years ago. Experts assume its remains reached the community located on a foothill in the Santa Cruz Mountains as a result of tectonic plate movement. The San Andreas Fault, which extends approximately 1300 km through California, produces a magnitude 6.0 earthquake in the area around once every 22 years.
It has been concluded therefore that this continuous seismic activity set the bones in motion, across the coastal mountain range, over thousands or millions of years.
The fossil’s unearthing can be considered an exceptional feat, given how well-preserved the skeleton is, believes Matthew Clapham, a paleontologist from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Usually, just tiny pieces of ancient fossils are discovered along the coastlines, while this time entire portions have been identified and they are in excellent condition.
Paleo Solutions experts will continue to perform additional tests on the remains, and chisel the rock away from the soft bones. Their purpose is to gain further insight into the evolution of marine mammals throughout the ages.
This isn’t the first time in recent years that important fossils have been discovered at construction sites. For instance, in February 2014, Seattle workers brought a giant mammoth tusk to surface, dating from the Ice Age. Similarly, this July a large number of fossils which may be up to 200,000 years old were unearthed in Carlsbad, California.
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