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Then there were three.

A few years back I had taken a small group of experienced collectors into a local limestone quarry. The formation was Late Eocene and represented a shallow marine environment. It was a popular spot for collectors because of the frequently found archeocete material. I had personally found numerous bones and teeth over a period of several years hunting at this quarry. I had also found a few articulated skeletons. Most of the collectors that frequent the local quarries all talk about the Basilosaurus material that they've found. They are always surprised when I point out that there are two types of archeocetes found there. The other is the Dorudontinae. The Dorudons were smaller than the impressive Basilisaurus but shared many of the same features. Many of the smaller teeth found were probably from the dorudons. When told this information most collectors would think about it for a moment and then state that they were sure they had found Basilosaurus because they've matched the material with pictures from their fossil books. What do I know? The most obvious difference is in the vertebrates. The longer Basilisaurus has elongated vertebrates that are typically more porous. There are other small differences in the skull. But the average collector would not be in the position to make comparisons. I mention this fact in the hope that the collectors out there with archeocete material in their collection will be open minded and label their finds as merely "archeocete". On this particular visit I came across an articulated skeleton in the quarry wall. This "wall" was 80 feet tall. I could tell from the vertebrates that it was a dorudon. Since I had no hardhat we had to leave the area around the wall. I also had to keep track of the group I had in the quarry. Since it was the weekend, and this particular quarry was often visited by collectors sneaking in, I took mushy limestone and smeared it over the exposed bones. From a few feet away it was almost impossible to detect. With my treasure hidden from vandals I headed out into the quarry to tend my flock. The following Monday morning I contacted the plant manager and made arrangement for the use of an operator and a very large front loader. My truck could fit in it's bucket. Confident that I could remove the archeocete in one large block I set out. The operator carved out a deep trench along the perimeter of the skeleton. He then placed the bottom of the bucket under the skeleton. With a gun of the motor he scooped the whole block from the wall. It was a short drive to an area of the quarry where I could start the work of removing as much excess limestone as possible prior to taking it to the museum. By three o'clock that afternoon I was ready to take the remaining blocks back to my truck. When it was prepared later I found I had about 30 percent of the whole skeleton. When an expert on Dorudons visited later that year he quickly stated that it was a new species. That would make a total of three different species from this area. Zygorhiza kochii is one. Another new species, Chrysocetus healyorum,was discovered by an amateur husband and wife in the 1980s and is at the South Carolina Museum.
Location Dorchester County, South Carolina, USA

Date Added12/15/2006

A nice premolar.
The atlas and axis.
An exceptionally well preserved bulla.
A few of the vertebrates. Can you tell if this was an adult, or juvenile, from just looking at them?
A few of the new dorudon teeth.
Here I am examining the skeleton in the wall. The top of the limestone is 60 feet above our heads. Without hardhats we were unable to work on it at the time. Always observe the mine safety rules. Even if it means leaving a great fossil behind.

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