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Fossil bone bed helps reconstruct life along California's ancient coastline
Date:6/8/2009

ears ago, the climate was warming, sea level was at a peak, California's Central Valley was an inland sea dubbed the Temblor Sea and the emerging Sierra Nevada was shoreline. By closely studying the geology of the Sharktooth Hill area, the paleontologists determined that it was part of an underwater shelf in a large embayment, directly opposite a wide opening to the sea.

Pyenson and Irmis examined some 3,000 fossilized bone and teeth specimens in the collections of many museums, including the NHM and UCMP, and they and Lipps also cut out a meter-square section of the bone bed, complete with the rock layers above and below, and transported it to UC Berkeley for study.

Below the bone bed, they found several feet of mudstone interlaced with shrimp burrows, typical of ocean floor sediment several hundred to several thousand feet below the surface. The bone bed itself averaged 200 bones per square meter, most of them larger bones, with almost no sediment. Most were disarticulated, as if the animal carcasses had decayed and their bones had been scattered by currents.

"The bones look a bit rotten," Lipps said, "as if they lay on the seafloor for a long time and were abraded by water with sand in it." Many bones had manganese nodules and growths, which form on bones that sit for long periods in sea water before being covered by sediment.

Toward the top of the bone bed, some articulated skeletons of seals and whales were found, while in the layer above the bone bed, most skeletons were articulated and encased in sediment.

The team's conclusion is that the climatic conditions were such that currents carried sediment around the bone beds for 100,000 to 700,000 years, during which time bones remained exposed on the ocean floor and accumulated in a big and shifting pile.

Given the rarity of bones marked by shark bites, plus the occurrence of terrestrial animals such as tapirs and horses that must have washed out to sea, pred
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Contact: Robert Sanders
rsanders@berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
Source:Eurekalert  

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