Interia cooperates with the world’s leading editorial offices. Every Friday, as part of the “Interia Closer to the World” series, we publish the most interesting texts from foreign newspapers of general opinion. Founded in 1877, The Washington Post, from which the article below comes, is considered the oldest newspaper in the United States of America. Its journalists have won the Pulitzer Prize 73 times.
Lindsay Stallworth attended the fossil dig for the first time in June of this year. On family property in the county Monroe able Alabama.
When the science teacher at her school Drew Gentry When I asked her if she had seen small bone fragments on the hillside, she immediately went to the location indicated. There they found more and decided to continue searching.
Their discovery has exceeded our wildest expectations.
It turns out that the 16-year-old found him Fossilized whale skull from 34 million years ago.
– I stood there for two minutes staring and thinking: “What did we just find?” – says the 16-year-old. She adds that it is difficult for her to understand the discovery of a possible new species of whale on her family’s property.
“I was very excited, but at the same time confused because this was my first experience in paleontology and something like this happened right away,” said Stallworth, a student at the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science (ASMS) in Mobile.
– It’s really hard to understand something that’s millions of years old. He adds that everything started to make more sense when we started removing the dirt and saw what the skull looked like.
United States of America. Passionate teacher and shark’s teeth
The amazing discovery happened by chance. In reality Drew Gentryan avid teacher, decided to come to the property of one of his students in hopes of finding more fossilized shark teeth like the ones Stalwart once brought to her biology class.
Instead, the student and teacher found the skull of an ancient whale that swam in the shallow seas that covered most of what is now Alabama millions of years ago.
Gentry confirmed that thanks to information from the US Geological Survey and the Alabama Geological Survey, he was able to determine that the age of the skull that was found was about 34 million years.
– We found something much bigger than we planned – the 38-year-old teacher admitted. As he added, he “never planned to do a mass whale excavation.”
Paleontolog z Alabamy d June Ebersol He confirmed that the whale skull found by Stallworth and Gentry is about 34 million years old. – The age of the discovery is very impressive – confirms Ebersol, Collection Director at the Science Museum in Birmingham in Alabama.
– indicates that when the whale bones are secured and reassembled, there is a high probability that we are dealing with an unknown species.
Lindsay Stallworth has been interested in collecting shells and finding fossils on her family’s property since she was seven years old.
– The largest thing I have found so far is a shark tooth, which was the size of a hand – about 7-8 cm. At school, the 16-year-old learned of her teacher’s interest in paleontology. Gentry, who has a doctorate in the field, has been studying fossils in Alabama for years, and even discovered two new species of turtle. One of them lived 83 million years ago.
One day after school, Stallworth brought to school a bag containing shark teeth she found on her family’s property. The biology teacher was immediately excited about this discovery. It was estimated that one of the teeth belonged to a very rare species.
“Lindsey asked me if I was interested in looking for fossils,” the teacher recalls. “I had to know more about the discovery site,” he recalls.
A relative of Basilosaurus
The two researchers and other students went to Stallworth’s property in Monroe County, northeast of Mobile, on June 22. Gentry scanned the area for everything from shells to shark teeth. Stallworth, who always wanted to be a marine biologist, thought they had a few hours of “wonderful fun” ahead of them.
After some time passed, the research duo began to notice more and more bone fragments. They decided to continue excavations in the hill, which led them to discover several large bones protruding from the ground.
-The truth is, we had no idea what we had just found. Gentry admitted that only part of the skeleton was visible.
Eventually, the researchers used tooth picks to scrape dirt and grime from around the bones. “Then we realized what we might be dealing with,” the teacher added.
What they saw was a fossil of a whale skull, between 4.5 and 6 meters long, and appeared to belong to a relative of the right whale. Basilosaurus (Basilosaurus cetoides), up to 15 to 18 meters (50 to 60 feet) long. Many Basilosaurus fossils have been found in the past, including: In Alabama.
The teacher believes that the skull found may belong to right related to species zygorrhizaa slightly smaller marine predator whose fossils have already been found in neighboring Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Once Stallworth and Gentry realized what the fossil was, they had to figure out how to safely extract the whale skull from the soil and bring it to the school in Mobile. This included hours of excavation lasting several days and then cleaning the fossil. All this happened at very high temperatures, often reaching 43 degrees Celsius.
The process of moving the whale skull took approximately more than a month. It was very demanding, boring and frustrating. To alleviate the difficulties, the student-teacher duo nicknamed the discovery – Karen. This is a reference to a derogatory slang term for a middle-class white woman who is perceived as privileged.
– It was a very difficult challenge. There were more titles, but unfortunately we cannot share with others – the nobles laugh.
A month later, the skull of the nearby whale was finally delivered to a school in Mobile, where proper research was planned.
– The multi-day marathon was worth the effort – Stallworth confirms. “The day we delivered the fossil to the lab, it felt surreal,” she adds.
Dr. Ebersol has taught Gentry in the past. He learned of finding shark teeth and then a skull. He acknowledged that even if the whale-like skull did not turn out to be a new species, “it may belong to a younger species.”
“Whatever it is, this is a very important discovery,” Ebersol emphasizes. He added: “It would be good for the skull to be available to the scientific community, and for Lindsay Stallworth to remain involved in every subsequent stage of the work.”
New attraction at school
Fossilized skull The 34-million-year-old whale immediately became the main attraction in the school’s corridor. Lindsay Stallwort’s colleagues were eager to see if they could catch a glimpse of the discovery.
The exploring duo is already planning more excavations. They plan to return to the hills next summer to continue their research. In the coming months, in addition to her standard classes, the 16-year-old will devote two hours a week to cleaning the fossil.
After the unexpected discovery, the 16-year-old does not rule out changing her educational plans. He is considering completing a dual master’s degree in paleontology and marine biology.
– I had a certain career path, but now everything has changed, – the teenager assures. He adds that he intends to take on the new challenge.
At the moment, the French lessons have begun. Its immediate goal is to say something in a new language about a 34-million-year-old fossil of a related whale called Karen.
Text translated from The Washington Post. Author: Timothy Bella
Translated by: Mateusz Kucharczyk
Title, subtitles and abbreviations come from the editors.
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