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Finally landed!

In the early 1980s suburban sprawl hit the lowcountry. It was then that people learned two things. 1. Life in the lowcountry was great. 2. There were a lot of fossils just beneath their feet. New drainage ditches, and ponds, appeared everywhere. And it seemed that everywhere you dug there were whales. The Ashley and Chandler Bridge formations have been mentioned numerous times in South Carolina trip reports. They date to the Early Oligocene (28-29.5 mya) and are marine sediments. The number of newly found species was overwhelming at first. It seemed that a week wouldn't go by that someone would call up the museum reporting bones sticking out of a wall. Hundreds of specimens, totaling 40+ new species were collected over a twenty year period. The Charleston Museum now houses the largest collection of Early Oligocene whales in the world. And they were found here. They are part of our local heritage. But the well has slowly dried up. Fewer people call about discoveries every year. It's not that new whales aren't found. It's just that the commercial value of rare fossils has taken it's toll. Enough on that topic. Instead, let's hear about the one that didn't get away. The tale starts four years ago when a man named Chris came to the museum and asked to be a volunteer. Before long he was learning all the trade secrets about preparation of fossils. He said he had been collecting for several years locally and had found a few whale skulls and an almost complete turtle. His description of the material they were taken from indicated that the whales had come from the older, off shore, Ashley deposit. This layer is a hard calcareous formation that usually produces articulated specimens. The turtle was from the Chandler Bridge and could be prepared by using alcohol and a fine brush to remove the fine sand particles laid down in a deltic environment. He came in for volunteer night for four months. Then one day he didn't show up. It wouldn't be the first time that we had trained local people on fossil preparation, just to see them disappear. Some are still here locally and now use their knowledge to prepare fossils for commercial sale. We thought this was what had happened to Chris. Then, four months ago, Chris showed up for volunteer night. He had an interesting tale to tell. It centered on the USS Hunley. The Civil War submersible made famous for sinking a warship. And then disappearing. Until recently, when it was discovered and salvaged off the coast. Chris had volunteered to help in the restoration project that had lasted several years. It's still ongoing. He had been hired to do illustrations and document the restoration with photography. What a job! As the restoration came to a crawl he was finally without a job. That's when he showed up at our doorstep. He had used the skills we had taught him to prepare one of the whale skulls. During preparation he had discovered a partial mandible beneath the skull. It was a new species. He said that he was approached several times about selling the skull. In his out of work condition we were amazed that he hadn't. But his years working to preserve the Hunley had convinced him that his prize trophy should belong to the public. The only thing he asked for in return was a cast. I was asked if that was possible and I said yes. As a volunteer myself I don't often get reimbursed for my time and money for these types of projects. I do them to show my appreciation to people who are willing to give up their find of a lifetime to a greater cause. I respect them. I salute you all. The cast was made and the whale found a new home. Chris has also donated the turtle and comes in every week to carefully prepare it. He's attending a local college and is almost done with a degree in archeology. And he has a new job. And pays taxes. Which also pays for my retirement check. Don't you just love a happy ending!
Location Dorchester County, South Carolina, USA

ID686
Memberpaleobum
Date Added10/17/2006

The skull was about 14 inches. About four inches of the rostrum is missing.
The bullas and teeth are missing. Four loose teeth were recovered from the plaster jacket that probably were associated with the skull.
A partial right mandible was found under the skull. This cast is just one of many that we have provided to collectors over the years. This cast can barely be distinguished from the original.
  

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