Alabama Symbols, Emblems, and Honors
Official Alabama Fossil
Illustration by: Harrison Prince
Alabama's official state fossil is the species Basilosaurus cetoides. The basilosaurus is an extinct ancestor of today's whales. It dates from the late Eocene period, about 50 - 30 million years ago, when Alabama was covered with water. The whales were about fifty-five to seventy feet long and had tails up to forty feet long.
Fossil remains of this gigantic whale were first found in Clarke County about 1833 and bones were later discovered in Choctaw and Washington Counties. In 1834 a complete skeleton of the sea creature was found on a plantation in southwestern Alabama. The skeleton was identified by Dr. Richard Harlan, who named it basilosaurus, which means "king of the lizards." Dr. Harlan first thought the bones came from a giant marine reptile. Later other scientists realized that the skeleton was really from a meat-eating member of the whale family, and it received a new name, Zeuglodon cetiodes, which means "yoked tooth." Today you can see it described by both names, Basilosaurus cetoides and Zeuglodon cetoides.
Many fossils have been recovered in Alabama. The two most complete skeletons are located in the McWane Center in Birmingham and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1984 the legislature made the zeuglodon the state fossil.
For more information see: http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/whales/classification/Whalefossils.shtml
Act 84-66, Acts of Alabama, March 13, 1984.
Updated: January 22, 2010