As some people have apparently already heard, the Carmel Church Quarry is reopening as an active quarry later this year. However, the operators, Martin Marietta, are still allowing VMNH to enter the quarry for fossil excavations. With that in mind, we started a major excavation today, which will run continuously for the next two weeks. We will probably do additional excavations throughout September and into October, in an attempt to remove as many fossils as possible before the reopening.
This morning nine of us underwent Martin Marietta’s safety training, and then began excavating on a large scale. We have rented a backhoe for the week, and volunteer Carter Harrison is slowly removing the sediments overlying the bonebed.
While Carter was picking up the backhoe, we scouted the exposure for bones weathering out. What we found requires a bit of explanation.
This is a cross section of the sedimentary beds at Carmel Church. The highly productive bonebed is located at the bottom of the Calvert Formation. However, all of the other units produce some fossils, mostly molds of shells, sharks’ teeth, or micro-invertebrates. The exception is the St. Marys Formation. This unit has produced a very small number of whale bones and fish skulls over the years. By far the best specimen from this unit was a nearly complete sperm whale skull collected in 1995 and not yet described.
St. Marys whales are not very common anywhere, so even though we rarely find anything in it we always look at the St. Marys just to make sure. Today we scored.
Volunteer Paul Murdoch and Stephen Godfrey, the Curator of Paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum quickly found several bones weathering out of the St. Marys. Following these few scraps led to the following discovery:
The long curved bone in the middle of the photo is a complete baleen whale right dentary. The bone just above it appears to be the left dentary, and there is an additional bone at the bottom which may be either a rib or a skull fragment. We also have collected a vertebra and two flipper bones, including the shoulder blade, and additional bones going into the hill which all appear to belong to the same animal.
This was quite a surprise coming from the St. Marys. We’re going to quickly remove this skeleton, as soon as we can figure out how much of it we found, and then get back into the Calvert. I’ll be posting regular (if not quite daily) entries through the duration of the excavation.
Thanks to Martin Marietta for allowing us to continue our research at this fantastic site.