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Toothache

This is a tail of fossiling gone bad. It's said that each generation should benefit from the mistakes of the previous bunch of numbskulls. That's why it's important to come to this site and read about our "misadventures" so that you wont repeat our mistakes. So listen up class! A few years ago I decided to take a trip to one of the local creeks. There was a thick layer of Chandler Bridge formation that had already yielded three new species of Early Oligocene whales. The Chandler Bridge formation consists of four units of clayish sand laid down in a deltic environment. This was unit three, which was the softest. I've made several sizes of probes that measure up to 4 feet. They're great for coaching snakes out of favorite digging holes and protection against the larger of the 41 species of mosquitos that inhabit the Lowcountry. Oh yeah! They're also great for probing beep into the ground. The old saying "Beauty is only skin deep!" also applies to fossil collecting. If you only search for what you can see on the surface, you're wasting 90% of your time. So there I was, poking holes about every four inches down the creek. I've left these holes all over the Lowcountry and get asked by collectors about them all the time. I naturally tell them that they're holes from miniature crayfish. I finally got the right "thunk" that told be that I had hit fossil bone. It was about 16 inches back into the bank. It took about one hour to slowly uncover the first bone. If you think you might have a skull, or associated skeleton, you should go slowly and sift through all of the material. Skeletal parts will be scattered by the current and can be several feet from the place the main body came to rest. In this case it turned out to be a perfect skull resting upright with both mandibles still in place. It even had the atlas vertebrate attached. Once the thrill was over I settled down to prepare a plaster jacket. It was then that trouble showed up. Two young boys, ages 10 and 6, came splashing down the creek. With a "Hey, whatch'a doing?" the fuse was lit. In my paternal voice I explained what I had found, and as much information about the age of the material, and whale evolution in general, that I could think of. Usually, this was enough to make past nosey adolescents get bored and continue their search for dead animals in the creek. But not this time. A local seller of fossils had told them that he would pay cash if they found any fossils in the creek. He followed this up with a business card. They even asked how much the skull was worth. Which made me a little nervous. I turned around to soak a plaster bandage and that gave the older boy the chance to pull the right mandible out. It crumbled and he snatched up three of the exposed teeth. The next thing I knew he was heading up the creek. But as collateral, he hsd left his younger brother. Who started to scream! So loud that I expected a large group of local crime watch advocates to come splashing down the creek with tar and feathers. But with a little patience I calmed him down and convinced him that only his older brother was in trouble. In some sadistic way this seemed to please him. He finally agreed to take me to his house where the father was helpful in returning the stolen items. Back to the plastering and home with my prize. But the story is not over yet little grasshopper! During preparation I had removed, cleaned, and hardened the teeth. I then placed them in sequence on a large board. I added little pieces of paper depicting each of their location. Big mistake! I went into my lab one evening to get a few hours in and there was my 18 pound cat laying on top of my counter. In the middle of the teeth! WARNING, WARNING!!!! Don't yell at cats and expect them to saunter off with tail between legs. A giant rotweiler couldn't have done a better job of spooking her. The teeth went everywhere. Lesson learned little grasshopper? No! No! Don't kill every cat you see! Place teeth in individual plastic bags with number and location. Make a chart to show actual placement. The skull turned out to be one of the most complete whales found in this area. It even had the ear ossicles. Which is why I donated it to the Georgia Southern University Museum. A good friend there specializes in whale hearing development. It's in good hands. "What's that little grasshopper?" "No, you can't tell the Ditchweezil what the little holes are really from."
Location Dorchester County, South Carolina, USA

ID678
Memberpaleobum
Date Added10/12/2006

What a beauty! One of five new species I've discovered from the Early Oligocene. Look for more in future trip reports.
  

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