The partial excavation and conservation of a Holocene whale skeleton in Abu Dhabi, 2008

This expedition to excavate and lift several bones of a very large whale skeleton on the coast of Abu Dhabi was undertaken by John Stewart, Nigel Larkin and Simon Aspinall. The specimen - at least a partial sub-fossil skeleton of a very big (possibly Blue) whale - was at risk of being damaged by wave action and sediment collapse as it was exposed in a low friable sandy cliff on the edge of a tidal channel in Mussafah on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi City.

Once the overburden had been carefully removed and all the bones in the cleared area plotted, the scapula and one side of the lower jaw were cleaned and consolidated to strengthen them. Then, protective and supportive rigid jackets of plaster of Paris and hessian were wrapped all the way around the large fragile bones so they could be lifted and taken to safety. It is thought that the site is likely to be about 6,000 years old and the bones are brittle, occasionally cracked and have little or no mechanical strength hence the need for secure plaster jackets. The very long thin jawbone was about 4 metres long and needed very special attention. A rigid welded metal cage was constructed around the plaster field jacket and attached to it securely, then it was lifted from the beach by a crane.

The remaining bones - many ribs, pieces of skull and the tip of the other side of the lower jaw - were consolidated, a protective plaster and hessian jacket was made for them and they were then reburied, to await a full excavation of the entire skeleton in the future. Several other bones - mostly from the limbs - from an earlier rescue excavation were cleaned, repaired, consolidated and prepared fully to reveal an interesting wealth of detail.

This project has now been written-up and published in Quaternary Science Reviews (November 2011) as: Biotically constrained palaeoenvironmental conditions of a mid-Holocene intertidal lagoon on the southern shore of the Arabian Gulf: evidence associated with a whale skeleton at Musaffah, Abu Dhabi, UAE. By J.R. Stewart, S. Aspinall, M. Beech, P. Fenberg, P. Hellyer, N. Larkin, S.W. Lokier, F.G. Marx, M. Meyer, R. Miller, P.S. Rainbow, J.D. Taylor, J.E. Whittaker, K. Al-Mehsin & C.J. Strohmenger.

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