Carmel Church Days 10-11

My intention was to finish up our last jacket today, and close the pit down tomorrow. However, Carmel Church rarely cooperates with my elegant plans, and today was no exception. Working on our last small patch of exposed bone, by lunchtime we had exposed an expanse of almost continuous bone almost five feet across, including a substantial part of at least one (and possibly two) whale skulls (above). There are also numerous postcranial bones in the same area, and when this photos was taken we had already removed a vertebra and two ribs. Of course, there was the usual array of additional remains, like this fish hypural (probably from a tuna):

And whale wasn’t even close to being the most remarkable find today. To explain that, we need a little background.

One of the more common remains at Carmel Church are these weird spongy structures, shown here in multiple views:

These fossils are quite variable in shape, but always have the same internal structure. They were a mystery to us for quite some time, but we eventually found that they had been described as dermal bones from ocean sunfish:

This was consistent with other finds, because we also had several examples of the fused premaxillae of sunfish, such as the incomplete example below (the upper left is the palatal view, while the upper right is dorsal):

We also have a few examples of bones that have been described as sunfish dentaries (lower jaws), which look quite different (ventral view on top, dorsal view on the bottom):

Compare these to the images at on their Lee Creek teleosts page, to see similar examples from those deposits.

Which brings us to today. While trying to make a trench around the possible whale skull, we found this very large example of an apparent sunfish dermal bone:

There were a couple of other bones wedged in next to it. Upon removing and cleaning one of them, it turned out to be the fused premaxillae from a sunfish (shown here in dorsal and palatal view):

Wow! Associated sunfish remains! I’ve never seen that at Carmel Church before. Then we turned to the third bone (again, two views):

A second sunfish premaxilla? That seems more than a little unlikely. But here’s where it gets really strange. The two “premaxillae” were actually found in contact with each other, like this (left lateral view):

Anterior  view:

And, apparently, ventral view:

So it seems that our second premaxilla is actually a dentary (or rather, both dentaries fused together). This is rather shocking, because the dentary looks completely different from described sunfish dentaries. Before someone asks, as far as I can tell these are not from a turtle, either. The turtles I’m familiar with look quite different, and remember that these were associated with the supposed sunfish dermal bone. It’s possible that this sunfish (if that’s in fact what it is) had a quite different dentary structure from modern and other Miocene sunfish.

We’ll be back on site tomorrow, trying to get a trench made around the whale skull.

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

6 Responses to Carmel Church Days 10-11

  1. Doug says:

    So is this part of the main whale you have been working on? Or is this some new guy?

    Also, I have noticed that clusters of whale bones and patches of shark teeth are commonly found here at Carmel Church. But have you found any other animals in the same manner as the whales? i have read here that you have only found 3 phocid bones at CC. How many otariid fossils have you found at CC. Why do you think partial whale skeletons are so common while everything else seems in shorter supply?

    I’ll take a pot shot at the fish remains: is it possible the “beak” could belong to a parrot fish? Or was Carmel Church too temperate for them? (pathetic, i know).

  2. Alton Dooley says:

    Too much to cover in one comment! But I’ll hit some of them.

    This is apparently not the same whale we’ve been working on; we’ve already collected the skull from that one. So this seems to be someone new. However, after today’s digging I’m still not sure how much of this new skull is preserved.

    I’m not familiar enough with parrotfish jaws to say if that’s a possibility; certainly I’ve seen modern parrotfish big enough to go with those jaws. The morphology of the upper jaw is pretty much what has been described in other papers as molid, however.

    As for preservation, that’s the big question. In general, the only major associated remains we find here are baleen whales. All the other taxa are almost always isolated bones, or a small number of associated bones. As to why that’s the case? Check back with me in a few years… 🙂

    We so far have three seal bones–a femur, a vertebra, and a metatarsal. The sizes seem to be consistent with one animal, and they were all found in the same pit, but scattered over several square feet.

    To my knowledge, otariids are not known from the North Atlantic; we don’t have any from Carmel Church.

  3. Alton Dooley says:

    Also, looking at the images, the hypural might be from the genus Sarda, the bonito (although this specimen is considerably larger than the specimen figured at

  4. Doug says:

    What kind of dolphin remains have you found? I have read about whale remains supplemented by shark, fish, and land mammal, but what have you found in the way of dolphins? (besides that stranded vertebra).

  5. Alton Dooley says:

    A student is going to be working on the Carmel Church odontocetes starting this fall. But basically, we have:

    A large kentriodontid (cf. Hadrodelphis) based on a mandible and several isolated teeth

    Xiphiacetus, based on a nearly complete cranium and two partial crania

    A possible small kentriodontid, based on 3 periotics

    Isolated teeth from at least 2 taxa that are not any of those listed above.

    We also have a fair number (some dozens) of isolated vertebrae from odontocetes, some of which may be identifiable, as well as several tympanic bullae.

  6. Markus says:

    Great to see that you have also found relics of molids. Have you ever heard about the giant molid Austromola? It´s extraordinairily well preserved skeleton was found associated with a fossil dolphin and even some deepsea fish.

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