Team Members Try Their Best for Easter Delivery

Everything Dinosaur Prepares for the Bank Holiday (Easter)

With a Bank Holiday weekend fast approaching for those of us in the UK, it is worth remembering that most courier services and Royal Mail will not be working on Good Friday or Easter Monday.  What will be for most of the population, a four day weekend, will result in disruption to mail services and deliveries.  However, those hard working team members at Everything Dinosaur are doing all they can to try to ensure that UK customers at least, have every chance of receiving their parcels before the Easter break.

Team Members Working Hard to Despatch Parcels

Everything Dinosaur provides "egg-cellent" service.

Everything Dinosaur provides “egg-cellent” service.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A spokesperson for the Cheshire based dinosaur company stated:

“Our packing team are working as hard as they can at the moment to get orders picked, packed and despatched as quickly as possible.  We appreciate that many customers have made purchases for the Bank Holiday and we are doing all we can to get parcels on their way as quickly as possible.”

No parcels will be despatched on Good Friday as Royal Mail and most couriers are not going to be working, so customers are urged to place any orders for Easter as quickly as possible to give their parcel the chance of arriving in time.

Everything Dinosaur aims to pick, pack and send out parcels on the same day as an order is placed.  Every customer receives a personalised email from a team member advising them of the status of the parcel and where it is in the despatching process.  Some parcels are turned round from the time the customer places the order to despatch within forty-five minutes, a schedule that few other mail order companies can match.

There will be no parcels sent out on Bank Holiday Monday.  Once again most couriers and Royal Mail are not operating a collection service on this day.  However, Everything Dinosaur has put in place a contingency plan, whereby they can despatch parcels on Saturday morning should the need arise.

The spokesperson went onto add:

“We do appreciate that a number of customers want orders to arrive in time for the weekend.  We have put extra resources in place to help manage the Bank Holiday work pressures, but we do urge all customers to place any orders as early as possible to give the delivery companies time to deliver.”

 With a commitment to customer service such as this, it is no wonder that Everything Dinosaur has become the “go to company” for dinosaur toys and dinosaur models.

Lottie the Fossil Hunter

Everything Dinosaur Supports Women In Science

With our school visits to deliver dinosaur and fossil themed workshops, Everything Dinosaur team members are heavily involved in helping to promote geology/palaeontology and careers in science to young people.  We are very aware of the need to promote science to both girls and boys and as we visit a large number of schools we recognise that our team members can make an important contribution.  It’s not just our school visits, we supply lots of helpful teaching resources to teachers and home educationalists and provide advice on all sorts of Earth science related subjects from “Anning to Zuniceratops” as our boss, known as “Tyrannosaurus Sue” likes to say.  This week alone, we have provided free lesson plan advice to a Year 6 teacher as they prepare to teach evolution as a term topic, supported a Key Stage 2 teaching team with their fossils and rocks scheme of work and answered questions from school leavers about the potential roles and vocations within the umbrella of palaeontology.  Fact sheets on Smilodon fatalis and Allosaurus fragilis have been emailed to India and we have supplied Ammonite models to help a geologist explain about life in Jurassic marine environments – all this and it is still only Monday.

Dinosaurs and Fossils are Not Just for the Boys!

Encouraging women into the Earth Sciences!

Encouraging women into the Earth Sciences!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We have been so lucky to have met and worked with some amazing women scientists. That’s why Everything Dinosaur is delighted to introduce “Lottie the fossil hunter doll” into our extensive product range.

Say Hello to “Lottie the Fossil Hunter”

Lottie the Fossil Hunter

Lottie the Fossil Hunter

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We first met Lottie quite a few months ago when she was very much at the prototype stage.  We applaud the efforts of those women behind the TrowelBlazers, celebrating the role of women in archaeology, geology and palaeontology who have done amazing work in the past, continue to do so today and will no doubt be at the cutting edge of the Earth Sciences in the future.  Our boss Sue, (volcanism is her thing), only wishes that Lottie had been around when she was growing up.

To view Lottie the fossil hunter and other educational themed items: Learning All About Dinosaurs and Fossils

Sue commented:

“There have been some wonderful women who have been pioneers in the development of palaeontology and geology and we are all keen to help encourage girls into science careers.  Sadly, in some quarters those Georgian/early Victorian  attitudes that dogged Mary Anning can still be found, but we are doing all we can to stress that dinosaurs and fossils are not just for boys.”

As if to affirm Sue’s comments, we received a letter from Shantel in Year 2 after a dinosaur workshop with her class.  Shantel was delighted that we came to her school as she was “very excited because we love dinosaurs”.

Shantel’s Thank You Letter (Year 2)

Encouraging girls to learn about fossils and life in the past.

Encouraging girls to learn about fossils and life in the past.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Southglade Primary School

Great writing Shantel and thank you for your kind words, we know that Lottie the fossil hunter will be very impressed.

Lottie The Fossil Hunter – Girls Rock!

Girls definitely rock!

Girls definitely rock!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

“Sibirosaurus” Strides In

Potential New Titanosaur Genus from Siberia – “Sibirosaurus”

Scientists at Tomsk State University (Russia) are busy compiling a technical paper and completing further studies that could affirm fossilised remains found in 2008 are those of a giant titanosaurid dinosaur, very probably a new genus as well.  Although titanosaurids are known from most continents, even Antarctica, this, as far as we at Everything Dinosaur are aware, is the first case of a potential Titanosauriform being scientifically described from Russia.  The animal lived in the Late Cretaceous, around 100 million years ago (later part of the Albian faunal stage) and its remains which include cervical vertebrae, a partial scapula (shoulder blade) and elements from the sacrum have been painstakingly extracted from sandstone, which much to the chagrin of the research team is from a band of rock that is as hard as concrete.

The dinosaur’s bones were discovered in strata, that forms part of an eroded cliff on the banks of the Kiya River, close to the small village of Shestakovo in the Kemerovo region of southern Siberia, around ninety miles south-east of the city of Tomsk.

The Excavation Site – Kiya River Location

Palaeontologists need a head for heights.

Palaeontologists need a head for heights.

Picture Credit: Tomsk State University

The fossil bearing strata is located half way up a ten metre high bank and it is only really accessible during the late spring and summer months.  This part of Russia is subject to extremely cold temperatures and a lot of snowfall in the late autumn through to the spring.  From the months of October through to March the average daytime temperature rarely rises above freezing.  However, August temperatures can exceed thirty degrees Celsius.  It is the changing temperatures (freeze/thaw) that lead to erosion of the banks exposing dinosaur fossils.

A Scientist Explores the Fossil Bearing Sediment

A scientist carefully works away at the rock face.

A scientist carefully works away at the rock face.

Picture Credit: Tomsk State University

The fossils were originally discovered back in 2008, they had been preserved inside sandstone concretions and although in some cases the fossils were compressed and they represent just a fraction of the skeleton, their location and size indicate that these fossils consist of the remains of a long-necked dinosaur that would be new to science.

The rocks around the village of Shestakovo have already yielded a number of dinosaur fossil specimens.  Last year, Everything Dinosaur team members reported upon the naming of a new species of Psittacosaurus from fossils found in this locality by scientists working for the Kemerovo regional museum.

To read more about the new species of Psittacosaurus: Russian Scientists Name New Psittacosaurus Species

Commenting on the research, Dr. Stepan Ivantsov (scientific researcher in the Laboratory of Mesozoic and Cenozoic Continental Ecosystems), stated:

“When we discovered this finding, it was only clear that the remains belonged to a very large, herbivorous dinosaur from the Sauropods group.  It was the first scientifically described dinosaur from this group in Russia.  Now after work on the excavation of all the remnants and the restoration [of the bones] is almost completed, we can confidently say that we have found a new species and maybe even a new genus.”

This part of Russia is famous in palaeontological circles for the preserved remains of another large, prehistoric herbivore but one that is geologically hundreds of times younger than any Late Cretaceous dinosaur.  Many fossils of Woolly Mammoths are found in this region, including shed teeth and intact tusks.

A Close up of Some of the Titanosaur Fossil Material

Some of the fragmentary fossils.

Some of the fragmentary fossils.

Picture Credit: Tomsk State University

The fossils in the picture look like elements from the cervical vertebrae (neck bones).  In the background on the right, the posterior end of a large Woolly Mammoth tusk can be seen.  The scientists will continue their studies and a scientific paper on this new dinosaur should be published in the near future, as for where the fossils might end up, the researchers have expressed a wish that they should remain within the palaeontological collection of the University, but stress that they could be put on display for members of the public, as well as students to see.

As fossil material is being constantly eroded out rocks at this site, the scientists hope to find more fossils of Titanosaurs.  In 1995, bones believed to come from the foot of a Titanosaur were also discovered in the same area.  At this stage, the researchers cannot say for certain whether these foot bones are from the same animal whose fossils were found in 2008, they can’t even be sure whether or not the foot bones and the 2008 material come from the same genus.  Still, it is very likely that more dinosaur fossils are awaiting discovery.  The dinosaur has been nick-named Sibirosaurus (lizard from Siberia), but a more formal nomenclature is expected.

A Close Up View of One of the Fossil Specimens

A close up of one of the fossilised bones.

A close up of one of the fossilised bones.

Picture Credit: Tomsk State University

The picture above shows a close up of one of the fossil remains. Although, it is difficult to make out for certain, this fossil might represent a fragment from the sacrum (fused sacral vertebrae).  The sandstone rock is extremely hard and this limits the amount of fossil material that can be removed.  Use of explosives to bring down large portions of the bank have been ruled out as the force from such an explosion would very likely damage any adjacent fossil material.  For the scientists, it is simply a question of allowing natural erosion to do its work, aided and abetted by careful manual excavation whilst hanging onto a rope ladder which dangles several metres down the near vertical bank.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“It is very likely that more dinosaur fossil remains will come from the Shestakovo locality, however, they are likely to remain highly fragmentary making species level identification very difficult.  However, this fossil material adds to our understanding about the globally distributed Titanosaurs, some of which were the largest terrestrial animals known to science.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the role of the Siberian Times in the compilation of this article.

Woolly Mammoth Genes Inserted into Asian Elephant Skin Cells

Potentially One Step Closer to Woolly Mammoth Resurrection

Researchers at Harvard Medical School led by genetics professor George Church have combined laboratory grown elephant cells with genetic material retrieved from the frozen remains of Siberian Woolly Mammoths.  The genetic material, a total of fourteen genes, was spliced into the skin cells of an Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), the closest living relative to the extinct Woolly Mammoth.  The results are promising with the altered skin cells functioning properly in their petri dish environment, but the scientists stress that cloning a viable Woolly Mammoth is still a very long way off.

Investigating the Possibility of a Return for the Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius)

Will the Woolly Mammoth return?

Will the Woolly Mammoth return?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

 Scientists from Harvard Medical School are working on a number of genetic projects, including research into the Woolly Mammoth genome.  They are however, competing against a number of other institutes including South Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in a bid to extract viable DNA from a long dead animal with a view of investigating the possibility of cloning.

The ancient genetic material was inserted into the cells using a complicated cut and splicing technique, an analogy would be to think of a film editor cutting and stitching snippets of film together so as to make a coherent movie.  The system used was CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat).  Although this work has yet to be peer reviewed and no paper has been published describing the research in detail, preliminary findings suggest that the mutated cells are functioning normally.  If this is the case, then this is the first time that Woolly Mammoth genetic material has functioned since the very last of these Ice Age creatures became extinct the best part of 4,000 years ago.  Having a established a thorough understanding of the Mammoth genome, the team focused on identifying and then adding to the elephant skin cells those genes which are responsible for the Mammoth’s adaptations to a cold climate, genes such as those for small ears, long body hair and thick layers of subcutaneous fat.

Professor Church pointed out that they were a long way off from “Mammoth de-extinction”, despite some remarkable finds in recent years, including one amazingly well-preserved female Woolly Mammoth carcase, nick-named Buttercup, that was the subject of a number of cloning documentaries that aired recently.

To read more about the Woolly Mammoth called “Buttercup”: To Clone or Not to Clone a Woolly Mammoth

The genetics laboratory is the largest research facility at Harvard University and the researchers have been responsible for a number of important genome studies in recent years.  Much of the team’s work involves studying the human genome as well as working on how to manipulate the genes of mosquitoes to help fight the spread of malaria and other diseases such as dengue fever.

Professor Church commenting on their success with the combining of elephant cells and Woolly Mammoth genes stated:

“We won’t be seeing Woolly Mammoths prancing around any time soon, because there is more work to do.  But we plan to do so.”

Splicing the DNA into the skin cells of Asian elephants is only the first step in, what will be a very long process.  The next hurdle is to find a way of turning the hybrid cells into specialised tissues, to see if they produce the correct traits and characteristics.  For example, will the genes for small ears, actually produce ears that are small and able to lose less heat.  With animal rights groups preventing the use of elephants as surrogate mothers, hybrid cells will have to be adapt to being grown in an artificial womb.  If a viable embryo is created, then it is a case of being able to bring that embryo to term and to produce a viable offspring.

Preserved Remains Like This are  Providing Woolly Mammoth Genetic Material

Mammoth steaks anyone?

Mammoth steaks anyone?

Picture Credit: Semyon Grigoriev/Mammoth Museum

If all this goes to plan and cold-adapted, hybrid elephants are produced then more and more Mammoth DNA can be introduced into subsequent generations to drive out the Asian elephant traits.  The Harvard team hope to genetically engineer an elephant that can survive in inhospitable, sparsely populated habitats, where such creatures would face fewer threats from humans.  A long term aim would be to develop herds of Woolly Mammoths, once more roaming the steppes of the northern hemisphere.

Team members at Everything Dinosaur wait to read more about this research and to see the peer reviewed comments, although we have made a wager that by 2045, a viable Woolly Mammoth will be produced somewhere in the world.  Just thirty years to go then.

Year 2 Send Thank You Letters to Everything Dinosaur

Schoolchildren Say Thanks after Dinosaur Workshop

Earlier this month, a team member from Everything Dinosaur visited Southglade Primary School to deliver a dinosaur workshop in support of Year two’s study topic all about dinosaurs.  As part of our follow up support for the teaching team, we discussed extension ideas and emailed over further resources to assist the enthusiastic teachers with their scheme of work.

One of the things discussed was to encourage the children with their writing by asking them to write a thank you letter to Everything Dinosaur.  Sure enough, a couple of days ago we received a big envelope  from Mrs Hyland containing a super set of letters.  We have enjoyed reading them all and we have posted them up onto a notice board in our warehouse.

What a Lot of Thank You Letters we Received!

Year 2 pupils send in thank you letters to Everything Dinosaur.

Year 2 pupils send in thank you letters to Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Southglade Primary School

 The children had taken great care in how they laid out their letters.  There was lots of proper addressing on display, some super, clear writing as well as effective use of punctuation.  Many of the children had incorporated some amazing vocabulary as well, words like “appreciate” and “sincerely” occasionally trip us up, so to see them used in a letter from a seven year old and spelled correctly too was fantastic!

Lots of Fantastic Letters to Read

Thank you note from Alina.

Thank you note from Alina.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Alina

Dinosaur Mike who visited the school to conduct the dinosaur and fossil themed workshop exclaimed:

“We had so many letters from the children that we had to find a big space in our warehouse to lay them all out so we could take a photograph.  My colleagues and I really enjoyed reading them and I was delighted to see just how many facts that Year 2 had remembered.”

Keira, Aiden, Ella, Amr, Joy and Theo liked looking at the fossil teeth best, whilst Jude, Alex, Grace and Ewan enjoyed learning all about Triceratops.  For Tyler and Lexi-Mai they were delighted to hear all about Tylosaurus and Lexivosaurus, prehistoric animals that have names that are like their own.

Dinosaur Themed Thank You Letter

A thank you letter from Year 2.

A thank you letter from Year 2.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Aimee

Jayden, the other little boy called Theo, Milly, Kai and Demi-Lea all wanted to know whether Everything Dinosaur will be coming back to their school to teach about dinosaurs and fossils.

Young Aimee wrote:

“Thank you for travelling to our school from a long way away today.  I was excited because we all love dinosaurs.  The fossils that we touched all felt cold and hard and I liked moving around making gigantic steps just like a dinosaur.”

Ezekiel, Gracie-Jai, Amira and  Shantel asked how our dinosaur expert came to know so much about dinosaurs?  That’s easy, he had a really enthusiastic teacher at school just like the children in Year 2.

Giant Triassic Amphibian of the Algarve

Metoposaurus algarvensis – Triassic Predator the Size of a Door

Portugal may have earned a deserved reputation for being the Jurassic dinosaur fossil capital of Europe, but more ancient sediments provide equally fascinating insights into life on our planet just as the Dinosauria were beginning to diversify and dominate terrestrial ecosystems.  Step forward (or more appropriately waddle forward), Metoposaurus algarvensis a new species added to the Metoposaurus genus described from a bone bed found in the Algarve region of southern Portugal.  A team of international scientists which include Dr. Steve Brusatte (University of Edinburgh) and J. Sébastien Steyer (Centre de Recherches en Paléobiodiversité et Paléoenvironnements, Paris), Dr.Richard Butler (Birmingham University) and Professor Octávio Mateus (Museu da Lourinhã, Portugal) have been studying the fossilised remains of several individuals that apparently died together when their lake dried up.

A Pair of Super-sized Amphibians Await Their Fate as the Lake Dries Up

Two metre long amphibious predator.

Two metre long amphibious predator.

Picture Credit: Joana Bruno

Metoposaurid fossils are known from Europe, Africa, North America and India, although this is the first time fossils relating to this genus have been discovered in the Iberian peninsula.  Some of the fossil specimens indicate that these amphibians reached lengths in excess of two metres and the shape of the skull along with other anatomical differences between the Portuguese fossils and other material known from Poland and Germany has permitted a new species to be erected.  The bone bed that contains the remains of numerous individuals, ten skulls have been excavated so far, was discovered more than thirty years ago, but not properly mapped and explored until 2009 when the dig site was relocated.  Although, these predators superficially resemble a modern salamander, scientists debate whether the Order Temnospondyli which the metoposaurids are part of, are actually closely related to extant amphibians.

The Scientists at Work Excavating the Bone Bed

Scientists carefully extract blocks containing fossil material.

Scientists carefully extract blocks containing fossil material.

Picture Credit: Steve Brusatte/Richard Butler/ Octávio Mateus/J. Sébastien Steyer

Although the mouth was large and lined with many sharp teeth, the thick-set body was supported by relatively weak limbs.  It is very likely that M. algarvensis spent a great deal of time in water, the fossils of these large amphibians are associated with strata laid down in lake or river environments (lacustrine and fluvial environments).  These animals were probably ambush predators catching fish with rapid movements of their large mouths from side to side.  They may also have ambushed unsuspecting small creatures, even some small early dinosaurs as these animals came down to the waters edge to drink.  They would have been very capable swimmers but the small legs would have made movement on land rather clumsy and awkward.

Three European species of Metoposaurus have now been described (M. diagnosticus from Germany,  M. krasiejowensis from Poland and M. algarvensis from Portugal).  Some of the German fossil specimens indicate amphibians approaching 3 metres in length, however, the majority of the Temnospondyls became extinct by the end of the Triassic.  The Portuguese bone bed evidence further supports the theory that these large animals were confined to very wet habitats with lots of freshwater and therefore the sort of areas that these creatures could live in was much more restricted when compared to the rapidly evolving reptiles such as the crocodiles and the Dinosauria.

As an Order, the Temnospondyls probably evolved sometime in the early Carboniferous and their fossils represent some of the most widely distributed terrestrial fossils recorded in Permian/Triassic strata.  Their global range seems to have been limited to low latitudes during the Middle to Late Triassic, a distribution similar to but not identical to the Phytosaurs (crocodile-like reptiles that most probably become extinct at the end of the Triassic).  Phytosaurs are Archosauriforms and provide plenty of evidence that the long-snouted, fish grabbing, swimming predator form has evolved in lots of different types of animal over the course of the history of our planet.  Their more primitive ankle configuration (when compared to extant crocodiles), did not prevent the Phytosaurs from evolving into a myriad of different forms.

However, apart from some controversial fossils, which most scientists claim are Late Triassic and not Early Jurassic the Phytosaurs along with most of the Temnospondyls were extinct by around 200 million years ago.  However, viewers of the seminal television series “Walking with Dinosaurs” will remember that in programme five “Spirits of the Silent Forest”, which focused on life in the southern polar regions around 106 million years ago, a Koolasuchus makes an appearance.    Two fossil jaws found in Victoria, Australia suggest that at least one type of Temnospondyl survived into the Cretaceous.

William Smith Map – Re-discovered

Founding Father of Geology and His Remarkable Map

One of the very first editions of arguably one of the most significant maps in the history of the study of our planet has been re-discovered.  A pristine copy of William Smith’s 1815 map of the geology of England, Wales and parts of Scotland has been found in the archives of the Geological Society (London).  It seems that the map was placed in storage, carefully sealed inside a leather wallet but just where in the vast archive it was stored had not been recorded.  Ironic really, when you consider the dedication and attention to detail shown by Smith, the son of a blacksmith who so meticulously mapped the strata of most of the British Isles.

The archives of the Geological Society are vast, after all, it is the oldest body of its kind in the world (founded in 1807).  This year marks the bicentenary of the publication of William Smith’s great geological survey, only about 370 or thereabouts were ever produced and with this re-discovery, it is estimated that at least seventy are still in existence, not bad considering this map first went into production in the same year as the battle of Waterloo.  It is believed that this particular copy last saw the light of day around forty years ago.

Indexing the map, which comprises of fifteen sections would not have been easy.  It was customary in Georgian times to use very long titles for scientific publications, a trend that in some academic institutions still exists today.  Try cataloguing a map with the catchy title of:

“A  Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland, exhibiting the collieries and mines, the marshes and fen lands originally overflowed by the sea, and the varieties of soil according to the variations in the substrata, illustrated by the most descriptive names by W. Smith.”

It is thought that William Smith, nick-named “strata-Smith” by his contemporaries spent fifteen years travelling the United Kingdom and carefully recording the rock formations exposed on the surface of the land.  His map when published, helped land owners and mining companies exploit this nation’s natural resources as the map helped surveyors identify potential areas for drainage, sites for new building work and most importantly which layers of strata indicated the presence of coal seams nearby.

Commenting on the discovery, John Henry (Chairman of the Geological Society’s History of Geology Group), stated:

“It just wasn’t where people expected it to be.  I guess the person who put it away knew where it was, but then they left and that was it, it became lost.”

Having been hidden away in the archives the map, which was printed from copper plate engravings with the details painted in with water colours, has not faded and the colours depicted are as vivid today as when the map was first completed.  Archivists are puzzling over just what number in the sequence of maps produced might this copy be?  There is the exquisite hand finished painting with the lower edge of each formation saturated and then the paint is faded to indicate the formation’s edge, a technique used by Smith to make his maps easier to read, but the map itself, unlike later editions, has no serial number.

Geologists are aware that the very first maps produced were not numbered.  Another clue as to just when this map was made can be seen in how the geology of the Isle of Wight is depicted.  Over the production period of Smith’s map, the way in which the geology of the Isle of Wight was shown changed several times.  This map shows a very early effort to map the geology of the island.  All this suggests that this particular example of cartography might be amongst the first dozen or so ever produced.

A Clue to the Age of the Map – The Strata of the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight illustrations suggests an early print.

The Isle of Wight illustrations suggests an early print.

Picture Credit: The Geological Society (London)

The Geological Society has had the map fully restored and digitised.  As from today, it will be available to view on line on the Geological Society’s website.  This copy of the map itself will be stored back in the archives, this time properly catalogued.  A paper copy of the “Smith map” will be put on display in Burlington House, (London) the home of the Geological Society.

The Beautifully Illustrated Geological Map of the Cotswolds (William Smith)

Beautifully illustrated geological map.

Beautifully illustrated geological map.

Picture Credit: The Geological Society (London)

To see the map and other important geological images on line: The Picture Library of the Geological Society

Now, we at Everything Dinosaur don’t want to be cynical but today, March 23rd, is the anniversary of the birth of William Smith.  He was born on this day in 1769 in the county of Oxfordshire.  We think the timing of this announcement regarding the re-discovery has a lot to do with publicising an event taking place later on today, when Sir David Attenborough will be unveiling a plaque in tribute to the “Father of English Geology” at his former London residence – 15 Buckingham Street.  During his life, as William Smith strived to forge a reputation amongst academics, his lowly beginnings as the son of a blacksmith meant that his views and findings were often disregarded by those who perceived themselves to be of a higher class.  Class distinctions blighted the lives of many pioneers in geology and palaeontology during the Georgian and Victorian times.  However, William Smith and his contribution to our understanding of the world is now recognised and his map of England, Wales and parts of Scotland remains one of the most significant maps ever produced.

Why was the Map So Important?

The map certainly helped landowners and that part of Georgian society that owned mines.  It helped stoke (literally) the Industrial Revolution but it did something else, as William Smith traversed the British Isles making his map, he noticed that certain types of sedimentary rock, although far apart contained the same types of fossils.  We shall let John Henry explain just how significant this realisation was:

“The concept which enabled him to do the mapping and that drove him along almost obsessively was this realisation that specific fossils were unique to a specific stratum, and that you knew where you were in a sequence if you could see what the fossils were.  That was the breakthrough.  People had been collecting them for a long time and naming them in the Linnaean way, but without any real idea that they were in a sequence.  But Smith knew it.”

Smith explored the deep excavations taking place as canals and other major works were being constructed and found that he could correlate apparently dissimilar and geographically dispersed strata based on the fact that they contained similar fossils.  Going up through the strata, William Smith observed a succession of different fossils and proposed that each stage of this succession represented a specific period in the history of the Earth.  This is termed the “principle of faunal succession”.  In this way, the relative age of rocks could be determined and the types of fossils that characterise strata led to the concept of biostratigraphy.  Smith developed and built on the idea of a Law of Superposition, postulated by the great scientist Nicolas (sometimes spelled as Nicolaus), Steno in the 17th Century.

To read more about the work of Nicolas Steno: Google Doodle Commemorates Nicolas Steno

The 1815 Geological Map of England, Wales and Parts of Scotland

Can you see the geology in your part of the world?

Can you see the geology in your part of the world?

Picture Credit: The Geological Society (London)

Originally produced as a map in fifteen sheet sections, the geological map of the British Isles (most of it) measures approximately 180 cm by 250 cm.  We at Everything Dinosaur, don’t know why northern Scotland was not mapped by Smith, we suspect it was much more difficult to travel the highlands and islands of northern Scotland and during the early 19th Century, there was simply not the demand for detailed geological maps of that part of the British Isles.

Spring Low Tides Uncover French Dinosaur Footprints

The Dinosaur Footprints at Veillon Beach (Vendée)

The low tides brought about as a result of the spring equinox has exposed a remarkable series of Early Jurassic trace fossils, giving residents of the town of Talmont-Saint-Hilaire the chance to go “Walking with Dinosaurs”.  The exceptional low tides on France’s North Atlantic coast have revealed 200 million year old footprints as well as ripple marks preserved in the mudstone and sandstone which were laid down at the very beginning of the Jurassic (Hettangian faunal stage).  The site represents an estuary, or shallow bay area and this was criss-crossed by many different types of dinosaurs.  Hundreds of footprints have been recorded, a large number have been removed to prevent further damage by erosion, but at very low tides, especially in the spring when the seaweed and algae growth is not extensive, many three-toed prints can still be seen.

“Walking with Dinosaurs” – Some of the Footprints Revealed at Low Tide

One of the many three-toed prints that can be seen at very low tide.

One of the many three-toed prints that can be seen at very low tide.

Picture Credit: GeoWiki

The site was discovered in 1963 by a local engineer and chemist Gilbert Bessonnat, but it was not until March 1965 when a team of French palaeontologists mapped the area in earnest that the full significance of the location was revealed.  The mapping project begun on March 19th that year, taking advantage of the very low tide associated with the spring equinox, allowed the scientists to discover what has turned out to be the largest single concentration of dinosaur ichnofauna in the whole of France.  Dinosaur trace fossils from the Lower Jurassic are exceptionally rare, the site is protected and no fossil collecting is allowed.  After all, the sandstones and mudstones preserved here record terrestrial life shortly after the End Triassic extinction event, those footprints were made some fifty million years before the likes of Stegosaurus and Diplodocus and other iconic Jurassic dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

In all, about a dozen different ichnospecies have been identified, including large and small Theropods.  Some footprints may not represent dinosaurs, for example, some trace fossils have been assigned to the Order Rauisuchia and ascribed to the Postosuchus genus (a type of ancient, terrestrial Crocodylomorph).  Ichnospecies associated with the site include: Eubrontes veillonensis tentatively described as a Megalosaur, Talmontopus tersi which could be a bipedal Ornithischian dinosaur and several dinosaurs assigned to the coelophysids (ichnogenus Grallator).

It seems that low tides on the North Atlantic coast of France, are providing scientists with a unique opportunity to learn about life in the Early Jurassic, well at least over the spring and autumn equinox anyway.

A Close Up of One of the Many Hundreds of Dinosaur Footprints Preserved at the Site

This print has been assigned to the ichnospecies Eubrontes.

This print has been assigned to the ichnospecies Eubrontes.

Picture Credit: GeoWiki

The Crocodile Problem of Costa Rica

Latest Attack on Surfer Highlights Growing Crocodile Problem

The number of crocodiles inhabiting the mangrove swamps, rivers and estuaries of Costa Rica continue to give the local authorities cause for concern.  The problem of potential fatal attacks by American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) was highlighted again this month after a surfer narrowly escaped the jaws of a crocodile whist waiting to catch a wave  near the mouth of the Tamarindo estuary on the county’s Pacific coast.  Apparently, the crocodile had swam down river out into the estuary and it grabbed the surfer’s leg.  The surfer, identified as Canadian Val Muscalu, was able to free his foot from the crocodile’s jaws and escape.  This is the second reported crocodile attack in the Tamarindo Bay area in the last two years.

The American crocodile is widely distributed throughout the tropical areas of the New World. It ranges from Florida to the Caribbean, including Cuba. It is also found in southern Mexico,  Guatemala through to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Isthmus of Panama and the most northerly parts of South America.  Males can grow up to more than five metres in length and American crocodiles can be distinguished from Alligators and other large species of Crocodylians as they tend to have a proportionately smaller, more narrow snout.  Attacks on people and livestock are rare, but Costa Rica has seen a dramatic rise in crocodile attacks over the last few years and this has been put down to the feeding of crocodiles as part river tours.

A Picture of an American Crocodile (C. acutus)

Long-snouted crocodile that prefers brackish, salty water.

Long-snouted crocodile that prefers brackish, salty water.

Picture Credit: Lindsay Fendt/The Tico Times

Tourism plays a significant role in the economy of Costa Rica and as American crocodiles are able to tolerate brackish water and even seem to prefer salt-water habitats.  As a result, attacks on people who come to explore the beaches and the surrounding coastlines are always a possibility.   The crocodile suspected of carrying out the attack, will remain in the estuary according to officials from Costa Rica’s National Park Service (SINAC).  There had been calls from hotel owners and locals to have the crocodile removed, but as the estuary is part of a national park, crocodiles cannot be relocated without scientific evidence of overpopulation.

Commenting on the potential conflict between humans and crocodiles, Rotney Piedra, the administrator of Las Baulas National Marine Park, just up the coast from where the attack took place stated:

“The Tamarindo Estuary that leads into the mangrove forest is a protected area.  We can’t remove crocodiles, but we want to work with the community to manage the issue.”

Back in April last year, a fatality occurred at the Tárcoles River, located on the eastern side of the Gulf of Nicoya, some forty miles to the south-east of the latest surfer attack.  A man, who was apparently drunk, attempted to swim near the main river bridge.  A crocodile grabbed the swimmer and despite the efforts of onlookers, the victim, later identified as Omar de Jesús Jirón was killed.  His body has not been recovered.

A four-part plan is being implemented by authorities to try and reduce such incidents.  It is hoped that SINAC will be able to educate the local community and tourists about crocodile behaviour.  More warning signs are being posted up at the mouth of the river, replacing those that were stolen, most probably by tourists looking for an unusual souvenir from their stay.   A helpline is being set up to help the authorities to be alerted when crocodiles stray out of the park, these animals can then be relocated.  In addition, a survey is being conducted to try to determine whether the estuary is over populated.

Perhaps most importantly of all, the officials from SINAC hope to educate river tour operators not to feed the crocodiles as part of their crocodile spotting river cruises.  These river trips are very popular with tourists and provide a significant boost to the economy, but by feeding the crocodiles, on some occasions, hand-feeding them, these reptiles begin to associate humans with food and this could lead to further attacks.

Although the American crocodile is not regarded as a very aggressive species, hand-feeding these animals could be modifying their natural behaviour and making them much less afraid of humans and more likely to approach.

American Crocodile Posing an Increasing Threat to the Tourist Industry of Costa Rica

Adverse publicity about crocodile attacks could impact upon the country's tourist industry.

Adverse publicity about crocodile attacks could impact upon the country’s tourist industry.

Picture Credit: Lindsay Fendt/The Tico Times

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur explained:

“Although American crocodile attacks are statistically very rare and the American crocodile is not known for its aggressive behaviour, not when compared to the likes of the Nile crocodile or the Estuarine for example.  These animals can grow up to five metres in length and at a little over a metre long they would be capable of causing very serious injury should a person be grabbed by one.”

Heasandford Primary School Year 1 – Dinosaurs

Lower Key Stage 1 Study Dinosaurs

Year 1 children at Heasandford Primary school in Lancashire have been studying dinosaurs this term and all three classrooms had lots of dinosaur themed displays.  Everything Dinosaur was invited into the school to conduct a series of dinosaur and prehistoric animal workshops with the three classes of Year 1 pupils.  One of the first things seen as we discussed the intended teaching outcomes for the day, was a clever display posted up in one of the classrooms that showed the differences between fiction and non-fiction texts.

Learning All About Different Types of Books

Helping to learn the difference between fiction and non-fiction texts

Helping to learn the difference between fiction and non-fiction texts

Picture Credit: Heasandford Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

Using dinosaurs as a template to help the children to learn about different types of books is very clever.  During the course of the term topic, the Year 1 children were given plenty of opportunities to undertake creative writing.  In addition, the children were challenged to produce their own fact books based on their favourite dinosaurs.  Our dinosaur expert spent some time over lunch looking at one of these dinosaur fact books that had been produced.  Allosaurus seems to have been this budding young palaeontologist’s favourite dinosaur, there was even a model of Allosaurus made from green tissue included in the book, along with lots of prehistoric animal facts and dinosaur drawings.  With the aid of one of the enthusiastic teaching assistants, some children had even taken photographs of fossils.  We compared these pictures with some photographs of fossils in a magazine that we just happened to have with us.

Children Produce Non-Fiction Texts All About Dinosaurs

Colourful books all about dinosaurs demonstrate lots of independent learning.

Colourful books all about dinosaurs demonstrate lots of independent learning.

Picture Credit: Heasandford Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

Some of the children had even brought dinosaur toys to show our expert.  Some of these proved to be just the job when it came to explaining about different types of dinosaur such as Apatosaurus and Triceratops.  This Burnley based school is one of the largest primary schools in England.  There are twenty-one classes at the moment, and the size and scale of the school enables it to be at the very heart of the local community.  With each Year group being made up of three classes, this sets the dedicated teaching team some challenges but there was plenty of evidence to demonstrate that despite the large numbers of children at the school, there was a really strong cohesion between all the classes.  The teaching teams and their learning support providers co-ordinate schemes of work to ensure that every pupil has the opportunity to learn in a safe, stimulating and enthusiastic environment.  For example, all three classes had produced some wonderful silhouette paintings of different prehistoric animals as the children explored different types of media.  These paintings made very colourful displays.

Colourful Paintings on Display

Effective use of different media.

Effective use of different media.

Picture Credit: Heasandford Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

One of the benefits of having an expert from Everything Dinosaur visit, is that there is an opportunity to discuss extension activities to help support learning.  Whilst one class was outside busy calculating the length of a Stegosaurus, we took the chance to explore one of the dinosaur museums that the children had created in the classrooms.  There was lots of evidence on display of the varied and stimulating activities that the children had been undertaking.

One of the Dinosaur Museums in a Classroom

Year 1 classes create their own dinosaur museums.

Year 1 classes create their own dinosaur museums.

Picture Credit: Heasandford Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

As part of our follow up work with the school we emailed over some further information on the prehistoric animals that the children had learned about over the course of the day.  We even set them one or two of our special “pinkie palaeontologist challenges”, one of which included comparing Tyrannosaurus rex teeth to bananas, a great way to support the numeracy elements of the teaching scheme of work.  Could the children produce a table of their results?  Could they create a graph and plot the data?

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