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The Basilosaurid Recovery

The Basilosaurids were a group of cetaceans that lived during the Eocene epoch from roughly 40 to 33.9 million years ago. Today, the remains of these amazing creatures can be found in Eocene exposures around the world including in the cement quarries in Harleyville, South Carolina. Once a tourist attraction for fossil hunters from around the globe, the Harleyville quarries are now indefinitely closed to public collectors. In the Summer of 2020, we were given a very rare opportunity to hunt the quarry along side the former Vice President of operations of the Giant Cement Quarry – Mr. Rich Familia. It was during this hunt that I discovered the remains of a beautiful pre-historic whale belonging to the Basilosauridae family with the identification being a tie between the Basilosaurus cetoides and the Cynthiocetus sp..I was walking along the edge of the Quarry on the 2nd tier when I noticed bone protruding from the wall – jagged bones indicating partial skeletal destruction by way of Quarry machinery. I called to Joshua and Rich to come over to the area as I began collecting the fragments of bone scattered amongst the limestone. We worked carefully but quickly as we knew whatever we could get out that day would most likely be all that we would be able to recover of the specimen. Amazingly, most of the rostrum and part of the skull had been knocked off of the wall in solid blocks that we were able to carry out with ease – one of which ended up containing both of the tympanic bullas (outer ear bones).For several hours the mine echoed with the sounds of our rock hammers and chisels hard at work against the limestone formation. By the end of the day we had collected over 5 gallon sized zip lock bags full of bone fragments in addition to 3 larger blocks containing larger portions of the whales’ skull and rostrum. No bones belonging to the whales postcranial skeletal remains were recovered though as they had already been taken away by the excavators in the days prior. But there were only happy thoughts for us as we knew how precious it was to have even found the remnants that we had been blessed with that day. Most often these situations result in only a handful of fragmented bone that leads to disappointment with no in-tact specimens – but not this day.Today, the specimen has been prepped (with over 100 hours logged in prep work I might add) with even more work left to do. The frontal most portion of the rostrum now sits on a shelf where I look at it everyday and think of how majestic this great creature once was. My favorite Fossil – The BasilosaurusSkye – The Digger

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