Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Coastal Paleontologist returns: Scotts Valley whale excavation, part 1

Hey folks, a lot has been going on recently. First and foremost, I've been busy dividing my time between collecting the last remaining data for my master's thesis, vacationing up at lake Tahoe (very difficult), and editing manuscripts. I hit a milestone yesterday - I submitted two manuscripts in the same day. I've been working like a hound the last few days to wrap up the first manuscript I ever started: a paper on the sharks, rays, fish, and birds from a new vertebrate assemblage in the Purisima Formation, titled: "Non-mammalian vertebrate remains from a new marine assemblage near Halfmoon Bay, California: Implications for the age of the Neogene Purisima Formation west of the San Gregorio fault", which I submitted to the PalArch Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, an open access journal based in the Netherlands. I've heard they could use some more submissions, so be sure to read Andy Farke's interview with the PAJVP editor Brian Beatty, linked above. If you've got an article ~75% finished, put in a long weekend and submit that beast! The other article, "Mammalian bite marks on juvenile fur seal bones from the late Neogene Purisima Formation of Central California", was originally submitted to Palaios in march, and returned for major revisions, and apparently all I needed were three hours of work to finish it and resubmit it.
One of the first projects I started this summer was to excavate some sort of a whale fossil at a construction site in Scotts Valley. I was contacted early on in the spring by Dr. Roberta Smith, the project's consultant geologist. Oddly enough, Roberta had been in grad school at UC Berkeley in the mid 1960's when folks like Malcom McKenna and Ed Mitchell were there. To make matters stranger, she had also taught at Howard University and worked at the USNM in Washington D.C., where she knew other well known fossil marine mammal workers Clayton Ray and Frank Whitmore (but stopped teaching there long before Daryl Domning started). Anyway, I'm getting off track. The photo above shows the fossil after a day or so of digging. The exposed bones were not ribs or vertebrae, and I didn't care to expose enough of them for a proper ID due to their relative 'softness'. "What are those cinderblocks doing there?", you ask? Read on...

After about a week of day trips and short visits, the trench is nearly completed around the fossil. Bones continue into the back wall, but were too difficult to continue to excavate; I decided that during jacketing, I would try to form a crack across, collect most of it in one jacket, and return to make a second jacket for the rest.

Here you can see why there were cinderblocks in the first couple pictures. They had already put up a retaining wall, and when they found bones, they marked it off and left the retaining wall unfinished. I was able to park only about 8 feet away. This was the weirdest excavation I've ever done.

And here is the top jacket finished! Note that the hammer is way in the foreground; the jacket is much larger than it appears, and is nearly 4' by 4', and weighs between 300 and 400 lbs.


J. Velez-Juarbe said...

Congratulations on the manuscripts! Looking forward to read them!
Incidentally my first manuscript also had sharks and rays. Unfortunately, probably due to laziness or getting distracted with other things, I haven't published it. It was big when I first wrote it and has since grown (very little is known of the fossil elasmobranches of Puerto Rico), and can now be divided into three separate papers! I really should finish it.
Its nice when there is awareness of the importance of fossil vertebrates. In Puerto Rico, finds like this (on constructions sites) are most likely buried, there is no awareness and people are always afraid of having their projects paralyzed.
So, do you know if Dr. Smith was in the now defunct Geology department at Howard?

Robert Boessenecker said...

I'll email em all out "when" they get accepted/inpress. I've got one on tortonian herpetocetines that should come out by the end of the summer, or hopefully by SVP, in PaleoBios.
The same thing happened to me; this manuscript was originally supposed to cover all vertebrates, and now it's necessary to break it into a second paper, just on the marine mammals.
Yes, Dr. Smith taught in the geology dept.

Anonymous said...

You are the Master!!!!

deborah said...

I was in SV on Lockhart Gulch/Geyser Rd and peole are jerks bullying and taking your Lic. plate number. Blocking your car with their body OMG is this Deliverance. Even on a google map how can you get back there.

Robert Boessenecker said...


What are you talking about? You may have ticked someone off if you parked in the wrong spot.