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City digs whale of a find

April 26, 2005

Andrew Edwards

Ages before the local coastline became home to high-priced real

estate, surf shops and prime-time soap operas, the ocean covered

today's dry land, and ancient whales swam where modern neighborhoods

would grow.

The evidence, fossilized whale remains, were discovered months ago

in a Newport Beach backyard on Kings Road. The old bones are

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scheduled to be excavated today with aid from a paleontologist,

Newport Beach city archaeologist Robert Masters said.

"I'm going to get them to jacket it and pull it out in one piece,

if we can," Masters said.

The first fossils from the site were found about five months ago,

while builders worked on an addition to a home, said Brian Coffee,

concrete foreman for Laguna Construction and Builder.

The first finds were small fragments embedded in chunks of earth.

About one month after the initial discovery, larger bones were found

with help from the weather.

"We found that one after the rains washed [dirt] away. We could

tell it was something," Coffee said.

Still in the ground, the copper-colored fossils rise slightly

above the earth. Masters said the bones are the whale's skull and

mandible. While no one knows exactly how old the bones are, they are

believed to be of a paleontological age.

"You're not talking about hundreds or thousands [of years], you're

talking about millions," he said.

Finding ancient relics around Newport Beach is not surprising to

Masters, who has worked as the city's archaeologist for about two

years and believes Native Americans were drawn to the area for

reasons similar to Newport's modern residents.

"We find those all the time," Masters said. "Anyplace that's nice

for us was nice thousands of years ago."

Once excavated, the bones will likely be kept in storage, as have

other ancient finds.

"Let's save it for posterity and someday our children will be able

to look at things that were removed from the city of Newport Beach,"

Masters said.

* ANDREW EDWARDS covers business and the environment. He can be

reached at (714) 966-4624 or by e-mail at andrew.edwards

@latimes.com.

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