SCOTTS VALLEY, Calif., Sept. 21 (UPI) -- A construction project in California had to make way for a team of archaeologists as scientists worked to remove an ancient whale fossil found on site.
The animal's bones were first discovered in early September by construction workers on a residential project in Scotts Valley, Calif., a community in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Project leaders called in a team of experts from Paleo Solutions, a Los Angeles County-based archaeological consulting service, to safely remove the whale bones.
On Sept. 17, archaeologists began excavating the ancient whale using small shovels, brooms and hand tools. Because the whale's bones are so soft, researchers weren't able to safely separate the specimen's bones from the rock.
Instead, scientists dug around the whale's body and encased it in plaster, so that it can be transported to a lab where rock can be more precisely chiseled away from the bones.
California's complex array of fault lines ensure the earth is always moving; ancient rock is constantly being thrust to the surface. That's how an ancient whale can be found among the foothills of a coastal mountain range.
"Most places where you see a hill, somewhere there's a fault line nearby pushing it up," Scott Armstrong, paleontologist with Paleo Solutions, told the Mercury News. "They're relatively inactive faults. But yeah, it's from lifting thousands, maybe millions of years ago."
Armstrong and his team believe the whale could be as ancient as 4 million year old. It's not clear what kind of whale the specimen is.
Earlier this year, Paleo Solutions helped excavate an ancient ground sloth in Beaumont, Calif.
In the East, construction crews mostly have to worry about uncovering ancient Indian burial grounds. But on the West Coast, it seems each new road, tunnel or housing complex turns up ancient animal bones.