4-million-year-old whale fossil found at California construction site

Contributed by
Sep 23, 2015, 11:36 AM EDT

You just never know what you'll find when you start digging in the dirt!  Paleontologists from the archaeological consulting service Paleo Solutions assigned to monitor a California construction project discovered a well-preserved, 4-million-year-old whale fossil in the excavation process.  The 25-foot specimen was found on Sept. 4 at a proposed housing development in Scotts Valley.  The pale bones of the mysticete whale, an ancestor of the modern baleen whale, were unearthed during a routine site examination and are considered an extremely rare discovery.  In addition to the vertebrae, scientists were able to uncover segments of the skull, jaw, shoulder blades and arm bones.  Here's a rendering of what this ancient whale might have looked like:


“I think of the fossils you get along the coastline, it’s more common to get a piece of the skull or the brain case or some bones,” expained UC Santa Cruz paleontologist Matthew Clapham to the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “So this sounds like it’s a very impressive find.”

Ages of tectonic plate activity in the region allowed the massive fossil to rise over time from the former seafloor to the mountainous Santa Cruz County area. The pristine state of the skeleton offers an excellent opportunity for paleontologists to study the form and structure of an ancient aquatic animal.  The fragile bones will be carefully preserved in plaster casings, then moved to Paleo Solutions’ main office in Monrovia, Calif.

Find any ancient animal skeletons last time you were shoveling dirt in your suburban backyard?

(Via io9)