Popeye’s lower jaw

I’ve been remiss in writing new posts the last few weeks. After a brief vacation, I’ve been overwhelmed with administrative duties and haven’t had a lot of time for anything else. But Ray and Martha have been very active in the lab, and have made a lot of progress on one of the jackets containing part of “Popeye’s” skull. Almost immediately after opening the jacket is was clear that a substantial portion of the bone it contained was from the lower jaw. We’ve been able to reassemble those pieces into a nice looking dentary.

The left dentary was the only one in this jacket (we have another jacket that I believe contains the right dentary). It’s shown in lateral view above. Unfortunately, both ends are missing, but we still have roughly 90% of the bone. It’s a pretty massive dentary, with relatively large foramina (openings for nerves and blood vessels) running along the top edges.

Here’s the same bone from above (dorsal view):

There’s a strong twist at the anterior end (on the left), which is a bit more pronounced than I would expect in this type of whale. The jaw is also remarkably straight, and has a slight S-curve in this view. If this is a real feature that would be very unusual, but I suspect that it’s due to post-mortem deformation; the jaw was crushed when it was buried. Hopefully the right dentary will give us a better idea of the original shape of the jaw.

We’re still working on fragments of the cranium from this jacket, and soon I should be able to post pictures of some of those as well.


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2 Responses to Popeye’s lower jaw

  1. Doug says:

    finally! I was having withdrawals! In my opinion your the best museum blog there is, so yeah, keep it coming!

    This seems as good a time as any to ask a question that has been nagging me for some time. These fossils you find at Carmel Church look like they are in really rough shape. Especially these whale skulls that have crumbled to pieces and require intensive reconstruction. The same goes for the dinosaur fossils found in the San Juan Basin, a place i want to look in someday. So the big question is: why? Why are such fragmentary bones worth collecting and piecing back together? Dumb question i know, but there it is.

  2. altondooley says:

    Doug, your comments are good for my ego! 🙂

    Clearly I think it’s worthwhile to collect these broken skulls, because I keep doing it! But in fact most of the whales from the Calvert Formation are broken pretty badly and need a lot of work. The beautiful skulls illustrated by Kellogg in his papers from the 1960’s were actually heavily damaged in most cases, and required huge amounts of reconstructive work. That’s frequently the case with any large fossil. It’s more obvious in Carmel Church specimens perhaps in part because I post photos before the reconstructive work is completed.

    A more unique Carmel Church problem (compared to other marine deposits) is that we have to deal with fragments of multiple individuals mixed together. That does slow things down a bit!

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