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Waipatiid of the Ashley: Part 2

The specimen was home and ready for prepping – so what comes next? Well it started with cutting open the jacket to once again expose the specimen to the sunlight. Next, it was time to brush away the loose dirt and work the material down to the solid matrix with the bone exposed. I completed these tasks using the “old school paleontology” method of a paint brush and blowing lightly every few strokes. As I worked the material down, I began to see her bone and thought to myself how amazing it was to be the first human to have ever laid my eyes on her. How amazing it was to think that this beautiful creature lived 28 million years ago, 27.8 million years before the human species came into existence as the species that we are today. Her bone lay shattered and yet articulated all at once within her death bed as I dusted the matrix away. Next, it was time to apply a light acid spray over the matrix around the bone to soften the material enough for me to work it. This part of the process is particularly fascinating as the acid causes the matrix to fizzle and break apart. I repeated this process several times over the course of the day until finally, the bone lay pedestaled all of the way down the length of the block – she was ready to be removed. Carefully I began to remove each piece. Piece by piece, removed from the matrix and layer down against a grid line so as to keep the pieces aligned appropriately for the upcoming reconstruction process. Next, I carried the material over to a wash station and used a soft bristled tooth brush to slowly remove the remnants of the matrix and ready the pieces for glue application. Finally, it was time to put her back together and restore her to her former glory. As I reconstructed her bones I slowly watched her coming back to life – telling the story of her life. The worn down enamel crowns showing that she had a hearty diet, that she was an older dolphin that had probably seen many years of babies and many years of an ancient Ocean long gone through the phases of evolution and climate change. A few days later and it was time to carry her to the Mace Brown Museum at the College of Charleston for donation. A bittersweet moment but a significant one nonetheless. See, this particular Waipatiid specimen showed unique signs of a particular type of feeding wear that indicated a certain type of feeding habit that the College was interested in researching. As I handed her over to Dr. B I felt proud in knowing that I had saved her from the destruction of construction equipment and happy to know that she was to be used for furthering future paleontological research. One day there will come a paper that will include scientific notes on her life and what her bones could tell us and that, that is what it’s all about ❤

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