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College of Arts & Sciences
Maritime Research Division

Paleontologist's Panel

Journal of Paleontology Features an Ashley River Specimen

By D. Cicicmurri 

Well, the third quarter of 2016 is here already, and from the hobby reports I’ve received so far it looks like folks had successful dives during the second quarter. I was happy to see all of the pictures of the fossils that were collected, which included shark teeth like megalodon, mako, great white, tiger, etc., whale teeth and ear bones, and a smattering of horse, sloth, and turtle bones. One out-of-the-ordinary fossil, a lower jaw with all of the teeth, was recently donated to the State Museum by Jason Thompson. The jaw is from an animal about the size of a coyote, but we’re comparing it with several different species in order to get a precise identification. What a great find!

I also quickly want to mention a specimen that was recovered a few years ago from the Ashley River. A nearly complete skull of an Oligocene (approximately 29 million years old) whale, called Agorophius pygmaeus, was featured in a recent article in the Journal of Paleontology. The type specimen (the original fossil that was used to identify the species) has been lost, but paleontologists identified the new skull as A. pygmaeus by comparing it to illustrations in the original 1907 report. It turns out that the new skull preserves important details that now allow researchers to determine what is and what is not Agorophius, and how the species is related to other Oligocene whales.

Specimens like these bring some important points to light - amateur (avocational, nonprofessional, recreational, whichever term you prefer to use) can and do make important fossil discoveries, and these same individuals can and do work with career (professional, trained, whichever term you prefer to use) paleontologists to recover and study the fossils that they find. Both points   underscore the importance of notifying the State of your discoveries. Be proud of (and get acknowledgement for) the discoveries you make by filling out and sending in your hobby reports, and ensuring that such finds are placed in a museum collection. Be willing and open to being approached by MRD or the State Museum about having a specimen you found being placed in a museum (over the past 4 ½ years, only about 1 in 500 divers have been contacted about adding a fossil that they found to the State Museum’s collection). Help researchers learn about the distant past so that this information can be passed along to the public through publications, museum exhibits, and outreach programs. Looking forward to seeing your future hobby reports!