Dinosaur Britain – Part 2 Reviewed

A Review of Dinosaur Britain – Part 2

The second part of Maverick TV’s “Dinosaur Britain” aired on terrestrial television last night (ITV1).  Once again, presenter Ellie Harrison was joined by palaeontologist and author Dean Lomax on an exploration of Britain’s dinosaur fauna.  However, unlike the first programme with its emphasis very much on English dinosaurs, the two, intrepid investigators travelled into Scotland and Wales to help reveal some of the ancient animals that roamed these parts of the British Isles.

Plucky Ellie, who had coped with a very claustrophobic slate mine in programme one, was tasked with manning a row boat on Loch Ness.  No Nessie to be seen, but an opportunity to introduce the idea that whilst dinosaurs dominated terrestrial habitats during the Mesozoic, the seas surrounding the land masses that were ultimately to become Britain, once teemed with marine reptiles such as Plesiosaurs.  This had been touched upon in the first part of this two-part documentary series, when the idea of Ichthyosaurs feeding on the carcases of drowned armoured dinosaurs was discussed and it was good to see the storyline brought up to the present when on the beach at Lyme Regis, the presenters were shown Ichthyosaur vertebrae and a small bone, potentially from an Early Jurassic Plesiosaur.

Dinosaur Britain – Fossil Hunting in the UK

A Typical Ammonite - but not all types of this Cephalopod had coiled shells

A typical Jurassic Ammonite from Lyme Regis (Arnioceras – we think)

If the objective of the television programmes was to demonstrate the diversity of British Dinosauria and to encourage people to try fossil hunting for themselves, then appetites were certainly whetted when some of the children’s fossil finds were shown, Ellie Harrison seemed genuinely excited to have found some Belemnite guards.

Back to the dinosaurs and viewers were treated to a view of a Sauropod wandering around Edinburgh, part of a segment that explained the importance of the Isle of Skye in terms of its contribution to our understanding of the dinosaurs of the Jurassic.  Steve Brusatte, (University of Edinburgh) enthusiastically introduced more dinosaur fossils from the British Isles.  Steve is an American and we teased him last night when tweeting about seeing him discussing dinosaurs from this side of the Atlantic, when it is usually the dinosaurs known from the United States that tend to grab all the attention.  Steve took our gentle teasing in good spirit and he reminded us that it is because of British dinos that Steve has such a fantastic job!

On the Isle of Skye, Dean explained to Ellie that the tri-dactyl footprint he had located on the beach was very much a case of “walking with dinosaurs” and this led to a viewing of a tiny dinosaur footprint, less than two centimetres in diameter.  The fossilised print was discovered in Score Bay (Isle of Skye) and is thought to be the smallest dinosaur footprint ever found in Europe.  Slightly bigger prints were revealed on a visit to a beach on the southern side of the Isle of Wight.  These tracks were made by Iguanodonts, we suspect that the ones shown were examples of the natural casts from the foreshore of Hanover Point.  Cue an opportunity to introduce all-round good guy Darren Naish (vertebrate palaeontologist and science writer), who outlined some of the pathology found on the fossilised bones of the huge predator Neovenator and this dinosaur’s potential prey the Ornithopod Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis.   The resulting CGI showed the Neovenator accumulating all its injuries in just a few seconds as it pursued its victim, a little unlikely, but the important message here for the viewer, so eloquently relayed by Darren, is that the fossilised remains of long extinct animals can provide scientists with an insight into potential predator/prey interactions.

Interpreting the Evidence – Dorsal Vertebrae Assigned to M. atherfieldensis

Forensic examination of dinosaur bones can help to tell the story of the lives of long extinct animals.

Forensic examination of dinosaur bones can help to tell the story of the lives of long extinct animals.

Picture Credit: “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”

The picture above shows two fossil back bones (dorsal vertebrae) from the Ornithopod Mantellisaurus found in association with the Theropod Neovenator (N. salerii).  The bone on the left shows normal morphology with a tall, rectangular shaped neural spine.  The bone on the right shows a traumatic injury on the neural spine (see inset).   Bone re-growth in the area indicates that this iguanodontid lived for some time after this injury.

These pictures come from the excellent “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” book written by Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura.  This book provides a comprehensive overview of the dinosaurs of the entire British Isles and is highly recommended.

To learn more about “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” and to purchase: “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”

Presenters Ellie Harrison and Dean Lomax

Dean guides Ellie through a dinosaur dominated Britain.

Programme two – features Cetiosaurus, Proceratosaurus, Iguanodontids, Stegosaurs, Neovenator and even little Echinodon is depicted.

Picture Credit: ITV

Just one small point that was noted by a colleague, many of the measurements provided for the dinosaurs were given in feet.  Old timers like the staff at Everything Dinosaur are well used to this, but with this programme aimed at a family audience including children, would very young viewers appreciate the size and scale of these prehistoric beasties when imperial measurements were used in some cases?  Perhaps not, although the CGI showing the armoured Dacentrurus wandering the galleries of the Natural History Museum and the tiny Echinodon attacking a sandwich at least gave viewers an opportunity to gauge size for themselves.

Time to introduce one of the earliest members of the Tyrannosauroidea clade, Proceratosaurus a very distant relative of the famous Tyrannosaurus rex.  Ms Harrison was surprised to learn that this three metre long Theropod once roamed around her home county of Gloucestershire.

To conclude the second programme, the viewer was brought right up to date and introduced to the very latest dinosaur to be added to the compendium of British dinosaurs.  Found in Lower Jurassic rocks at Lavernock Point (Vale of Glamorgan, Wales), Dr. Dave Martill (University of Portsmouth), showed off a remarkable fossil discovery, the partial skeleton of a small, agile meat-eating dinosaur that might turn out to be the oldest dinosaur specimen ever found in Jurassic aged strata.  It was pleasing to see plenty of feathered Theropods throughout the two programmes.

A few days ago, Everything Dinosaur reported on the finding of more fossil bones associated with this specimen: Putting the Welsh Theropod on a Firmer Footing

It seems that there are more dinosaurs awaiting discovery in the rocks of the British Isles.  Thanks to Maverick TV the British public has gained an appreciation of our rich dinosaur heritage.  A quick nod to the schedulers, the earlier start time of 8pm would have been appreciated by mums and dads.  Showing the programme an hour earlier than the first episode would have permitted more children to stay up and watch.

Let’s leave the last word to Dean, who summed up this two-part documentary succinctly:

“Despite Britain playing a pivotal role in the development and understanding of dinosaurs and palaeontology worldwide, in a modern capacity Britain has somewhat been overlooked.  Personally, I feel that Dinosaur Britain is a huge opportunity to put us on the map for dinosaur discoveries, tell the unique story it has and most importantly enthuse people of all ages to learn more about British palaeontology.  Who knows, Dinosaur Britain may just be the very programme that inspires future British palaeontologists.”

Well said.

The Oldest Known Eurypterid

Not Jaws but Claws Pentecopterus decorahensis

Named after an ancient Greek ship (penteconter) which was renowned for its speed and agility, a new and somewhat surprising addition to the mega-fauna of the Middle Ordovician has been described in a paper published in the academic journal “BMC Evolutionary Biology – Bio Med Centre”.  Enter Pentecopterus decorahensis (pent-tee-kop-ter-rus dek-kor-rah-en-sis), which at around 1.7 metres in length suggests that this was an apex predator of the brackish, shallow marine environment represented by shale deposits located in north-east Iowa (United States).

A Very Fearsome Arthropod – P. decorahensis

Ancient predator of the Middle Ordovician.

Ancient predator of the Middle Ordovician.

Picture Credit: Patrick Lynch/Yale University

This armour-plated, marine predator is a member of the Order Eurypterida, an extinct group of Arthropods distantly related to spiders and lobsters.  These creatures are often referred to as sea scorpions as they are distantly related to modern-day scorpions too.  With its streamlined body, grasping limbs for trapping prey and large, well-protected head this formidable carnivore would have dined on a variety of invertebrates as well as jawless fishes.  The fossils are part of the extraordinary Winneshiek Lagerstätte fauna (Iowa) and have been dated to around 467 million years ago (Darriwilian faunal stage of the Middle Ordovician).  Something in excess of 250 different eurypterid species have been described, but only eleven species have been documented from the Ordovician (488-443 million years ago) to date.  P. decorahensis is the oldest known, extending the documented range of the eurypterids by more than nine million years.

Commenting on the fossils, James Lamsdell of Yale University and the lead author of the study stated:

“This shows that eurypterids evolved some ten million years earlier than we thought and the relationship of the new animal to other eurypterids shows that they must have been very diverse during this early time of their evolution, even though they are very rare in the fossil record.”

Some of the Fossil Specimens that have been Found

Examples of fossil specimens.

Examples of fossil specimens, scale bars = 1o mm

Picture Credit: Lamsdell et al

The highly fossiliferous strata was discovered by an Iowa Geological Survey team (University of Iowa), close to the Upper Iowa River.  A temporary dam had to be constructed to allow the fossil site to be excavated. More than 150 fossils of Pentecopterus have been found, many of them representing juveniles.

University of Yale palaeontologist Derek Briggs, a co-author of the study explained that the shale deposits represent an ecosystem that became established when the sea flooded a meteorite impact crater some three miles across.  The weak currents coupled with the oxygen depleted bottom contributed to the remarkable state of preservation of the fossil material.  Even tiny hairs on the limbs can still be seen.

Although, enormous for an Arthropod, it is not the biggest eurypterid known, Everything Dinosaur has reported on a number of very large fossil sea scorpions

To read more about giant eurypterids: Giant Eurypterid Tracks Discovered in Scotland

Giant Devonian Sea Scorpion: Claws! of the Devonian

The largest living member of this Phylum today is the Japanese spider crab (Macrocheira kaempferi), the diameter of the legs of the largest males can be in excess of 3.5 metres and some specimens have weighed more than fifteen kilogrammes.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“Thanks to the remarkable Winneshiek Lagerstätte scientists have been able to look into a window of marine life from some 467 million years ago.  Anyone taking a dip in the brackish waters that linked this part of Iowa to the seas surrounding the ancient land mass of Laurentia had better watch out.  This was one Arthropod capable of giving you more than just a “nip” with its claws.”

Dinosaur Britain – Part 1

Dinosaur Britain – Part 1 – Quick Review

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History might not be the same again after one of its most famous items in the collection, the Megalosaurus bucklandii came to life and pursued a cyclist down the high street.  Just one of the scenarios acted out tonight in the very informative “Dinosaur Britain” which was aired on ITV1 this evening.  This was the first part in a two-part documentary made by Maverick TV which sets out to explore the rich dinosaur heritage of the British Isles.

Dinosaur Britain – Bank Holiday Family Entertainment

Bringing British dinosaurs to life!

Bringing British dinosaurs to life!

Picture Credit: Maverick TV

Aimed very much at a family audience, the first programme sees presenter Ellie Harrison going on a tour of the United Kingdom to learn about some of the amazing dinosaurs that once roamed this part of the world.  Even today, we at Everything Dinosaur estimate that, one in twenty of all the dinosaurs known to science is represented by fossils found in the British Isles, that’s about one hundred different species and what an eclectic bunch they are.

Ellie is guided on her tour of Britain’s dinosaurs by our chum Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist who has recently written an excellent book entitled “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”, so he is ably qualified to assist Ms Harrison on her quest to learn about these amazing reptiles.

For further information on “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”: Siri Scientific Press

After a close encounter with Baryonyx in the Natural History Museum, Ellie meets up with a Megalosaurus, which does look a little out of place scavenging a council bin for a quick snack.  After all, Oxfordshire has changed quite a bit in the 167 million years ago since Megalosaurus was around.

Megalosaurus on the Prowl

A new hazard for cyclists around the Oxford area.

A new hazard for cyclists around the Oxford area.

Picture Credit: Maverick TV

Then it’s to South London to view the Crystal Palace dinosaur sculptures and to hand feed an Iguanodon, the CGI permitting viewers to see for themselves how our interpretations of the Dinosauria have changed since the time of the Great Exhibition.  Britain’s own “raptor” Nuthetes destructor, the name means “destroyer monitor”, makes an appearance, strangely enough at Stonehenge, although the fossils were found on the Isle of Purbeck (Dorset), cue more running for Dean and Ellie.  Good to see feathers on our turkey-sized dromaeosaurids.

Perhaps, for us the best part of the programme concerned the Early Jurassic armoured dinosaur Scelidosaurus.  The fossil specimen, part of the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery collection is truly remarkable and who better to talk to about it than David Sole, the Dorset fossil collector who discovered the fossils back in 2000.  Professor Mike Benton is our guide at the Bristol Museum, he explains how this beautiful dinosaur fossil came to be preserved in such an amazing articulated state.

Claim to fame for Everything Dinosaur, we supply the Scelidosaurus models for the Museum’s shop.

Scelidosaurus Model

A model of a Scelidosaurus.

A model of a Scelidosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To read more about Scelidosaurus: Britain’s Most Complete Dinosaur Fossil Discovered to Date

The programme blended dinosaur facts and entertainment quite well in our opinion.  The focus for part one was very much on English dinosaurs, expect other parts of the British Isles to get more of a look in with the second programme which is scheduled to be shown tomorrow at 8pm.

Our congratulations to the programme makers, it is good to see that “British dinosaurs” are getting a share of the limelight.

Will We Ever Know All the Dinosaurs?

How Good is the Fossil Record of the Dinosaurs

With something like 1,200 different genera of dinosaur now described, our knowledge of the Dinosauria has increased a great deal, especially over the last twenty years or so.  Many different types of dinosaur have been discovered and we at Everything Dinosaur try to keep a database using this blog.  For example, since the beginning of July, we have written articles about a newly discovered, very bird-like oviraptorid from southern China (Huanansaurus ganzhouensis), North America’s latest Ceratopsian discovery (Wendiceratops), the new dromaeosaurid from Liaoning Province (Zhenyuanlong suni) and most recently, the basal Sauropod Pulanesaura from South Africa.  Just over the weekend, we reported on a giant horned dinosaur skull from South Dakota that might well turn out to be a new species of Centrosaurine, albeit, one that would be very closely related to Triceratops.

However, will palaeontologists ever be able to create a definitive list of all the dinosaurs?  What percentage of the Dinosauria will ever be known?  Scientists at Bristol University have set about trying to find out by assessing just how good the fossil record for the dinosaurs actually is.

So Many Different Types of Dinosaurs Described

So many different types of dinosaur.

So many different types of dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Trying to Calculate How Good the Dinosaur Fossil Record Is

Professor Mike Benton of the University of Bristol, set out to assess how good the fossil record is for the Dinosauria and for early Tetrapods in a bid to answer the question as to whether the fossil record adequately represents the patterns of diversity of animals through time.  A number of other authors have attempted to assess the quality of the fossil record and in this new study, published in the journal “Palaeontology”, the journal of the Palaeontological Association, Professor Benton set out to plot how the knowledge of dinosaurs has been accumulated since the first scientific description (Megalosaurus) back in 1824.  The research does not provide a definitive answer with regards to how representative the vertebrate fossil record actually is, but this study does suggest caution needs to be taken when using some popular methods to try and remove bias from the known fossil record of the Dinosauria as well as the other Tetrapods included in the analysis.

Plotting the Number of New Species Named Against the Number of Newly Discovered Fossil Bearing Formations

Number of species against number of new fossil bearing formations.

Number of species against number of new fossil bearing formations.

Graph Credit: Bristol University

Professor Benton explained:

“In the past ten years, many palaeontologists have tried to find the true pattern of evolution by using measures of sampling to estimate where the fossil record is well known or poorly known.  But it turns out that many of the popular methods are not doing what they are supposed to.”

The Bristol-based palaeontologist plotted the history of research into the Dinosauria from 1820 to the present day.  He logged the number of new species described and how the patterns of discovery match the patterns of discovery of new geological formations.  He noted that the patterns of discovery are closely linked, one or two new dinosaurs for each fossil-bearing geological formation that is newly explored.

More Fossil Bearing Geological Formations Discovered = More Dinosaurs Described

If there is a significant link between the number of dinosaurs described and the number of new geological formations discovered then how does this connection work?  This link can be explained in two ways:

  1. Rock formation discoveries drives dinosaur fossil finds
  2. Dinosaur fossil finds drives the discovery of new fossil-bearing formations

The usual view is that (1) is correct, that rocks drive fossil finds.  Palaeontologists are keen to find new dinosaur species, but the new species could only be found if they explored new rock formations around the world.  It could be argued that our ability to discover new types of dinosaurs (or any fossil group for that matter) is dependent on the availability of suitable rock formations to explore.

Plotting the Link between Early Tetrapod Discoveries and Rock Formations

Early Tetrapod discoveries 1820-2015.

Early Tetrapod discoveries 1820-2015.

Graph Credit: Bristol University

The graph above shows the same relationship in early Tetrapod fossil discoveries from 1820 to the present day, but if there is a causal relationship between fossil finds and formations then how does this relationship work?

The opposite view is that fossil discoveries drives the search for new rock formations.  Palaeontologists set out to look for new dinosaurs in a very focused and disciplined way.  When new dinosaurs are found they would often add a new dinosaur-bearing formation to the known list.  In this case, the limiting factor is not simply the availability of suitable rock formations to explore because scientists do not search systematically but they go straight to areas when they hear there are bones to be excavated.

Professor Benton added:

“I have been worried for a while that some of the popular correction methods actually make things worse.  By removing the numerical signal of the formations, localities or collections they were actually removing a huge amount of real information, and producing a resulting curve that is meaningless.  The fossil record is clearly incomplete, and it is clearly biased by many factors, but many of the supposedly “corrected” diversity curves we have seen recently may actually be further from the truth than the raw data.”

This new analysis does not provide us with a definitive answer as to the diversity of the Dinosauria, or indeed, for any other fossil group of vertebrates.  However, we can infer from what we already have discovered that there are very probably a lot of weird and wonderful dinosaurs yet to be found.  It is not possible to state that we, after 195 years of research (1820 to 2015), have identified 10%, 50% or even 1% of all the types of dinosaurs that have ever existed, such statements by their very nature are likely to be invalid.  This new research does provide a clearer picture of why there is such a close correlation between dinosaur species numbers with formations, localities or collections.  The numbers of all four are connected because they are all telling much the same story, they are measuring the same history of life on Earth and our knowledge.  Professor Benton concludes that it is not possible to isolate one or other of these measures and then try to use it as an independent yardstick for sampling.

There is one certainty, well, it’s almost a certainty.  New types of dinosaur will be discovered in the future and if the graph developed by Professor Benton is anything to go by, a lot of new dinosaurs (at least compared to the historical data), will be discovered in the next few years and Everything Dinosaur will do its best to blog about them.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of a Bristol University press release in the compilation of this article.

Stem Acrodontan Lizard – The First of Its Kind from South America

Revising Lizard Evolution in Gondwana

The Squamata (lizards and snakes), might be the most diverse and specious of all the extant reptiles but their evolutionary history remains a mystery.  The preservation potential of these reptiles can vary dependent on the characteristics of the ancient ecosystems which they inhabited.  In addition, the small size of many of the early species of lizard and snake makes finding fossilised bones and other clues as to the history of this Order all the more difficult.  However, a team of scientists including Tiago R. Simões (Dept of Biological Science, University of Alberta), have published a paper in the journal “Nature Communications” that sheds light on the evolution of the iguanas and their near relatives.

The family of extant reptiles known as the iguanians (iguanas and agamids) are one of the most diverse and widespread type of lizard today.  However, like other types of lizard, their evolutionary origins are uncertain.  There are two main divisions within this family, firstly there is a sub-group called the acrodonts, these lizards have no root or socket to their teeth and the teeth are attached to the top of the jaw bones.  In the other sub-group, the pleurodonts they do not have roots on their teeth either, but instead the teeth attach to the inside portion of the jaw.

Acrodont iguanians are confined to the Old World, while pleurodont iguanians are found only in the Americas.  A newly described fossil however, breaks this pattern.  The international team of scientists have published a paper on a Late Cretaceous acrodont iguanian, the oldest known New World acrodont iguanian.

An Illustration of the First New World Acrodont Iguanian – G. sulamericana

The fossils date from around 80 million years ago.

The fossils date from around 80 million years ago.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

The fossils, including the holotype material, a partial lower jaw come from the Goio-Erê Formation, exposed near Cruzeiro do Oeste, in Paraná State, southern Brazil.  Fossils found in this locality represent an arid, very dry environment dominated by Pterosaurs and large dinosaurs.  However, scurrying around the hot, desert-like environment was a short, rather stubby lizard.  It has been named Gueragama sulamericana, which translates from the local dialect and Portuguese as “ancient agama from South America”.

The discovery of these fossils of an ancient, New World acrodont means that in the distant past, lizards with the acrodont dentition had a worldwide distribution and were very probably widespread across the ancient landmass of Gondwana.

The Holotype Jaw Fossil (Various Views)

An ancient toothy lizard.

An ancient toothy lizard.

Picture Credit: Universidade do Contestado, Santa Catarina, Brazil.

Scale bar in the picture = 2mm.

A number of questions have been raised with this discovery, for example, if only the pleurodont iguanians are found in the New World today, then what happened to the acrodonts that once lived in this part of the world too?

Lead author of the scientific paper, Tiago R. Simões stated:

“It becomes clear acrodontan iguanians migrated throughout the southern continents much earlier than previously thought (actually reaching regions where they do not inhabit today) by the order of tens of millions of years.”

This new research extends the fossil diversity of Late Cretaceous Brazil and suggests that the arid deserts of this part of the world may have supported a greater range of lizards than previously thought.  The scientists hope to find more lizard fossils, including material representing Gueragama so that they will be better able to understand the evolution and radiation of the stem acrodontans.  As for the date given to the G. sulamericana fossil material, we at Everything Dinosaur estimate these fossils to be more than 80 million years of age.  The strata which makes up this part of the Goio-Erê Formation is believed to date from the Turonian to the early Campanian faunal stages of the Late Cretaceous (90-80 million years ago, approximately).

Late Cretaceous South America

South America in the Late Cretaceous

South America in the Late Cretaceous

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

Between the Aptian/Albian faunal stages and the Campanian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous, sphenodontians were thought to be the dominate animals filling the iguanian niche.  Sphenodontian fossils have been found in northern Patagonia, in the provinces of Chubut (Tres Cerros), Río Negro (Los Alamitos, Cerro Tortuga, Cerro Bonaparte and La Buitrera) and Neuquén (El Chocón), these discoveries are represented by black circles on the map above.  Lizards were present in the state of Ceará in north-eastern Brazil (Araripe Basin), as well as in the south-eastern/southern states of Minas Gerais (Peirópolis), São Paulo (Marília and Presidente Prudente) and Paraná (Cruzeiro do Oeste), and in the province of Río Negro (Cinco Saltos and La Buitrera), Argentina, represented by yellow stars on the map. The red star indicates the type locality of G. sulamericana in southern Brazil.

Recently, Everything Dinosaur reported on another Brazilian Squamata fossil discovery.  Spotted by chance on a tour of a German museum, scientists have identified the first example of a four-footed snake, an animal believed to be a transitional creature between limbed lizards and true snakes.

To read this article: Fossil Snake with Four Limbs Described

Super-sized Ceratopsian Skull Might be New Species

Horned Dinosaur Skull Found in South Dakota Might Be New Species

The small town in Buffalo in the north-west of South Dakota was so named as back in the 19th Century vast herds of buffalo (American bison), roamed across this part of the world.  However, another type of horned animal has got local townsfolk excited, one that would have dwarfed even the largest of today’s hoofed giants, a very-well preserved partial skull and jaws of a huge horned dinosaur which might turn out to be a new species.

Fossil collector and dealer Alan Detrich purchased the dinosaur skull found in Harding County from another fossil collector John Carter back in 2012, but it has taken more than two and a half years to prepare the specimen ready for sale.  When the fossil skull and lower jaw were first excavated it was thought that the bones represented a very large specimen of Triceratops (T. horridus).  However, with the fossil completely exposed, Alan along with Neal Larson (Larson Paleontology Ltd) who was tasked with preparing the fossil, believe that this could be a brand new species of horned dinosaur.

Alan Detrich with the Burlap and Plaster Specimen After Transport (2012)

The fossilised skull in its protective burlap and plaster jacket.

The fossilised skull in its protective burlap and plaster jacket.

Picture Credit: Rapid City Journal

Over the last fifteen years or so, a number of new North American horned dinosaurs have been named and described, however, if proved to represent a new species, this dinosaur skull could be heralded as one of the most spectacular dinosaur discoveries of all, the nasal horn alone measures nearly forty-five centimetres long and the skull itself is over 1.82 metres in length.

Commenting on the unusually large nasal horn, Alan Detrich stated:

“They are [Triceratops nose horns] usually half that size and the skull is eight feet long, which would be a monster skull for a Triceratops.”

Neal Larson, the founder of Larson Paleontology Unlimited and a co-founder of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research with his brother Pete Larson, who coincidently is also working on a Centrosaurine specimen at the moment, was given the task of trying to prepare the specimen.  It took over 1,000 pain-staking hours to carefully excavate the fossil from its iron siderite matrix.  The preparation work was extremely difficult, as despite the robust nature of the fossil bones, the matrix with its iron component (iron carbonate) was extremely hard.

Neal Larson Stands by the Huge Dinosaur Skull

Huge horned dinosaur skull could be a new species.

Huge horned dinosaur skull could be a new species.

Picture Credit: Rapid City Journal

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur exclaimed:

“It’s only when you see a person stood next to the beautifully preserved skull that you can really appreciate just how big the animal actually was.  This is certainly one of the largest Centrosaurine skulls that we have seen.”

For Neal, who holds a degree in geology and has been excavating fossils for some forty years now, the Ceratopsian skull represented a tough challenge given the hardness of the surrounding matrix.

He stated:

“I immediately had my suspicions this was something new because of the size and placement of the nasal horn.  They’re usually in the middle of the nose, not the front and it’s twice as large as most of them.  On top of that, the frill at the top of the skull curves upward. They usually lay back.”

The Super-sized Ceratopsian Skull

Huge Ceratopsian skull (Harding County, South Dakota)

Huge Ceratopsian skull (Harding County, South Dakota)

Picture Credit: Rapid City Journal

The skull has a strange ridge under the jaw, something that is not seen in Triceratops skull material.  Mr Detrich is now trying to find a museum to house this specimen, preferably in the United States, potential buyers for this huge dinosaur skull are currently being contacted.

The Ceratopsians of North American seem to have evolved into a very diverse range of forms during the Late Cretaceous.  Some of the skulls of these herbivorous dinosaurs were truly immense.  As a clade, the Ceratopsians are considered to have the largest skulls in proportion to the rest of their bodies of any known vertebrate.  A few years ago, Everything Dinosaur reported on the discovery of another enormous horned dinosaur skull, this time from Alberta, Canada, a dinosaur that was believed to be an ancestor of Triceratops.

To read about this fossil discovery: Enormous Skull of Eotriceratops Discovered

The Colour of Dinosaurs?

Fossilised Dinosaur Feathers Do Contain Evidence of Original Colours

Over the last five years or so, a number of scientists from around the world have been trying to crack a dinosaur-sized puzzle.  Could fossils preserve some evidence of the colouration of long dead animals?  Could palaeontologists and that talented body of palaeoartists that work with them, finally be able to depict a prehistoric animal as it would have looked like in real life?  A new paper published in the academic journal “Scientific Reports” moves the debate forwards to some extent.  Researchers, led by Johan Lindgren (Lund University, southern Sweden), including graduate students from the aptly named Brown University (Rhode Island, U.S.A) have analysed the fossilised remains of a Middle Jurassic dinosaur and found that the melanosomes preserved within the fossil not only resemble animal pigment structures found today but they also have a very similar, almost identical chemical signature.

This study supports the hypothesis and indeed, strengthens it, that scientists can work out the colouration of long extinct animals including feathered dinosaurs.

The Specimen Used in the Study – Anchiornis Fossil

Feathers reveal chemical signatures that supports colour hypothesis.

Feathers reveal chemical signatures that supports colour hypothesis.

Picture Credit: Thierry Hubin

Anchiornis huxleyi

Named and described back in 2009, from fossil material found in Liaoning Province (north-eastern China), this little dinosaur was covered in feathers.  It stood about twenty centimetres tall and it had long flight feathers on its forelimbs and hind legs.  Three specimens have been described in detail, but there are believed to be many more examples held in private collections.  The exact geological age of this very bird-like dinosaur remains controversial.  It has proved very difficult to date the lake environment deposits where these fossils have been found.  Some palaeontologists have suggested that Anchiornis could be as young as 150 million years old, other scientists have proposed that the fossils date from around ten million years earlier.

To read about the scientific description of Anchiornis (A. huxleyi): Older than Archaeopteryx?

Colour analysis on the very well preserved second specimen (see picture above), has been carried out before, but this time, as well as finding melanosome structures, the researchers conducted two different kinds of chemical analysis to see if animal eumelanin pigment could be detected.  Melanin is a natural pigment found in most animals, there are three main sub-components of melanin, the most common form is the pigment eumelanin.   The researchers conducted an ion mass spectrometry test and also an infrared reflectance spectroscopy analysis to discern the chemical signatures of the rod-like structures that have been observed in the fossilised feathers of the dinosaur once the fossil had been subjected to electron microscopy.  The team then compared the molecular signatures of the fossil sample to the signature of melanin in living animals.  The observed signatures were almost identical.  The only small difference in the chemical make-up was attributed to the presence of sulphur in the fossil material.

Electron Microscopy Shows Tiny Structures in the Fossil Feathers

Structures identified under extreme magnification.

Structures identified under extreme magnification.

Picture Credit: Lund University (Johan Lindgren)

A Palaeontological “Hot Potato”

The hypothesis that the structures which produce the melanin pigmentation, the melanosomes could be preserved in fossils is controversial.  Electron microscope studies of a number of feathered dinosaur fossils has revealed strange structures which have been interpreted as melanosomes by some scientists.  The shape of these structures providing clues to the colouration of the animal.  For example, in the case of Anchiornis, the rod-like, sausage-shaped structures, if they are melanosomes, indicate that this little Chinese dinosaur was mostly covered in dark, probably black feathers.

Such conclusions have been hotly debated.  Some opponents have argued that the structures observed could be other types of organic residue such as the fossilised remains of microbes.  Other scientists have argued that there is a “fossilisation bias” when it comes to the colour spectrum and that melanosomes that give dark pigments may be more likely to survive the fossilisation process than other types, so there is a strong, black bias when it comes to interpreting the colour palette of a long, extinct animal.

Rod-Like Structures the Melanosomes

Sausage-shapes - potential melanosomes.

Sausage-shapes – potential melanosomes.

Picture Credit: Lund University (Johan Lindgren)

Commenting on this latest research, Ryan Carney (Brown University) stated:

“We have integrated structural and molecular evidence that demonstrates that melanosomes do persist in the fossil record.  The evidence of animal-specific melanin in fossil feathers is the final nail in the coffin that shows that these microbodies are indeed melanosomes and not microbes.”

In essence, what this team has done is to move on the debate.  Morphological evidence (structures that look like melanosomes), are no longer the only evidence being put forward to suggest the colour of feathered dinosaurs.  There is now chemical evidence to support the theory that melanosomes can be preserved in fossils.

In order to help rule out a misinterpretation of the data, the team also analysed the observed spectral signatures of the melanins produced by microbes.  The closest match the team achieved was between the fossil material and the signature from extant animal melanin.

Student Carney, went onto add:

“This is animal melanin, not microbial melanin and it is associated with these melanosome-like structures in the fossil feathers.”

To read other articles published by Everything Dinosaur which relate to the colour of extinct animals:

Melanosomes in feathered dinosaurs: Melanosomes Provide Further Evidence for Feathered Dinosaurs

Working out the colour, a problem: Working Out the Colour of Prehistoric Animals just got Harder

Marine Reptiles and colour: Marine Reptiles Dressed in “Little Black Numbers”

“Lucky Find” Puts Welsh Theropod Discovery on a Firm Footing

Fossilised Dinosaur Foot Bones Found on Welsh Beach

Serendipity and palaeontology are often strange bedfellows, but luck does play a part especially when you consider the difficulties in finding very rare and exceptional items such as Early Jurassic dinosaur bones.  Take the example of palaeontology student Sam Davis who has been lucky enough to have been in the right spot at the right time to find the fossilised foot bones of the first meat-eating dinosaur known from Wales.  The bones belong to an, as yet, not scientifically described species of Theropod dinosaur found by brothers Nick and Rob Hanigan in 2014.  The bones come from the Lower Jurassic strata exposed at Lavernock beach (Vale of Glamorgan).

An Illustration of the Newly Discovered Welsh Dinosaur

Significant dinosaur discovery.

Significant dinosaur discovery.

Picture Credit: National Museum of Wales/Bob Nicholls

To read more about the 2014 dinosaur discovery: Welsh Dinosaurs – New Early Jurassic Theropod Discovered

A significant proportion of the skeleton, including skull material, was found by the brothers after spring storms revealed the specimen last year.  However, student Sam Davies decided to visit the beach to explore the fossil location after his tutor explained to him about the geology of the area and the nature of the fossils likely to be found eroding out of the steep cliffs.  Sam duly arrived at Lavernock Point just a few hours after a rock fall had exposed the fossil.  Had he decided to visit the site just a few days later, the fossil specimen would very likely have been washed away by the tide and lost to science forever.

The Foot Bones of the Welsh Theropod Dinosaur

The bones are located on a 20cm slab of rock.

The bones are located on a 20 cm slab of rock.

Picture Credit: National Museum of Wales

Third year student Sam, had visited the beach hoping for inspiration for his third year project as part of his studies at the University of Portsmouth, it looks like he has hit the jackpot with his lucky discovery.  We suspect that Welsh Theropods are going to feature in his individual research project this semester.

Commenting on his lucky fossil find, Sam stated:

“It was pure luck that I found it.  It was just sitting on top of a slab of rock.  It was obvious the fossil was fingers or toes, because there were three in a row, but the first thing that came to mind was that it was some sort of Plesiosaur [marine reptile fossils are occasionally found in this area].”

The fossil has been donated to the National Museum of Wales, joining the rest of the Theropod material.  Sam’s tutor is renowned vertebrate palaeontologist Dr. David Martill, he has been tasked with the job of studying the Welsh fossils and producing a scientific paper on the 200 million year old dinosaur.  Everything Dinosaur expects the paper, along with a name for this three metre long, meat-eater to be published next year.

Sam admits to “jumping up and down like a little boy” when he realised the significance of his discovery.

Set for a Bright Future in Vertebrate Palaeontology

Third year palaeontology student Sam Davies.

Third year palaeontology student Sam Davies.

Picture Credit: BBC News

Dr. Caroline Butler, (Head of Palaeontology, National Museum of Wales) exclaimed:

“The dinosaur found by Nick and Rob Hanigan is the first skeleton of a Theropod found in Wales.  Sam’s find adds to its significance because we can learn more about the animal and how it is related to the dinosaurs that eventually evolved into birds.”

The fossil was actually found some weeks ago, but the announcement of this latest discovery coincides nicely with a television documentary being aired on ITV1 on Monday 31st August with part two the following evening.  The documentary entitled “Dinosaur Britain” explores the rich dinosaur heritage of the British Isles and the Welsh Theropod is featured in the second programme of this two-part documentary.

For information on “Dinosaur Britain”: Dinosaur Britain Scheduled for Bank Holiday Monday

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur explained:

“The first dinosaurs to be scientifically studied, were described from fossils found in the British Isles, but even today something like one in twenty of all the known dinosaurs is represented by fossil material discovered in this part of the world.  The finding of the additional Welsh Theropod bones was extremely serendipitous and we wish Sam every success with his studies.”

Here’s one palaeontology student who has helped to put Welsh Theropods on a firmer footing.

Cave in the Urals Reveals Haul of Cave Lion Bones

Imanai Cave – Strange Significance to Stone Age People

A team of Russian archaeologists have been putting on display some of the huge collection of prehistoric cave lion bones and other artefacts recovered from a cave in the Russian republic of Bashkiria close to the Ural mountains.  The small cave has yielded some five hundred cave lion bones so far, plus a number of flint spearheads and a cave bear skull that shows evidence of having been pierced by a spear.  The cave, known locally as the Imanai cave, shows no signs of sustained hominin habitation and it has been suggested that prehistoric people considered part of the cave to have some special, perhaps even religious significance and these items were brought into the cave deliberately.

Scientists Show some of the Flint Tools and Cave Lion Skulls

Imanai cave lion skulls on display.

Imanai cave lion skulls on display.

Picture Credit: Pavel Kosintsev

The concentration of cave lion bones in the cave is unique, nowhere else in the world has such a mass concentration of cave lion bones been discovered.  The bone assemblage probably represents six individual animals.

Pavel Kosintsev, a senior researcher at the regional Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology (Urals Branch of the Russian Academy of Science) stated:

“We found about five hundred bones and fragments of bones of the giant cave lion, but there could be more, after we finish with sorting the collection.  Such a large quantity of giant cave lion bones at one site is really unique, the only one in the world so far discovered.”

Giant Cave Lions

The cave lion (Panthera leo) shares the same scientific name of the modern African lion of the savannah.  Although some scientists believe that it is sufficiently different from its African relative to be classified as a sub-species (P. leo spelaea) It may be classified as the same species, by many academics, but the cave lion looked very different from its modern African counterpart.  It was around 15-20% bigger and it had longer legs.  It also possessed a thick, shaggy coat which during the winter months, when snow covered a large part of this animal’s range, that coat might well have turned white to help camouflage this large predator.  It seems that in the past, the lion as we know it today lived over a much wider area of the northern hemisphere.  Its range extended out of Africa and into Europe, indeed cave lion fossils have been found in the UK, most notably Kents Cavern near Torquay (Devon).

Despite their name, cave lions were not adapted to a life in caves, they were creatures of the open tundra, forests and plains.  Their bones may have been washed into caves or brought into cave dens by scavenging animals and as a result, since the bones of these large cats are associated with caves and rock overhangs the term cave lion was adopted to distinguish them from extant species.

An Illustration of a Cave Lion (note the light coloured coat)

An illustration of a cave lion.

An illustration of a cave lion.

Picture Credit: Russian Academy of Science/Pavel Kosintsev

Earlier excavations had found isolated bones deep inside the caves, but these were interpreted as having been sick or injured lions, or lost cubs.  The researchers believe that the cave may have been an ancient sanctuary and that these sick and injured animals could have been brought to the cave by ancient people.  This suggests that the Imanai cave had some significance to the ancient humans that inhabited this part of the Urals, perhaps it was a place of worship.  A number of other such sites were bone deposits have been made are known, the scientists hope to compare their cave data with similar sites from Austria and the Czech Republic.

The human relics found include ten stone spearheads, identified as being from the Mousterian culture, previously only two such spearheads had been found in the entire Urals region of Russia.

Inside the Cave (Imanai Cave Ural Mountains)

Going down to the bone deposit site.

Going down to the bone deposit site.

Picture Credit: Pavel Kosintsev

The Mousterian culture is defined by the style of stone tools associated with European hominins.  It relates to the Old Stone Age and dates from around 600,000 years ago with the youngest tools associated with this culture dating to around 30-40 thousand years ago.  This technology has been found in sites across southern Europe, Turkey and parts of the Middle East.  Mousterian flint tools have been discovered as far west as Wales and the Imanai cave represents one of the eastern margins for this stone tool culture.  During the Mousterian, Europe was populated by a range of hominin species, including Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis and latterly our own species which migrated into this part of the world from Africa – H. sapiens.

Spearheads the Only Sign of Human Activity

The spearheads and the cave bear skull with its spear hole are the only signs of human activity.  If ancient hominins had lived in this cave, even for a short period, the archaeologists would have expected to find a lot more evidence of human habitation.  For example, signs of fire having been used, animal bones with cut marks from being butchered and other stone tools.  The lack of other human artefacts supports the hypothesis that this site might have been a sanctuary of some sort or perhaps a shrine.

The latest finds have not been dated, but the upper layers of the cave floor mapped during an earlier reconnaissance are believed to be around 30,000 years old.  The lower layers are much older, how much older will have a significant bearing on the study, as the scientists cannot be sure what species of people (indeed, the cave could have been an important location to more than one type of hominin) they are dealing with.  Preliminary estimates place the lower, bone yielding layers at around 60,0000 years ago, so this site could be very significant in terms of Neanderthal research.  However, different populations of humans occupied different parts of Europe as the climate swung dramatically from very cold periods to much warmer inter-glacial periods during this part of the Pleistocene Epoch.  Further dating of material is currently being undertaken by scientists from the University of St Petersburg.


Archaeologists Working in the Cave at the Bone Deposit Site

Scientists carefully examining in situ evidence.

Scientists carefully examining in situ evidence.

Picture Credit: Pavel Kosintsev

Explaining the team’s future plans Pavel stated:

“We plan to continue the excavations next year, but the amount of finds we made this year is very large.  There are about twenty sacks with ground and small fragments and about twenty to twenty-five boxes with bones.  We need to examine all this and I think that some significant updates may appear as soon as this year.”

All the bone and tool finds come from an area of just six square metres in the cave, which has been excavated to a depth of around sixty centimetres.  The research team are excited at the prospect of exploring other parts of the cave and finding many more artefacts.  The greater the number of artefacts, then more information can be obtained which should help the scientists to understand more about the cave, its occupants and how it fitted into ancient human cultures.

Dinosaur Britain Scheduled for Bank Holiday Monday

Dinosaurs Come to ITV – “Dinosaur Britain”

When asked to think about dinosaurs, most people might imagine scientists searching for giant bones and teeth in the more remote parts of the world, places like the intriguingly named “Hell Creek” of Montana or the “Badlands” of South Dakota.  What might surprise most members of the public, is, that once upon a time, dinosaurs roamed over the British Isles.  Not only that but dear old “blighty”, plus Wales and Scotland, can lay claim to having one of the best dinosaur fossil records of anywhere in the world.

Putting British dinosaur discoveries in the spotlight is the aim of a new, two-part television documentary that is being shown on ITV1 next week.  Presenter Ellie Harrison accompanies palaeontologist Dean Lomax on a whistle stop tour of dinosaurs of the British Isles and thanks to some super-duper CGI, viewers will be able to see some examples of these amazing prehistoric animals wandering around the UK.

Presenter Ellie Harrison Encounters a Theropod Dinosaur

Presenter Ellie Harrison confronts a Theropod dinosaur.

Presenter Ellie Harrison confronts a Theropod dinosaur.

Picture Credit: ITV

The first part of this documentary, “Dinosaur  Britain” created by production company Maverick TV, will be shown on Bank Holiday Monday, 31st August at 9pm.  In this episode,  Ellie, who confesses to having an interest in dinosaurs ever since she first heard about them as a child, explores the very first scientifically described dinosaur (Megalosaurus) as well as learning all about the fearsome Baryonyx, whose fossils were found in a Surrey clay pit.  Helping Ellie to piece together the clues about Britain’s ancient past is talented palaeontologist and British dinosaur aficionado, Dean Lomax.  Dean explains what fossils can tell scientists about prehistory and accompanies the naturalist and journalist on a journey around the British Isles exploring the country’s amazing dinosaur heritage.

Our Tour Guides to “Dinosaur Britain”  Ellie Harrison and Palaeontologist Dean Lomax

Dean guides Ellie through a dinosaur dominated Britain.

Dean guides Ellie through a dinosaur dominated Britain.

Picture Credit: ITV

Brave Ellie is likely to get chased by a few of the more dangerous dinosaurs to have once roamed our countryside, and we expect the camera crew to entice her into hand-feeding the occasional iguanodontid or two, but this documentary will also inform viewers about some members of the Dinosauria, whose fossils are unique to Britain.  For example, travel to the beautiful Dorset coast and visit the location where amateur fossil hunter David Sole discovered the remarkable fossilised bones of one of the first armoured dinosaurs.  The dinosaur discovered by David, now resides in Bristol Museum, it is a Scelidosaurus and there is no record of it being found anywhere else in the world, it’s the “Jurassic Coasts” very own dinosaur.

Episode Two – Tuesday 8pm to 9pm Isle of Skye, Isle of Wight and an Early Tyrannosaur

Part two of “Dinosaur Britain” is due to be shown on the following evening (8pm ITV1).  The intrepid duo travel to the Isle of Skye to learn about some of the biggest terrestrial animals ever to roam Europe.  Some of the giant, herbivorous Sauropods that thundered across our ancient landscape were as long as two London buses.  Dean explains to Ellie how dinosaur footprints are important trace fossils, fossils which actually show behaviour of long extinct creatures.

Huge Sauropod Dinosaurs Once Roamed the British Isles

Ellie Harrison says hello to a Sauropod.

Ellie Harrison says hello to a Sauropod.

Picture Credit: ITV

Not all of Britain’s dinosaurs were enormous beasts.  Some of the world’s smallest dinosaurs lived here too.  Dean reveals a tiny footprint found on Skye, the smallest in the Western world, probably just twenty centimetres in length and a tiny meat‐eater.  Next it’s a swift journey to the opposite end of the British Isles, to our very own “Dinosaur Isle”, the Isle of Wight, to learn all about predator/prey interactions.  Vertebrate palaeontologist, Darren Naish (University of Southampton and Tetrapod Zoology fame), shows fossils of the herbivorous dinosaur called Mantellisaurus, a dinosaur named in honour of Englishman Gideon Mantell (1790-1852) who named Iguanodon, the second dinosaur to be scientifically described.  The Mantellisaurus fossil material shows signs of an attack from or at least feeding by a carnivorous dinosaur.  The likely culprit is the ferocious Neovenator which Dr. Naish describes as being “quite a nasty, efficient predator.”

Dean and Ellie continue their journey around Britain, with a trip to Ellie’s home county of Gloucestershire, where in 1910, an ancient Tyrannosaur fossil was found during the excavation of a reservoir.  This beautifully preserved fossil, consisting of a nearly complete skull and jaws was named Proceratosaurus bradleyi.  It may not have been as big as the more famous Tyrannosaurus rex but this fossil does prove that early Tyrannosaurs roamed across Britain during the Bathonian faunal stage of the Middle Jurassic.  Indeed, Proceratosaurus was not the only member of the Tyrannosaur family known from the British Isles, two more are described in Dean’s fantastic book “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” published by Siri Scientific Press

Dinosaurs of the British Isles by Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

To learn more about dinosaurs from Britain and to purchase this brilliant book: Dinosaurs of the British Isles

Concluding their journey through 160 million years of British history, the documentary ends with a visit to Cardiff to view one of the most recently discovered dinosaurs.  There were once real dragons in Wales, albeit little ones but the fossils of a Theropod dinosaur discovered by brothers Nick and Rob Hanigan might turn out to represent the earliest dinosaur known from Jurassic aged rocks.  Everything Dinosaur produced a short article announcing this discovery including pictures of the fossilised bones back in June.

To read more about this Welsh dinosaur: New Early Jurassic Theropod Dinosaur

Looks like, thanks to Ellie Harrison and Dean Lomax (plus Darren Naish et al), British dinosaurs are going to be well and truly put on the map!

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