Today was a busy and surprising day for us on the York River, as we continued excavating a large fossil baleen whale from the Eastover Formation. One of the morning’s first activities was a series of interviews with the Navy; the whale is located on Navy property, and they have graciously allowed us to excavate.
The first big surprise was when a buried vertebra turned up under a piece of driftwood, several feet from our pit. As we excavated, that turned into three vertebrae:
Later we found a fourth vertebra between these three and our main pit:
The five new vertebrae we’ve found over the last two days are completely disarticulated, and don’t even appear to be close to the correct sequence. That’s going to make it impossible to predict where the other vertebrae will be, or if they’re even present.
We began jacketing various parts of the skeleton late in the morning. We’ve decided to go with numerous smaller jackets because of the large size of the skeleton and the 20-foot cliff we have to climb to get anything out. Unfortunately that slows us down, because there are a lot more trenches to dig. That’s made even more difficult because this is the most fragile bone I’ve ever seen. Much of it is waterlogged, and has the consistency of butter.
The next surprise was in the early afternoon. While widening the trench in the back wall against the cliff, Ray found what appeared to be a limb bone. Following it, we found a large part of the right flipper, including the radius, ulna, carpals, and metacarpals:
This came as a shock, in part because these bones are tightly articulated while the vertebral column is largely scattered; generally we see the reverse arrangement. It’s also a bit inconvenient, as the flipper is going straight into the hillside. It does seem to end at the metacarpals, so I don’t think we’ll have to go much farther, but this will probably add a day to the excavation.
We also had a lot of excitement with wildlife today. In the morning a heron spent about 30 minutes watching us from some driftwood:
Then in the afternoon a 5-foot black snake crawled up beside me while I was taking notes (it came from behind me, so I didn’t see it coming). It then continued across the pit and then straight up the cliff:
We’ll be continuing the excavation tomorrow.