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Fossil identification

When I was given this some thirty years ago, I was told that it was the vertebra of a wooly mammoth, and that it was found in Alaska..

in my little research, I am not so certain.. the vertebra seems to fit better with a prehistoric sea creature (piscobalaena, a type of whale (?), or an animal called a. Megalodon, but those seem to have been further south, as in Peru.  These were sea creatures.  The mammoth vertebra are very similar, but on this fossile the "wings" out to the sides have bigger holes than the mammoth vertebrae I have found pictiured. I am stumped; just know it is a remarkably intact piece"Any thoughts?  Mastodon?   Age.

my friend Suzie Barts thought I should check witth Jonathan  Hoffman.

Any thoughts? I would be so grateful

I am attaching photos



Mette, Santa Barbara - September 13, 2022

Curator Response

Hi Mette,

It looks like a balaenid cervical vertebra, i.e., neck vertebra from a baleen whale (probably the second cervical vertebra, or axis). You are correct that the transverse foramina (the "wing holes") are too large for a mammoth. This is an adult, since those wing projections, or transverse processes, are fully formed. I would guess that it's not too old of an individual though, since the axis often fuses to the atlas (first cervical vertebra) later in life, although I don't know at what point exactly.

I can't identify it below family level and, as a result, can't pin down an age. If you want to bring it in, we can at least rule out that it's recent bone based on the heft. Feel free to email me at if you're interested in setting up a time for me to see it in person.

Stay curious,

Dibblee Curator of Earth Science Jonathan Hoffman, Ph.D.

PS: Susie Bartz is awesome!