Back in November of 2011 an enigma was found in the Chilean desert. A research team composed of US and Childean researchers was called in to investigate. What had been found was a remarkable bone yard in northern Chile’s west coast near the city of Caldera which is about 440 miles north of Santiago. Researchers uncovered about 80 remains of Baleen whales and among these 20 of the remains were completely in tact. Amid this bone yard researchers also recovered the fossilized remains of other marine life including extinct dolphins with tusks (Odobenocetops) and a sperm whale. Other fossils found at the site include a now extinct aquatic sloth known as “Thalassocnus” who may have more likely been semi-aquatic.
The bone yard had actually been found in the previous year of 2010 by construction workers working on the Pan-American Highway. Since the discovery teams of researchers have gone to work on the site led by paleontologist Nick Pyenson of the Smithsonian and Mario Suarez of Chile’s Museo Paleontologico de Caldera.
The fossilized bones are within an area of a sandstone ridge about 70 feet wide and 800 feet long. Most of the whales in the bone yard measure about 25 feet long and appear to have been perfectly preserved. Some of the remains are very close together and some overlap with other remains. These remains are in the Atacama Desert region by the way.
The Atacama Desert today is far above sea level and over 1/2 mile from the Pacific Ocean. According to Suarez the locals seem to have known all about whale bones jutting out of the ridge for a long while! They named the area “Cerro Ballena” meaning “Whale Hill.”
When researchers arrived they could only describe the site as “very unusual.” Researchers postulated that the whales and other marine animals all died at the same time, more or less, after they’d become trapped in a prehistoric lagoon. Yet, other researchers postulated that the whales had become disoriented and beached themselves for some unknown reason in much the same way as some whales do the same today.
Other “experts” chimed in including Erich Fitzgerald who is a paleontologist at the Museum of Victoria, Australia. He postulated that the whales accumulated over thousands of years in the area! Hans Thewissen of the Northeast Ohio Medical University also chimed in speculating that the whales got into an ancient lagoon and became stranded after an earthquake or storm and when the opening to the ocean closed, as a result, the lagoon dried up and the whales died as a result.
Others believe the whales are evidence of Noah’s Flood postulating that the whales were swimming in the area during the flood’s high waters and when the waters began to drain they became trapped and died along with the other creatures with them.
The whale fossil bones have been dated at 2 myr and some researchers believe the whales died somewhere between 2-7 mya. That would put them in the Pliocene which is a geologic timescale encompassing 5.4 to 2.6 mya (million years ago). To be more accurate if they are 7 mya then that puts them in the Messenian (7.2-5.4 mya) and if they are 2 mya then that puts them in the early Gelasian (2.58-1.80 mya) which was the beginning of the Quaternary Period. Researchers at this site admit the dating is difficult and likely not precise enough to determine if the whales all died at the same time.
The hypotheses of just what happened to these marine animals ranges from earthquakes to storms to a tsunami and out of the mainstream the hypothesis of a great flood has been put forth by Biblical geologists.
The whale fossils are found in sandstone strata which is located within the Caldera Basin. There are similar basins throughout western Chile’s western coast and they tend to be rather small. There are abundant fossils found in these areas that indicate they were deposited during a period of rapid and major coastal subsidence and Biblical geologist claim this is exactly what they’d expect to see in the later stages of the Flood as the ocean basins sank, the continents rose, and the waters began to drain back into the ocean. This, they say, suggests rapid burial of the whales and, in fact, rapid burial is required soon after death for fossil formation.
In 2014 researchers decided they’d solved this mystery. They claimed toxins generated by algae blooms likely poisoned the whales millions of years ago. Researchers now say that the “orientation and condition” of the remains shows that the whales “died at sea prior to burial on a tidal flat.” Oh…ok…so where is the evidence for this assertion????
Rapid burial is necessary for fossil formation. No rapid burial and remains become scattered by scavenger animals who carry them off and/or mix them all up. Anyone who has ever spent any time in the wilds hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, etc knows well that dead animal remains don’t remain in tact for long!
The Desierto de Atacama today is about 8000 feet above sea level. It rises to the Altiplano, the foothills of the Andes Mountains. It is known as the driest place on Earth! Human existence in the area dates back over 10 kya and the first signs of any sort of organized society in the area come from a nomadic tribe of hunter-gatherers who lived around 7 kya in the region. When the Spanish came to the area the Conquistador Diego de Almagro led an expedition to the region in search of gold and he became the first European to arrive in what is today Chile and to set foot in the Atacama.
The Lican Antai (Atacamena Culture as the Spanish called it) is thought to have emerged in the area around 1000 BC and they are believed to have been the first farmers in the area. They developed a brilliant system of terraced fields which redirected water channels enabling them to farm and irrigate their crops. The Inca briefly ruled over the area during the mid 15th century and the Spanish arrived in 1536.
The Chinchorro culture also developed in this area around 7,000 BCE until 1500 BCE. These people were fishermen who lived along the coastal areas. The Chinchorro people are famous for their detailed mummification and funerary practices.
This area is along what is known as the “Ring of Fire.” Earthquakes are common. It’s not surprising that today the area is 8000 feet above current sea levels. The fact is we don’t really known how the whales got there! I highly doubt it was due to poison. That aside, the land either rose rapidly during a quake or sea levels at one time were extremely high (8000 ft higher than they are today, in fact!). That blows my mind!!