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Ancient whale bones discovered in desert

November 22, 2011
Paleontologists in Chile have made a surprising discovery in the desert. Scientists uncovered what appears to be a massive graveyard of whale bones in Copiapo, more than a half-mile from the ocean. More than 80 whales, including 25 complete skeletons, were found in one of the driest deserts in the world.

Minister of National Assets Catalina Parot, using crutches, looks at a prehistoric whale fossil unearthed in the Atacama desert near Copiapo, Chile.

In this Aug. 24, 2010 photo released by Chile’s Paleontological Museum of Caldera, a prehistoric whale fossil lies embedded in the Atacama desert near Copiapo, Chile. More than 80 whales, including 25 complete skeletons, were found in one of the driest deserts in the world.

A paleontologist from the museum prepares a whale fossil at the site

Researchers from the museum work at the site

More than 2 million years ago, scores of whales congregating off the Pacific Coast of South America mysteriously met their end. Maybe they became disoriented and beached themselves. Maybe they were trapped in a lagoon by a landslide or a ferocious storm. Maybe they died there over a period of a few millennia.

But somehow, they ended up right next to one another, many just several yards (meters) apart, entombed over the ages as the shallow sea floor was driven upward by geologic forces and transformed into the driest place on the planet.

Today, the whales have emerged again atop a desert hill more than half a mile (a kilometer) from the surf, where researchers have begun to unearth one of the world’s best-preserved graveyards of prehistoric whales.

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