PO Box 97 14200 Solomons Island Road Solomons, MD 20688 P: 410-326-2042 F: 410-326-6691
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Our permanent paleontology collection currently consists of over 40,000 catalogued specimens. They document the taxonomic diversity and relative abundance of mostly extinct species from a block of geologic time that is referred to as the Miocene epoch. The majority of the fossils in our collection range in age from 8-18 million years old, and many of these are unique and irreplaceable (including Type specimens, i.e., the individual fossil on which a species name is based). However, the fastest growing component of our collection consists of fossils from local but older strata (from the Oligocene, Eocene, and the Paleocene epochs).
We do not collect fossils simply for the sake of having a collection. Our collections are dynamic research tools that are used and continue to grow. Our primary motivating objective is to document the diversity and relative abundance of species that inhabited Maryland during the Miocene epoch. By doing so, we are able to answer questions about how life has changed in this area over geologic time. We encourage the use of our collections by geologists and paleontologists to answer questions about life here 8-18 million years ago. One of the remarkable consequences of learning about life during the Miocene is that it did not take place in isolation from what was happening elsewhere in the world at that time. It was both a consequence of what had happened before and strongly influenced what has happened on Earth since then.
We also house a large and growing modern comparative osteology collection (i.e., a collection of modern animal skeletons). This reference collection allows us to more quickly and accurately identify the partial or isolated bones that are recovered along the Chesapeake Bay (from Calvert Cliffs) and from the eroding bluffs along its tributaries.
CMM is currently the only institution in the State of Maryland that is actively preserving this natural heritage that would otherwise be lost to erosion.
Baleen Whale Skull collected at Stratford Hall, Virginia
This “field jacket” contains the skull and other bones from a 15-16 million year old baleen whale (filter feeder). The skull is about 6 feet long and was from a 25 foot whale. Periodically there will be staff/volunteers preparing the skull, basically using dental scalers and small brushes to clear away the dirt and expose the bones. There is not much to see at this time, a vertebra and rib, but as they progress more and more of the skull and upper jaws will emerge.
The whale was discovered in the cliffs along the Potomac River on the property of Stratford Hall, the ancestral home of the Lee family and birthplace of General Robert E. Lee. These cliffs are similar to those that can be seen in Calvert County at the Calvert Cliffs State Park and Flag Ponds Nature Park.
The two large lower jaws that belong to the whale are in the prep lab and are being prepared by Christa Conant. The rest of the bones collected by the museum are still in the field jackets and are being stored in Paleo Collections until they can be prepared.
If you look at the “Isabel’s Gift” whale skull that is against the wall, (background of image) located in the museum's paleontology hall, this skull is similar to that found at Stratford Hall and the whale would have looked like the drawing of a fleshed out baleen whale that is on the wall. But were “Isabel’s Gift” skull is five and a half feet long and was about 18’ long overall and 8-10 million years old, the “Stratford Hall” whale is about 25’ long and 15-16 million years old. CMM Press Release