Ancient marine deposits known as the Round Mountain Silt are exposed throughout the hills northeast of Bakersfield. Within this deposit there is a particularly dense accumulation of bones of (mainly) marine organisms, known as the Sharktooth Hill (STH) Bonebed. Since the early 1900's, many fossils have been discovered and described from this site, including cetaceans, birds, pinnipeds, and turtles (e.g. Kellogg, 1931; Howard, 1966; Mitchell, 1966; Barnes, 1988; Lynch and Parham, 2003). The bonebed is regarded as one of the most densest accumulation of marine organisms, and is one of the densest accumulation of fossil whales, rivaled only by Cerro Ballena in Chile (Pyenson et al., 2009; Pyenson et al., 2014)!
|The Sharktooth Hill Bonebed, here we can see some large ribs of a mysticete being cleaned and you can get an idea of the high density of bones.|
The ongoing NHM dig
The Natural History Museum of LA has had a long history of digging at STH, going back more than 50 years, and we probably hold the largest collection of material from that site. Recently, after a long hiatus, we've had the opportunity to start an excavation at a new site in the area*. At this new site the bonebed is close to the surface, which reduces the amount of time we spend removing overburden.
|Setting up our quarry. Vanessa (middle) and Sam (far right) prepare the grid that marks our site. Lisa (far left) picks to tools of the trade she'll be using this day.|
|Vanessa and Sam work on the northeast corner of our quarry. To the left are a bunch of mysticete ribs, and a few vertebrae and skull fragment all jumbled up.|
Even after so many years of work at the STH Bonebed, there are still mysteries to solve, new species to be described and/or redescribed based on new finding. So, as we continue our dig at STH, stay tuned for more updates as well as upcoming publication on fossils from this amazing and unique deposit!
*Our dig is possible thanks to the generosity of the landowners who are really supportive of our work out there, and also very enthusiastic, often participating in the dig as well; and to people who have donated money to cover for expenses.
Barnes, L. G. 1988. A new fossil pinniped (Mammalia: Otariidae) from the middle Miocene Sharktooth Hill Bonebed, California. Contributions in Science 396:1-11.
Howard, H. 1966. Additional avian records from the Miocene of Sharktooth Hill, California. Contributions in Science 114:1-11.
Kellogg, R. 1931. Pelagic mammals from the temblor Formation of the Kern River region, California. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 19:217-397.
Lynch, S. C., and J. F. Parham. 2003. The first report of hard-shelled sea turtles (Cheloniidae sensu lato) from the Miocene of California, including a new species (Euclastes hutchisoni) with unusually plesiomorphic characters. PaleoBios 23:21-35.
Mitchell, E. D. 1966. The Miocene pinniped Allodesmus. University of California Publications in Geological Sciences 61:1-46.
Pyenson, N. D., C. S. Gutstein, J. F. Parham, J. P. Le Roux, C. Carreño Chavarría, A. Metallo, V. Rossi, H. Little, A. M. Valenzuela-Toro, J. Velez-Juarbe, C. M. Santelli, D. Rubilar Rogers, M. A. Cozzuol, and M. E. Suárez. 2014. Repeated mass stranding of Miocene marine mammals from the Atacama of Chile point to sudden death at sea. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281:20133316.
Pyenson, N. D., R. B. Irmis, L. B. Barnes, E. D. Mitchell Jr., S. A. McLeod, and J. H. Lipps. 2009. Origin of a widespread marine bonebed deposited during the middle Miocene Climatic Optimum. Geology 37:519-522.