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Skull of Extinct Whale Species Found Embedded in Potomac River's Bank

“The really interesting thing is we have all the post-cranial material..."

A skull was found in the cliffside of the Potomac River. Archaeologists are currently digging it out. It is thought to be an extinct species of baleen whale. (Photo: Calvert Marine Museum via Washington Post)

It's not quite what one would expect to find on the banks of the Potomac River near Robert E. Lee's birth place in Virginia. But a fossilized whale skull is just what was spotted back in June, according to the Washington Post.

whale skull Calvert Marine Museum A skull was found near the cliffside of the Potomac River. Archaeologists are currently digging it out. It is thought to be an extinct species of baleen whale. (Photo: Calvert Marine Museum via Washington Post)

Located along the river closer the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay than to the nation's capital, the fossil, which is estimated to be six-feet long and to weigh about 1,000 pounds, was found on the the grounds of Stratford Hall, which was Virginia Lee's home and the birthplace of Robert E. Lee.

In addition to being placed near the home of this historic family, Westmoreland County was also birthplace to George Washington and James Monroe, the Post reported.

stratfor hall whale skull The whale skull was found around this location where it actually is not uncommon to find fossilized shark teeth and even other whale bones. (Image: Google Maps)

But archaeologists date the fossil at much older than these men. They place it around 15 million years, according to the Post.

If you find it surprising that a whale species once traversed the waters at this point in the river, the Post reported that other whale bones have been found in the past, in addition to shark teeth and the fossils of other marine animals.

What is "uncommon," the Post reported John Nance with Maryland's Calvert Marine Museum saying is its size and the complete state of the specimen.

“The really interesting thing is we have all the post-cranial material — the vertebrae, the ribs, the flipper bones. It will give us a more complete picture of what these animals looked like," he told the Post.

Digging for more pieces -- some have already been excavated and sent to the museum -- will continue this week and is expected to take a couple more.

Although the specific species of whale cannot yet be determined, Nance said it is a type of baleen whale from a family of whales now extinct. In total, the whale would have been about 25 feet long.

Here's a nearly 20-minute video showing some of the skull removal:

(H/T: io9)

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