BERKELEY (CBS SF) -- The massive Calaveras Dam Project has uncovered a treasure trove of fossils that are giving UC researchers a glimpse of what life was like in the prehistoric Bay Area.
According to the University of California, at least 1,500 fossils have been found and preserved since the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission began heavy excavation starting in 2013.
"We had expected to find some fossils during construction, but we had no idea the team would find this many," said Dan Wade, SFPUC Director of Water Infrastructure Capital Projects and Programs, in a press release. "It was extremely important to us to keep the collection together, to keep them in the Bay Area, and to be able to make them available for scientific research."
Researchers say the region 15-20 million years ago was covered by water that extended down to the Central Valley as far as Bakersfield.
Ancient whales sifted food in the waters of what is now Berkeley and Oakland. Extinct megalodon sharks may have hunted dolphins in the water above San Jose while hippo-like creatures waded along the coast.
The SFPUC is constructing a new dam to replace the 93-year-old, seismically vulnerable Calaveras Dam -- the project is requiring workers to move almost 10 million cubic yards of rocks and soil.
"Fossils are found all the time in the Bay Area, but the concentration of unique and varied specimens is what makes this special," said Cristina Robins, a senior scientist at the UC's Museum of Paleontology and head of the project to clean, catalog and study the fossils, in a press release.
The first specimens include whale skulls, shark teeth, crab claws, snails and fossilized palm trees. Also among the finds was the fossil remains of a species of whale never before seen in the Bay Area.
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