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College of Arts & Sciences
Maritime Research Division

Paleontologist's Panel: Notes on reporting and allowable collection

by Dave Cicimurri, South Carolina State Museum

              Here we are practically in the middle of July already, and that means that the second quarter of 2015 has ended and dive reports are due. I’ve received a number of reports already via fax, USPS, and email, and from the photos that have accompanied some of the report, I see that divers are finding some pretty neat fossils. I went into some detail in the last newsletter about filing reports, but I wanted to take a minute to remind everyone that, although not required by law to be included with fossil reports, pictures of your finds are important because they: 1) will help me keep track of the State’s fossil resources, 2) help me reconstruct ancient ecosystems by documenting what types of animals lived here (and where they lived), and 3) provide a way for me to help you identify the material you find. I appreciate and enjoy the fossils in the photos that are sent to me, and I’m looking forward to seeing more throughout the rest of the year.

            A few issues have come up over the past few months regarding the collection of some larger articulated fossil specimens from river bottoms, and I wanted to clarify a few things. First, specimens that are embedded in the substrate cannot be removed without first obtaining a separate Exclusive License through SCIAA. So, if something isn’t just completely exposed or resting on the sediment, it can’t be collected under the normal hobby diver permit. Also, no articulated parts of a complete or partial skeleton (i.e., whale, sea turtle, mammoth) can be recovered without first obtaining an Exclusive Data Recovery License from the SC State Museum and SCIAA. If specimens are partially buried or a partial/complete skeleton is found, SCIAA and the State Museum will be happy to work with you to properly and safely recover the material. Additionally, specimens that may be exposed on a river bank during low tide are protected by the SC Underwater Antiquities Act (SCUAA). In tidal rivers, artifacts and fossils are protected under SCUAA up to the high tide mark (and above this level, the land may be administered by the US Army Corps of Engineers or the SC Budget and Control Board, who defer to SCIAA for permitting), so the proper permits and permissions must be obtained before picking things up, and certainly before anything is excavated.  Always obtain permission before removing anything above the high water mark, that simple step can protect you from future litigation. Outside of state and federal jurisdiction on SC waterways, removal of fossils from property owned by a private individual without permission can result in criminal prosecution for trespassing, property damage and/or larceny. 

            I’ve said this before, but I can’t stress it enough that your discoveries and submission of dive reports can help the State Museum fulfil its mission of educating the public on the natural history of South Carolina (see 2 in the first paragraph above). We recently received two donations of fossils from hobby divers that include teeth and bones of rhinoceros, capybara, giant beaver, horse, and muskox. Although some of these species are well represented by fossils in the State Museum collection, I can count on one hand the number of rhinoceros and muskox bones we have. Another great example of an important specimen found in a river is the 3.5 million year old partial skeleton of what is probably a new species of baleen whale. The whale’s skull, jaws, ribs, and several vertebrae were embedded in the soft limestone of a river bottom in Charleston County, but the State Museum worked with hobby divers to recover the bones. After the specimen was cleaned and the broken bones put back together, we discovered that the animal had been eaten by sharks. In the photo you can see the bite marks (indicated by arrows), and the teeth of some of the sharks that may have done the biting were also encased in the rock. A colleague of mine and I published a paper on this specimen in Southeastern Naturalist in 2009, and this is one of the few documented instances in the fossil record of the utilization of whales as food sources by sharks. Again, SCIAA and the State Museum will be happy to work with you on recovering specimens like this. Looking forward to seeing your dive reports.     




Photo – Right (A, G) and left (B, H) upper jaws of a fossil baleen whale collected from a river bottom in Charleston County, SC. The arrows point to shark bite marks on the upper (A, B) and lower (G, H) surfaces of the jaws. Also shown are various teeth that were associated with the whale bones, including tiger (C), silky shark (D), and oceanic whitetip (E). A full account of the bite marks occurring on the fossil whale was published in the