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):
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):
Compare these to the images at www.elasmo.com 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:
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):
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.