Charlotte's Bones: A Beluga Whale in a Farmers Field
Many thousands of years ago, when a sheet of ice up to a mile thick began to let go of the land, the Atlantic Ocean flooded great valleys that had been scooped out by glaciers, and the salty waves of an inland sea lapped the green hills of Vermont. Into this arm of the sea swam Charlotte. Her milky, smooth, muscled body sliced slowly through the water like scissors through silk. Like a chirping canary, her voice echoed across dark waters showing the way to her pod as belugas have done for millions of years.
In 1849, a crew building a railroad through Charlotte, Vermont, dug up strange and beautiful bones in a farmer’s field. A local naturalist asked Louis Agassiz to help identify them, and the famous scientist concluded that the bones belonged to a beluga whale. But how could a whale’s skeleton have been buried so far from the ocean? The answer—that Lake Champlain had once been an arm of the sea—encouraged radical new thinking about geological time scales and animal evolution.
Charlotte’s Bones is a haunting, science-based reconstruction of how Charlotte died 11,000 years ago in a tidal marsh, how the marsh became a field, how Charlotte found a second life as the Vermont state fossil, and what messages her bones whisper to us now about the fragility of life and our changing Earth.