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Last Updated: Friday, 23 March 2007, 00:13 GMT
Whale fossil is found in vineyard
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

A skeleton of a five million-year-old whale found in a Tuscan vineyard in Italy
Palaeontologists say the skeleton appears to be complete
The biggest whale fossil ever discovered in Italy has been found in one of the country's finest vineyards.

The five-million-year-old skeleton, 33ft (10m) in length, was dug up in the northern grape-growing area of Tuscany.

The vineyards of Castello Banfi, where the bones were uncovered, produce the famed Brunello de Montalcino wine, one of Italy's most prized.

The whale remains were discovered by a fossil hunter who was given special permission to poke around the vines.

Rich soil

The skeleton appears to be complete and, for the last month, palaeontologists from the University of Florence have been carefully digging around the terraces to extract it in one piece.

Millions of years ago, Tuscany was under water and Castello Banfi was the sea bed.

The vineyard owner, Cristina Mariani, is delighted.

"It reminds us "that this rich soil is composed of nutrients and minerals deposited millions of years ago," she says.

"It's that special earth that gives complexity to our wines."

So, if you are lucky enough to ever taste a Brunello, just savour it for that extra moment, and remember that beneath the old vines that produced it - there was an even bigger old whale.

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