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Saturday October 13, 2012

X marks the spot:Caesar’s assassination and a petrified dolphin

Disappoinment as petrified dolphin turns out to be a log

While Roman history buffs have been celebrating a Spanish archaeologist’s apparent discovery of the exact location of Julius Caesar’s assassination in Rome, oceanographers here in Majorca, have been dismayed to learn that a fossilised ‘dolphin’ found in a subterranean sea cave was in fact just a lump of wood. You can’t win ‘em all.

In a report produced by the Spanish National Research Council, archaeologist Antonio Monterroso claims to have found the exact spot where the Emperor Julius Caesar was stabbed to death on 15, March in 44BC by a mob of disgruntled Roman senators led by Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus (of Et tu, Brute? fame). According to scientists part of a concrete memorial established by Caesar’s nephew and heir, Gaius Octavian, offers an exact reference to where in the Curia of Pompey in Rome Caesar would have been sitting during senate sessions and was most likely to have been assassinated. In truth who can say for sure? Despite having studied classics at university and sat through interminably dull classes at school analysing ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’, possibly my least favourite Shakespeare play, I’ve found it difficult to get too excited about this latest news.

The petrified dolphin- that wasn’t- dId intrigue me though. I mean, wouldn’t it have been fantastic for locals in my rural town of Soller to have been able to claim that they’d found some prehistoric dolphin lurking in the depths of the port? We haven’t had such excitement here since finding, in deep sea caves, the remains of myotragus the extinct little mouse goat that roamed the island 3000 years ago. Only last month, the archaeological museum in the village of Deia celebrated its 50th anniversary with an international scientific symposium that paid homage to the little creature which was discovered in 1909 by Dorothea Bate, an intrepid British fossil hunter from London’s Natural History Museum, and which put Majorca firmly on the scientific map.

I digress. The point is that here in Majorca we could do with a fossilised dolphin. It would have been a thrilling find for my chums at the Balearic Natural History Museum in Soller who would no doubt have been delighted to display it in all its splendour to amazed and enthralled holidaymakers of the cultural kind.

So I sympathise with disappointed scientists from the Balearic Oceanographic Centre and the divers who thought they’d discovered a significant piece in the jigsaw of Balearic natural history. It’s a bummer. Still, all is not lost. Apparently the ‘dolphin’ log had been colonised by Osedax marine organisms previously only found at a depth of about 3000 metres. Something to celebrate then, after all?

This article first appeared in Telegraph Expat

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