Carmel Church Day 10

We’re starting to wrap up now. The big job today was loading yesterday’s jacket onto the flatbed trailer I brought for transporting jackets. With the quarry still a muddy mess, just getting the trailer into position was a 45-minute adventure, and we still had to move the 400-lb jacket onto it. It took a good part of the morning but we successfully loaded jacket 3, and moved onto our final two jackets for this trip. 

These two jackets apparently don’t contain bones from the main whale we’ve been working on, but rather a variety of ribs and vertebrae from other whales and fish. In the photo at the top a vertebra is visible at the lower right corner of the jacket, and two ribs can be seen cutting across the trench (those ribs will have to be broken when we flip the jacket).

We top-jacketed this and a smaller jacket a few feet away around lunchtime, and then covered the site with tarps to protect the jackets from yet another rainfall. The rain is supposed to stop before midnight, so tomorrow we’ll go back into the pit, flip the jackets, and close down the site.

This entry was posted in "Popeye", Carmel Church mysticetes, Carmel Church Quarry, Chesapeake Group and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Carmel Church Day 10

  1. Doug says:

    You guys have probably packed up by now and headed home. anyway another question: Have you found any pinnipeds at Carmel Church? Also, regardless of species, what’s the most complete skeleton you have found there?

  2. Alton Dooley says:

    We are back home now. I’m off for a couple of days, and then we start digging at Solite this weekend, weather permitting. I’ll be posting updates from there as well; I’ll try to make it daily, but we’ll have to see.

    We have a total of three pinniped bones from Carmel Church; a vertebra, a femur, and a metatarsal. I’m not yet sure of the taxon, but they are phocid. Interestingly, while it’s not clear that they are from they same individual, they were all found in the same pit, within a few feet of each other. They were all removed from trenches around jackets. We still have many (~15) unopened jackets from that pit, and I have no idea if they contain additional seal bones.

    There are three specimens that are all comparable in terms of completeness. The holotype Eobalaenoptera includes fragments from the back of the cranium, the first 28 vertebrae, large portions of both flippers, and numerous ribs. The Diorocetus that we’ve been preparing the last two years includes most of the skull with both lower jaws, I think 24 vertebrae (can’t remember exactly, and I’m at home right now), and most of the ribs. And there’s the whale we’re collecting now, which seems to include parts of the skull and lower jaws (not sure how much), at least 22 vertebrae (there might be more), a lot of ribs, and both flippers (more complete than in Eobalaenoptera).

    The new whale and Diorocetus were lying immediately adjacent to each other (maybe 2 feet apart); Eobalaenoptera was perhaps 100 feet away.

  3. Doug says:

    Hey Alton,
    I came across an article on Dinosaur Tracking about commercial paleontologists. It linked to an article in Smithsonian Magazine that went into much more detail (with a rather tragic story, if you ask me). But there was one statement in there that really calls for attention:

    “professional paleontologists aren’t interested in excavating [common fossils], as those specimens are well known and well studied” comment by Jack Kallmeyer, paleontological prospector

    While Eric Scott (whom I have met, if it is who i think it is) eviscerates that comment in the article’s comment section, I just wanted to hear what you thought.

    Dinosaur Tracking article:

    Smithsonian Magazine article:

  4. Alton Dooley says:

    Well, I not going to completely jump into this, because this is being discussed at length in other venues, and I don’t want to turn this blog into another debate on this issue. I will make a few observations, though.

    Scott’s and Padian’s comments on the Smithsonian article are excellent. A point in particular that I would emphasize is the distinctions between professionals, amateurs, and commercial collectors. For professional paleontologists, the value of a fossil lies in the information it contains. The same is true of amateur paleontologists. (In fact, I prefer the term avocational rather than amateur; amateur has negative connotations that are unwarranted.) Commercial collectors, on the other hand, are mostly interested in the financial value of the fossil, rather than the information it contains.

    Ironically, the only reason fossils have any significant financial value is because of the work of paleontologists in extracting knowledge from previously collected fossils. Would Tyrannosaurus command such prices if paleontologists had not painstakingly studied remains to build a picture of the living animal? Paleontological knowledge is the ultimate source of a fossil’s value, yet commercial sales to private collections don’t contribute to that knowledge.

    I have not personally had a large number of interactions with commercial collectors. I have met some who really do have an interest in the science, and work to ensure that their most significant specimens end up in museums. Essentially, they use the proceeds from some relatively insignificant fossils to underwrite the preservation of the most important specimens. Others are not at all concerned with science, except where they can use it to improve the value of their fossils.

    There have been specimens that I have left in the ground, weathering out, but not many. In one case, there was a whale in an inaccessible area that I considered to be too dangerous to attempt to excavate. There have been some others that would have required a huge expenditure of resources, for which the potential returns (in terms of a useful specimen) were dubious. But in general I collect everything I can. I have seen comments in some places lately by a few people suggesting that professional paleontologists are too lazy or engrossed in their computers to go out and collect fossils; I think this blog in general speaks to that. Mr. Kallmeyer’s comments about what paleontologists want to collect are simply laughable.

    One other comment on the article: Mr. Herskowitz, the auction house director, made the comment that “While I can’t disclose who my buyers were, I can say many of them have small to substantive museums on their properties.” This statement is incorrect, in that those are not museums; museums are institutions that preserve artifacts for academic study (whether art, human artifacts, or natural history objects). These folks’ collections are no more museums than are my collection of model airplanes or the small suite of rocks that I use for teaching geology.

    My personal choice is that I will not consider any specimen in a private collection in my scientific studies; I think most paleontologists would agree with me on this point. Any time I assert some point based on a fossil, that specimen must be available for other scientists to examine in an attempt to refute my point. If a person chooses to keep a legally-collected important fossil as their own, that’s their business as far as I’m concerned. But they can’t have it both ways. If they want recognition from the scientific community, they need to place the specimen in a museum.

  5. Doug says:

    Well put (i was just looking for your two cents). The article mentioned that an auction house sold “the largest mastodon skull ever discovered”. I had followed the story of that skull. Not only was it being sold, it was “restored”. But the skull was originally taken from a quarry by a worker, so perhaps that skull was a lost cause to begin with.

    Talking about collecting, I have what could be a whale skeleton at a site in Avila. Now, I am in contact with someone who is knowledgeable of the property and is quite interested (and even impressed) by the fossils. The consist of 6 associated ribs, a possible vertebra, and other as yet unidentified bones. Now, I have been trying to contact Larry Barnes at the LA Museum about trying to dig it out. I was in contact with him before about it but had fallen out of it for quite some time as i was searching for the property owner. The fossils are located in a bluff along a road. I was a bit weary of any digging given their location but was given hope when I saw this: My fossil is a bit higher up, but it has a nifty ledge that you can stand on. I had told this story to Kathleen Springer (Senior Curator of Geology, San Bernardino County Museum) on my Barstow trip. I remember her telling me that i had what some paleontologists refer to as a AFW: “Another Freaking Whale”. She described how they are hard to dig out and prep and they take up so much space. But in previous posts you have done good job laying out reasons to collect whale post crania. But really, I’m just trying to get that fossil excavated before it erodes away. I hope to see it go to the Santa Barbara Museum, since they don’t have much of a paleontology collection, but right now, I am not sure what will happen. Sorry, don’t know why i said all that. Talk about a tangent!

  6. Boesse says:

    Hey Doug/Alton,

    Firstly – Doug, I’ve been looking into getting a collections permit for the Avila locality. Send me an email at, and we’ll talk about it; I was originally going to visit the locality over winter break, but will probably have a chance in June.

    Can’t agree more with the comments about collecting, amateurs/avocational paleontologists, and commercial collectors. In my field area, I attempt to collect everything that looks interesting (there are too many isolated ribs/vertebrae to collect). Generally speaking, I’ll collect and prep through a hard nodule if it looks cranial or mandibular, or is something like a pinniped postcranial bone (which are typically also small).

    I remember when I was applying for my first field permit, I was told that I needed a very directed project in mind – which is generally true. However, it probably doesn’t make much sense to write a permit application that says “I’m going to go look for a complete mysticete skull”. Odds are you’ll end up finding something else that is just as scientifically important, but you’re S.O.L. because you didn’t factor that in. I never really understood that… (bottom line, I ended up finding two cetacean skulls, one mysticete and one odontocete).

    It is unfortunate that ‘amateur’ has such a negative connotation; the original word is the latin ‘amatorum’, roughly meaning someone who loves. Now, terms come to mind like ‘amateurish’, which generally mean something along the lines of ‘half assed, ignorant beginner’. I couldn’t disagree more; I’ve met a lot of fantastic, enthusiastic amateurs that have made some great discoveries (and donated them). I’m just fortunate that on the west coast (with the exception of sharktooth hill), there isn’t much of a market for Neogene marine mammals.

  7. Anonymous says:


    Hello from George, please let me know the fall schedule to assist in digs at Carmel church

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