Thursday, December 8, 2011

Fossil Whales in the Atacama Desert, Chili

Absolutely fascinating.  By way of hmmm, random pondering, I posit this photo for comparison:
Photo, Japan tsunami, 2011.  What would archaeologist think if they came
across this 5 million years from now?

From National Geographic News
Pictures: Prehistoric Whale "Graveyard" Found in Desert
Published December 6, 2011

Stone in Cast
Photograph from Museo Paleontologico de Caldera via AP
Scientists preserve a prehistoric adult whale skeleton's rib cage and tail in plaster in Chile's Atacama Desert in 2010.  The fossil is 1 of 20 roughly five-million-year-old whales found in a roadside "graveyard" more than a half a mile (a kilometer) from the Pacific coast, experts announced late last month.

It's unknown why the whales were found together, said the Smithsonian Institution's Nicholas Pyenson, lead paleontologist on the excavation.

But possible reasons include a storm pushing them abruptly to shore, a red tide—a proliferation of microscopic organisms that release toxins in the water—poisoning them, and the whales beaching themselves in a group, said Pyenson, a grantee of the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)

Getting to the bottom of the mystery requires careful preservation and examination, beginning with encasing the fossils in protective plaster "jackets" (as pictured) for the trip to the lab—a skill the team hadn't quite mastered by the time this picture was taken, Pyenson explained.

Above, he said, "you can see the block containing the rib cage and the thinner segments capping the tail."

—Angela Botzer

Roadside Attraction

Photograph from Museo Paleontologico de Caldera via AP
Pictured facing the camera, this relatively complete fossil baleen whale was excavated from the Cerro Ballena site in 2010.
The orientation of the whales' bodies in relation to the prehistoric coastline—which is, for now, a mystery—may someday tell us a bit about how they all ended up in one place, according to Pyenson.
If the skeletons are essentially parallel to what was then the shoreline, the whales may have died offshore and floated in on the tide. But if the whales are randomly oriented, he added, their deaths may have been due a storm or other event, and they might not have died at the same time.
(See whale-fossil pictures from National Geographic magazine.)
Published December 6, 2011

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...