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Put on the coffee.

It rained almost two inches last week so I thought it would be worth while checking out one of the local quarries. It's a limestone quarry that has exposed the Santee Limestone formation. There was a lot of new area exposed so I figured I could find some whale or turtle bones. I did find a shattered turtle scapula. But I found something even better than whale material. I found a block of limestone filled with fish skeletons. I've recovered some very nice articulated fish skeletons from the local Late Eocene quarries. But this was the first articulated Middle Eocene fish I've encountered. The other interesting thing was that the fish were in a layer about eight inches thick. The area with the fish is about 12 inches by 8 inches by 8 inches. I took it from a much larger block and could find no trace of fish outside this area. What could have concentrated dozens of fish in such a small area? The skeletons are arranged in a lot of different angles throughout the block. Did they get washed into a depression after a mass die-off? There's a carbonized palm nut in the block that indicates that it was from an area close to a shoreline. Perhaps they were washed up on a beach and buried during a storm. I'll probably never know the origin of how they were bunched up. But one of the things I'll do is keep a record of each skeleton so that when I'm done I can reconstruct how they were in the block. If most of them are lined up in the same direction it could indicate that they died in an environment that had a strong current. If they are scattered it could indicate a shore burial or deep marine hole. The answer will have to wait for a while. The block will have to be completely dried. With such delicate bones I'll have to wait for it to dry slowly. Placing it in an oven could cause the bones to break as the water expands. I'll put it under a 60 watt light to dry it gradually. Then I'll soak it for a few days in a weak solution of butter. This will harden the bones and still allow the fine sand and limestone to be removed with a small pick. It's going to be a long project with a lot of time over the magnifier. I guess I'd better put on an extra pot of coffee. I'll post pictures as the project progresses.
Location Berkeley County, South Carolina, USA

Date Added12/28/2006

This block of limestone is packed with fish skeletons. From the size of the exposed jaws and vertebras they were about 4 to 5 inches long.
This small piece broke off. You can see a skull and vertebra.
This is an articulated fish. It needs a lot of work before it's removed and put back together. Does this job pay by the hour?

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