Chile unearths whale 'graveyard' dating back 5 million years

28th Feb 2014

A "graveyard" containing 40 whales has been unearthed next to a major road in Chile.

Archaeology fans on tailor-made holidays to the South American country have long known Cerro Bellena - or "Whale Hill" - is famous for whale bones jutting out of rock faces, hence its name.

But the Atacama Desert has now yielded perhaps its most enlightening discovery of all beside the Pan-American Highway.

The fossil finding has led archaeologists to conclude just why so many animals came to be washed up and preserved in one site more than 5 million years earlier.

The graveyard was the result of four separate mass strandings, US and Chilean excavators announced in a Royal Society journal.

Cerro Ballena is viewed among the world's densest fossil sites, especially for whales and other extinct marine mammals.

Researchers believe the sands could still relinquish hundreds more specimens in the region and the University of Chile in Santiago wants to establish a research station there.

Chile is full of pleasant surprises for tourists.

Torres del Paine national park amazes with its myriad mountains, lakes and glaciers. The highlights are the Towers of Paine, three spectacular granite peaks shaped by the forces of glacial ice.

Lauca National Park, in Chile's Andean far north boasts the enchanting Lago Chungará, one of the globe's highest lakes, dwarfed by Volcán Parinacota's dormant volcano.

Meanwhile, the evidence strongly points to the Cerro Bellena whales all ingesting toxic algae.

They were then washed into an estuary and on to flat sands where they became buried and preserved in the desert over time.

Archaeologists were only given the chance to properly examine the fossil beds during a road-widening scheme. They were given just a fortnight to finish their inquiries before the highway's upgrade was resumed.

Copyright Press Association 2014


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