When you go to the beach, you often find tons of seashells, a whole lot of sea glass, and perhaps some seaweed. But it’s not every day that you also stumble upon a prehistoric skull.
That’s what happened earlier this month, though, when Emily Bzdyk and her friend discovered a 15-million-year-old skull at a Maryland beach, The Washington Post reported over the weekend. The 50-pound, 2.5-foot-long skull is believed to have belonged to a long-extinct dolphin-like animal that swam in a shallow sea that once covered most of Maryland—and it could even have come from a species that is still undiscovered.
“I was very excited when I figured what it might be,” Bzdyk told the Post. “I had never found anything so put together. I always find fragments of bones.”
Bzdyk, a volunteer at the Calvert Marine Museum, had gone fossil hunting on the night of August 5 because the tide was low, meaning the chance of finding long-buried bones was more likely. After seeing the skull peeking out of the beach, she took a photo and sent it to one of her colleagues at the museum, the assistant paleontology collection manager Stephen Groff. He helped confirm the finding, and the two went back the next day to dig the fossil out of the ground.
The skull was brought back to the Calvert Marine Museum, where it will eventually be put on display. Before then, Bzdyk will scrape away the sediment covering the bones to reveal the skull in full, which visitors will be able to watch her do. Once her work is done, experts will be able to tell which species it belonged to; Groff said that four known species of odontocetes lived in the water near Calvert County, but it is possible the skull came from a different one altogether.
“With fossils, it’s all a game of chance,” he told The Washington Post. “It’s managed to survive the test of time. … We got lucky here.”
Groff added that fewer than 100 similar skulls have been found, making Bzdyk’s discovery a rare one. Plus, they aren’t usually uncovered in such complete condition. It’s a much more noteworthy souvenir than most of us are used to bringing home from the beach.