Nine years ago, a team of fossil-hunters led by Philip Gingerich from the University of Michigan uncovered something amazing - the petrified remains of an ancient whale, but one unlike any that had been found before. Within the creature's abdomen lay a collection of similar but much smaller bones. They were the fossilised remains of a foetal whale, perfectly preserved within the belly of its mother...
The creatures are new to science and Gingerich have called them Maiacetus inuus. The genus name is an amalgamation of the Greek words "maia" meaning "mother" and "ketos" meaning "whale", while Inuus, the Roman god of fertility, gave his name to the species.
This trio of skeletons is so complete and well-preserved that Gingerich likens them to the Rosetta Stone.
All in all, Gingerich's latest finds are among his most alluring yet. The remains of these three individuals have lasted through 48 million years of compression and today, they paint an incredibly vivid picture of the life of an ancient species. The fact that they are ancestral whales is the icing on the cake. This group's story is one of the most beautifully illustrated in the field evolution and every new discovery is a welcome one.
For more about this exciting find see Ed Yong’s blog.
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