15 Million-Year-Old Baleen Whale Skull Unearthed at Stratford Hall, VA

First Posted: Aug 06, 2013 04:40 AM EDT

Last week employees of the Calvert Marine Museum (CMM) made a historic discovery when they unearthed a 15 million-year-old whale skull at Stratford Hall, Virginia.

The ancient whale skull of a baleen whale was uncovered from the banks of the Potomac on the property of Stratford Hall, birthplace of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on July 20.

The baleen whale scull is a filter feeder, and six-feet long, one of the largest whale skulls collected in the area. The excavators assume that the baleen whale that would have been nearly 25 or more feet long, still remains buried in the cliff. The team plans to continue excavating in order to retrieve the ancient whale bones.

The excavation was led by Paleontology Collections Manager John Nance and staff from both CMM and Stratford Hall.

"To have such a large and complete specimen is pretty uncommon. In a marine environment, the bones are usually scavenged and scattered all about. The really interesting thing is we have all the post-cranial material - the vertebrae, the ribs, the flipper bones. It will give us a more complete picture of what these animals looked like," John Nance, the palaeontology collections manager at the CMM, was quoted in Washington Post.

The initial discovery was made by Jon Bachman in June. He is a member of the Startford Hall staff and also a fossil hunter. He spotted it while taking a stroll along the beach. The place where the fossil was unearthed is a hot spot for such remarkable finds.

The age of the baleen whale was determined by the geological formation in the cliffs where the bones were discovered. Scientists have been studying the Calvert Formation (geological formation) for more than a century and have dated the different layers of rock, sediments. This has helped in determining the age of the ancient whale, according to Washington Post.

The skull that weighs around 1000 lbs will be kept on display at the Calvert Marine Museum. Due to the massive size of the skull, nearly 30 people were needed to carefully unearth the skull and move it from the beach to the museum. 

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