Evidence of Dinosaurs Being Warm-Blooded

Endothermic Dinosaurs with a High Metabolic Rate (Except Sauropods)

Scientists have debated whether the Dinosauria were warm-blooded like mammals and birds (endothermic) or cold-blooded (ectothermic) like extant reptiles for over one hundred and thirty years.  A number of papers have been published recently which have added to the immense amount of data compiled as palaeontologists strive to determine just how the dinosaurs dominated life on Earth for much of the Mesozoic.  A team of international scientists have completed a study into the histology (growth) of the thigh bones of modern mammals and their results suggest that some of the dinosaurs may well have been endothermic.

The idea of dinosaurs being slow, ponderous, dim-witted beasts has largely been refuted.  The debate over cold-bloodedness versus warm-bloodedness, started by the likes of Huxley and Seeley in the 19th Century was ignited once again with gusto by the American palaeontologist John Ostrom who published a description of the Theropod Deinonychus in 1969.  Ostrom depicted Deinonychus as an agile, fast-running predator, a new interpretation of the Dinosaurs as animals which were as active as birds and mammals.

Deinonychus – Surely Not Cold-Blooded?

Fast-running, active, warm-blooded dinosaurs

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Adding to this debate, a team of scientists from Spain and Norway analysed the thigh bones (femurs) of over one hundred mammals from various habitats in a bid to see if the histology (growth) of these bones provided any indication as to whether the dinosaurs may have been warm-blooded just like the mammals.  Large ruminants were chosen for the study and the research team examined the internal structure of animal’s bones from northern latitudes as well as from temperate climatic zones and the tropics.  Ruminants such as the Muntjac deer, a native of South East Asia and reindeer from northern Svalbard (the most northerly part of Norwegian territory) were included in the extensive study.

The researchers were looking for patterns in the internal structure of the bone that indicated rapid growth as opposed to no growth or very slow growth.  Just like growth rings in trees, the internal structure of a bone can indicate the rate of growth of the bone and consequently the animal to which the bone belonged.  The scientists examined the bones looking for “lines of arrested growth”, otherwise known by the acronym of LAGs.

LAGs are seen in bone sections as dark rings, similar to those seen in tree trunks by dendrochronologists.  The rings are formed, both in the studied mammals and in trees, during the unfavourable seasons (winter or dry season) when the growth of the organism is arrested as a result of a lack of resources.  The presence of LAGs in bones was, until now, considered to be the clearest indicator of ectothermy (cold-bloodedness) since the seasonal arrest of growth was related to the animal’s inability to maintain a more or less constant body temperature (endothermy) during the season of scarce resources.

The Internal Structure of a Mammal’s Bone Showing LAGs

Dark Bands indicate LAGs

Picture Credit: Meike Köhler

The picture above is a slide showing a cross-section of Alpine Red Deer bone.  The two dark bands represent lines of arrested growth.  These patterns in the bones of mammals are similar to those found in many fossilised bones of dinosaurs.  This suggests that if warm-blooded mammals have these bone patterns and many dinosaurs show the same histology, then the dinosaurs may have been endothermic too.

One of the authors of the paper, Meike Köhler (Catalan Institute of Palaeontology, Spain) stated:

“The argument we are giving in our paper, rather in favour of endothermy in dinosaurs, is that between the growth and rest lines, there’s always a big region of highly vascularised (infiltrated with blood vessels) tissue that indicates very high growth rates.  This is typical in dinosaurs and very different from reptiles, which have slow growth between the rest lines.”

LAGs have been found in the bones of extant reptiles and amphibians and it had been assumed that this was evidence of being cold-blooded, organisms not able to control the body temperatures internally but relying on external factors such as the sun to warm them up and keep them active.  Animals that are ectothermic are  more likely to be less able to cope with harsh, cold climates.  However, dinosaur fossil discoveries in such extreme environments as Alaska and near to the South Pole, which although much warmer at the time of the Dinosauria then they are today, would still have been very cold, does suggest that at least some types of dinosaurs were endothermic.

The research team, whose work has been published in the journal “Nature” suggest that such LAGs have been found in many different types of dinosaur.  The only ones without such evidence of warm-bloodedness are the super-sized Sauropoda, animals such as Diplodocus and Jobaria.

In June of last year, Everything Dinosaur reported on research carried out by a team of American scientists who after a study of the teeth of Sauropods, suggested that these animals too may well have had a high, internal body temperature, that they were able to regulate themselves without the assistance of external heat sources.  This particular research may not be definitive proof that animals such as Camarasaurus (a North American Sauropod), were endothermic as the sheer bulk of these animals with their high volume to skin surface area ratios may have enabled them to maintain a high body temperature.

Contrasting her team’s work with the American study, Meike stated that the Sauropods  might have been big enough for their own body mass to generate heat, what the researchers call a “gigantotherm.”

To read more about the American study: Warm-blooded Sauropods?

Researchers don’t know what their growth lines would have looked like, since no animals alive today are gigantotherms. As with most matters relating to Sauropod physiology and anatomy, there are no living animals resembling anything like these huge animals alive today, so direct comparisons with extant organisms is very difficult.

The Spanish and Norwegian researchers did not originally set out to provide evidence for support of endothermy in the Dinosauria, this was one of the first times such a systematic study of large mammals had been carried out and the link with the dinosaurs was not the team’s first scientific objective.  Their research is helping scientists to understand how large mammals can cope with extreme climate conditions and how climate change may affect large animal populations.

Dr. Köhler went onto add:

“These lines of arrested growth have been used a lot in dinosaurs, but nobody has ever had a really deep look at mammals.”

The debate over whether or not dinosaurs were warm-blooded or not is set to continue.  There is certainly substantial evidence to suggest that dinosaurs were indeed very active and most likely warm-blooded, but animals with high metabolic rates need strong lungs to provide muscles with oxygen to fuel muscles, with no dinosaurs around today understanding their physiology becomes much more difficult.

For another article highlighting this debate: “Clumped Isotopes” provide evidence of Endothermy in the Dinosauria

Carnegie Collectibles Triceratops Dinosaur Model Reviewed

Review of Triceratops Dinosaur Model (Safari Ltd)

Dinosaur model collectors have been rather spoilt for choice when it comes to acquiring replicas of the horned dinosaur known as Triceratops, most model manufacturers have included at least one within their ranges.  The Triceratops in the Carnegie Collectibles range, manufactured by Safari Ltd is one of the most colourful.  This Triceratops dinosaur model is depicted charging and its bright orange and yellow frill markings make this particular Triceratops model very striking indeed.

The Carnegie Collectibles Triceratops

A colourful “Three-horned Face” Replica

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Carnegie Collectibles Triceratops is actually one of two models of this dinosaur within the Carnegie range marketed by Safari Ltd.  It was introduced some years ago as a replacement for an older, less dramatically coloured Triceratops model that is due to be phased out.  Both of these dinosaur models are in 1:45 scale, although the more colourful interpretation of this Late Cretaceous herbivore is slightly longer, measuring a fraction under nineteen centimetres in length.

As well as its vivid pose, depicting this horned dinosaur charging with its huge mouth open as if it is bellowing at some imaginary predator, this model is notable for its colouration.  The top of the bony frill that adorns the back of this huge dinosaur’s skull is painted with splashes of bright orange and yellow.  The flanks also have bright orange and red patches.  Palaeontologists believe that visual signals were very important to these dinosaurs.  The bright colours on this Triceratops would have made a stunning visual display, perhaps enough to frighten away the most determined Tyrannosaurus rex that saw this seven tonne, plant-eater as potential prey.  Safari Ltd are to be congratulated for making one of the first really bright and colourful Triceratops models, most others made at the time depicted these horned dinosaurs as animals that were many sandy brown or elephant grey.

Striking Colours on the Triceratops Replica from Safari Ltd

A Charging Triceratops with a Colourful Display

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Interestingly, this Triceratops model has the correct number of digits depicted on its legs.  The front legs had five digits, whereas the back legs only had four.  This detail is often overlooked in other replicas but all the models in the Carnegie scale model dinosaur collectibles range are approved by palaeontologists at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (Pittsburgh, USA), so the replicas do reflect the very latest scientific thinking.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s models including Safari Ltd replicas: Carnegie Dinosaur Toys

All in all, this an attractive Triceratops dinosaur model, one that will continue to be popular member of the Carnegie range.  It will continue to delight dinosaur model collectors for many years to come.

A Review of the Collecta Argentinosaurus Dinosaur Model

Argentinosaurus Model Reviewed

Officially the largest dinosaur known to science, Argentinosaurus (Argentinosaurus huinculensis) has captured the imagination of dinosaur model fans as well as palaeontologists; although the discovery of the fragmentary bones of this huge dinosaur have given very few clues as to just what this dinosaur actually looked like.

In 1998, a shepherd called Guillermo Heredia discovered what he thought was a huge piece of fossilised wood on his farm in Patagonia (southern Argentina).  A careful examination led him to believe that this huge permineralised specimen may turn out to be something more important so he asked palaeontologists from the Carmen Funes Municipal Museum nearby, to take a look.  This was no giant piece of fossilised tree trunk but the huge shinbone (tibia) of an enormous Cretaceous-aged dinosaur.  This one specimen and a few other fragments of bone found on the farm led scientists to establish a new genus of Titanosaur – Argentinosaurus.

Although the fossils represented a single individual, they were simply huge.   The one vertebrae found at the site during the early phase of the excavation was removed from a single slab of rock, this one fossilised bone from the backbone of the animal was over 1.6 metres tall.  Scientists estimate that Argentinosaurus weighed perhaps as much as 75 tonnes and measured around 35 metres in length.  It is the biggest, fully described dinosaur known to date.

The Argentinosaurus Dinosaur Model (Collecta Dinosaurs)

Biggest Dinosaur Known to Science

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Fortunately, the new Collecta Argentinosaurus is not to scale, a 1/13th scale replica would, for example, measure over 6 feet in length, however, this new model is an excellent replica of a South American Titanosaur.

The model measures twenty-three centimetres long and the head height is approximately eighteen centimetres.  The design team at Collecta have given their Argentinosaurus the wide body and stance which is typical of the Titanosauria.  Although no dermal armour has been found in association with Argentinosaurus fossil remains, palaeontologists know that other South American Titanosaurs had armour plates embedded into their hides, the Collecta team have given their Argentinosaurus a generous amount of scutes (dermal armour).  These lumps and bumps of armour run down the neck and along the back and flanks.

The neck of the model is posed in a swan-like posture.  Scientists remain uncertain as to how high Titanosaurs could lift their necks, but given the sheer size of the animal, being able to crane the head up to feed on tree branches that would have been inaccessible to other, smaller Titanosaurs makes sense, so the posture of the model is very acceptable.

This replica is painted in a sandy brown hue, with nice contrasting thick bands of brown running along the back of the neck to the tip of the tail.  Little is known about Titanosaur skulls.  Argentinosaurus is no exception, as Titanosaur skull elements are exceptionally rare in the fossil record.  However, the model makers at Collecta have given their Argentinosaurus a long, low snout with a raised bump in the middle between the mouth and eyes.  Perhaps this bump showed the animal’s maturity or status within the herd.  In this model, this part of the head is painted bright red.

All in all, an intriguing interpretation of the fossil material, one that will please dinosaur fans and dinosaur model collectors alike.

Dinosaur Models: Collecta Dinosaur Models

Giant “Toothed” Birds Once Soared over Australia

Melbourne Fossil Discovery Hints at Rich and Diverse Ecosystem in Australia’s Past

Museum Victoria palaeontologist Dr Erich Fitzgerald has discovered the first Australian fossils of bizarre bony-toothed birds – extinct giants with five metre wingspans.  The five million-year-old bone of Pelagornis is a new element in an extraordinary fossil fauna uncovered in Melbourne.

Published today in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology, this important discovery is the first evidence that these gigantic prehistoric birds once soared the skies of coastal Australia.  The Pelagornithidae family, commonly known as bony-toothed birds due to their tooth-like projections on their beak, had wingspans of over five metres.  The species discovered in Australia, Pelagornis, was one of the largest flying animals to exist on Earth after the extinction of Pterosaurs 65 million years ago.

Senior Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Museum Victoria, Dr. Erich Fitzgerald stated:

“Bony-toothed birds are enigmatic extinct seabirds with a long history spanning over 50 million years.  They were previously known from all continents except Australia.  The fact that they existed in Australia not that long ago changes our understanding of the evolution of seabirds in this part of the world.”

Dr. Fitzgerald and the Fossilised Pelagornis Bone

Five million year old giant bird fossil

Picture Credit: Museum Victoria / Photographer: Jon Augier

The fossil leg bone found in Beaumaris Bay (South Australia) not only provides evidence that these bony-toothed birds were globally distributed, but also offers new insight into the diverse marine life in our seas at the time.  The tooth-like structures in the jaws are not true teeth, but serrations of the beak itself that permitted these birds to catch and hold fish and cephalopods such as squid in their beaks.

Dr. Fitzgerald went onto explain:

“We knew next to nothing about the evolution of seabirds in Australia.  This finding shows us that there has been a significant change in seabird diversity between five million years ago and now.  Pelagornis is just one of Victoria’s long-lost marine megafauna, which included bus-sized sharks, giant penguins, killer sperm whales and dugongs.  Life was larger back then!”

According to the co-author on the paper, Mr Travis Park, Honours student at Museum Victoria and Deakin University, “the extinction of these diverse large sea creatures was perhaps linked to long-term changes in their environment.”

Pliocene Terror – Giant “Toothed” Sea Birds

Pelagornis in Flight

Picture Credit: Museum Victoria / Artist: Peter Trusler

Travis added:

“The current coastal seas off southeast Australia are less nutrient-rich than previously, and therefore no longer support as many large marine animals.”

Although this fossil discovery shows how much there is still to learn about the evolution and extinction, of these strange giant birds, this research gives us a glimpse into a time when southern Australian sea life was more spectacular than at present.

To read about the discovery of more giant Pelagornis fossils from the southern hemisphere (Chile) click the link below:

More Pelagornis fossils discovered: Bird with a “Toothy Grin”

A Close up of the Vicious “Toothed Beak” of Pelagornis

A very toothy beak

Picture Credit: Museum Victoria / Artist: Peter Trusler

Scale bar in picture = 10 cm

Everything Dinosaur is grateful to Museum Victoria for their help in compiling this article.

Reflecting on the Passing of Lonesome George

Last Pinta Giant Tortoise Dies Sub-species of Giant Tortoise now Extinct

Officials at the Galapagos National Park have announced that the giant Pinta Island tortoise, the last of a sub-species of Galapagos giant tortoise has died.  The tortoise, affectionately known as “Lonesome George” was approximately one hundred years of age, a post-mortem would be undertaken to determine the cause of his death as some species of giant tortoise on the Galapagos islands can live for over two hundred years.

Having failed to produce any offspring and with no evidence of any remaining members of the giant tortoise sub-species existing in the wild, “Lonesome George” was regarded as the very last of his kind.  With his death the sub-species known as Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni has become officially extinct.

For many years, scientists tried unsuccessfully to get the last of the Pinta Island tortoises to mate with closely related females, (from genetically similar sub-species) but to no avail.  The body of George was discovered by one of his keepers and this marks the extinction of this type of giant tortoise.

“Lonesome George” R.I.P.

the last of his kind

Picture Credit: AFP/Getty Images

The giant tortoise had become a tourist attraction and a symbol of the conservation efforts being carried out on the islands, which are formally under the management of the Government of Ecuador.  It was Sir Charles Darwin who first published widely read papers on the indigenous life to be found on the various islands that make up the Galapagos Archipelago.  He visited the islands in September 1835, and spent a few weeks studying the fauna and the flora.  The island of Pinta, in Darwin’s time was known as Abingdon Island and it was the Vice Governor of the Galapagos, Mr Lawson who impressed upon the young Darwin how each island seemed to have its own unique species.  Vice Governor Lawson declared that although some of the islands were only a few tens of miles apart, animals like the tortoises differed from the different islands.  He boasted that when presented with a tortoise, a quick examination would permit him to tell from which of the islands that tortoise originated from.  Darwin’s experiences on the Galapagos helped him to form his theory of natural selection and the origin of species.

The passing of “Lonesome George” is a sad event, although there are still many thousands of species of Chelonia in the world, many are under threat and any animal that could act as symbol for conservation and help to focus people’s efforts towards saving ecosystems and habitats was playing an important role, we lament the passing of George, perhaps his story will serve as a reminder to us all about how fragile such environments and the species that live within them are.

The tortoise had been in captivity since 1972.  He was found by a Hungarian scientist, at the time the sub-species Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni was already thought to have become extinct so finding a male of the sub-species in the wild caused great excitement amongst scientists, but despite a prolonged search, no other representatives of the sub-species were found.

The body of George is being stored in a chilled,environmentally conditioned room to permit it to be preserved so that scientists can embalm the body and preserve it as a specimen.

Dinosaur Tracks Provide Clues to Alaska’s Rich Cretaceous Ecosystem

Trackways Provide Palaeontologists with an Insight into Alaskan Dinosaurs

The remote Wrangell mountain range of eastern Alaska is proving to be a happy hunting ground for palaeontologists as they strive to find out about the dinosaurs that once roamed these high latitudes.   During the Late Cretaceous, this part of Alaska, which is now an area of rugged mountains built up as a result of extensive vulcanism, was much warmer than it is today, although it was much nearer to the North Pole.  The habitat consisted of dense conifer forests with an understorey of hardy flowering plants and ferns.  These forests were home to a number of dinosaur species as well as many seasonal migrants that came north to graze on the vegetation during the long summer days.  With nearly four months of near total darkness and temperatures dropping to well below zero degrees Celsius, scientists had thought that the onset of winter would have led to conditions that the dinosaurs, as reptiles, could not tolerate.  However, palaeontologists are beginning to build up a picture of a vibrant ecosystem which featured both indigenous and dinosaur seasonal migrants.

Tony Fiorillo, a dinosaur expert with the Museum of Nature and Science (Dallas, Texas) has visited these mountains on numerous occasions and during these field trips he has been able to find a number of exciting vertebrate fossil specimens.  His latest catalogued discoveries include fossilised footprints of two different types of dinosaur, the fossils being discovered near the small town of Chisana in the Wrangell mountain range.

Whilst exploring a fossiliferous stream bed in the St. Elias National Park, with Thomas Adams of San Antonio College, Yoshitsugu Kobayashi of Hokkaido University and Linda Stromquist of the National Park Service back in 2008, Mr Fiorillo found a plate-sized rock that contained the clearly visible imprint of the middle toe of a large three-toed dinosaur.  By squinting at the rock and holding it at different angles, he was able to make out the rest of the footprint.  Nearby he found a second dinosaur track, this time the footprint of a much smaller, lighter animal.  The tracks have been identified as belonging to a duck-billed dinosaur, otherwise known as a Hadrosaur.  The smaller track would have have been made by a Theropod (likely to be meat-eating dinosaur or possibly an Ornithomimid).

These prints are the first evidence of dinosaur tracks to have been found in this part of the Wrangell Mountains.

Pictures and Line Drawings of the Dinosaur Prints

Seventy-million Year Old Dinosaur Footprints

Picture Credit: Tony Fiorillo

The Hadrosaur tracks are similar to those discovered in other parts of Alaska.  Palaeontologists have postulated that large herds of these plant-eating dinosaurs migrated northwards each year to take advantage of the lush vegetation and the almost 24-hours of daylight in the summer months, permitting rapid plant growth.

Following the herds would have been predatory dinosaurs, such as Tyrannosaurs.  The smaller track-way may represent that of an indigenous carnivore, an animal that lived in the Alaskan region all year round but relied on the bounty of scavenging the kills of bigger dinosaurs to see it through the harder winter months.

Mr Fiorillo, described the smaller dinosaur:

“This little guy ran around on two legs, might have been six feet from snout to tail and had a bunch of little pointy teeth and sharp claws.  He was eating meat, but there was a lot of this ecosystem we didn’t pick up (fossils that would indicate what the dinosaur as tall as a small child was eating).”

Palaeontologists know that Troodontids lived in this part of the world during the Late Cretaceous, these small, light predators grew to lengths in excess of four metres and weighed perhaps as much as 100 kilogrammes, but the tracks are not representative of a Troodontid.  Troodontids run on only two toes and these prints definitely show a three-toed animal walking on all of its toes.

Mr. Fiorillo and his co-dinosaur hunters are looking forward to returning to the location in future, so they can find more evidence of the region’s Late Cretaceous inhabitants.

Everything Dinosaur’s Website Publishes the 675th Customer Review

675 Customer Reviews Now Online at Everything Dinosaur

Customer correspondence is very important to Everything Dinosaur’s team members.  We read all the letters, emails and feedback forms that we receive from our customers.  We then divide them up between us and respond in person to all those that require a reply.

On May 4th of this year, just fifty-one days ago, we published a quick web log article announcing our six hundredth  customer review being published online.  A quick check at the number of reviews published as of this morning sees the number of comments at an amazing 675.

We would like to thank all our customers and fans for taking the time and trouble to send us comments and to write reviews on the Everything Dinosaur website.  We are grateful for all the comments and feedback received.  As a small business supplying dinosaur toys and dinosaur models we are honoured to have received so many positive comments.

Seizing a Tyrannosaur – U.S. Authorities Seize Tarbosaurus Fossil

U.S. Government Steps In to Seize Tyrannosaur Fossil in New York

As reported by Everything Dinosaur in previous blog posts, U.S. customs officials have seized the Tarbosaurus fossil that had been controversially sold at auction last month.  Yesterday, representatives of the U.S. government seized the fossils of the Tyrannosaur, removing the crates in which they were stored to a secret location.  This is probably the first step in what will be a fairly drawn out process that will end with the fossil material being returned to Mongolia, where the fossils originated from.

Palaeontologists having examined the Tarbosaurus bataar fossils have declared that the specimen was probably collected illegally between the years 1995 and 2005 and then smuggled out of Mongolia.  The eight metre long, mounted specimen was sold at auction last month for a sum over one million USD.

The seizure was ordered by a federal judge in Manhattan earlier this week, and on Friday wooden crates holding pieces of the fossil were loaded onto a truck at a Queens storage centre and driven away to an undisclosed location where the remains of this Late Cretaceous predator will be held pending further developments.

In a written statement, the President of Mongolia, Elbegdorj Tsakhia, who had personally intervened to try to prevent the auction back on May 20th commented:

“We are one step closer to bringing this rare Tyrannosaur skeleton back home to the people of Mongolia.”

The fossil had been stored at the Cadogan Tate Fine Art gallery, photographs of the removal by U.S. officials were taken by Houston lawyer, Robert Painter, who had been acting on behalf of the Mongolian government in this case.

In a written statement, those responsible for challenging the original auction sale commented:

“Today we send a message to looters all over the world, we will not turn a blind eye to the market place of looted fossils.”

Bolortsetseg Minjin, Director of the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs, took pictures of the removal of the crates as well, saying:

“It’s a very exciting event.  It’s just unbelievable.  I never expected it would be this fast.”

Although team members at Everything Dinosaur, signed a petition to prevent the actual auction, the sale itself is not at the centre of this dispute.  It has been illegal to remove fossils from Mongolia for more than fifty years and the arguments concerned whether the fossil had been smuggled out of Mongolia.  The United States had requested the seizure in a lawsuit, stating that the relics had been brought into the USA with documents that disguised the potentially valuable dinosaur skeleton and misrepresented what was actually being imported.

Eric Prokopi, 37, of Gainesville, Florida, the person responsible for bringing the fossils into the States, defended his handling of the skeleton in a written statement on Thursday, saying that he was not an international smuggler and that he had worked since bringing the bones into the country in March 2010 to turn chunks of rocks and broken bones “into an impressive skeleton”.

Mr Prokopi said in a statement:

“I can wholeheartedly say the import documents are not fraudulent, a truth I am confident will be brought to light in the coming weeks.”

When asked to explain the discrepancy between the stated value on the import documentation when compared to the auction sale price, Mr Prokopi added:

“The value was declared much lower than the auction value because, quite simply, it was loose, mostly broken bones and rocks with embedded bones.  It was not what you see today, a virtually complete, mounted skeleton.”

The bones were valued on the importation documents at only $15,000 USD, but the skeleton Prokopi prepared and put together that was sold at the New York auction last month fetched $1.052 million USD.  The sale is contingent on the outcome of  litigation involving the dinosaur fossil material.

Although the buyer has not been officially disclosed, Painter said he had been informed that a New York based private gallery owner had made the winning bid at the auction.

We at Everything Dinosaur, hope that this situation is soon resolved.  With luck, the fossils will be returned to Mongolia where they can be studied by scientists from the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs, alongside other Tarbosaurus material.  Once a more formal study has been made, it might be possible to put the fossils of this Late Cretaceous predator on display so that the people of  Mongolia can view an example of their very own Tyrannosaur.

Dairy Farmers from Seven Thousand Years Ago

Evidence of Dairy Farmers from Prehistoric Libya

A team of international researchers have published a paper in the scientific journal “Nature” detailing the evidence suggesting that humans were domesticating cattle and using their milk as early as seven thousand years ago.  The scientists, led by researchers from the University of Bristol (United Kingdom), analysed fatty acids that had been extracted from fragments of unglazed pottery from an archaeological dig site in Libya.  The study showed that dairy fats were processed in the containers.

This research is strong evidence that dairying practices were being carried out by Neolithic people living in the Saharan area of Africa as early as the fifth millennium B.C.  Ten thousand years ago, the Sahara Desert area was a lush paradise with abundant game.  Early hunter-gatherer peoples living in the area had a semi-sedentary lifestyle, making pottery, hunting wild animals and collecting wild plants such as cereals.  As the area became more arid, in the period of time between 7,000 and 5,000 years ago the inhabitants of the region adopted a more nomadic way of life, as indicated by the discovery of many cattle bones in cave deposits and by sites of Neolithic camps.

Domesticated animals were clearly significant to these people: the engraved and painted rock art found widely across the region includes many vivid representations of animals, particularly cattle.  However, no direct proof that these cattle were milked existed – until this new research.

Researchers at the Organic Geochemistry Unit in Bristol’s School of Chemistry, with colleagues at Sapienza, University of Rome, (Italy) studied unglazed pottery dating from around 7,000 years ago, found at the Takarkori rock shelter in the Tadrart Acacus Mountains, Libya.

Using lipid biomarker and stable carbon isotope analysis, they examined preserved fatty acids held within the fabric of the pottery and found that half of the vessels had been used for processing dairy fats.  This confirms for the first time the early presence of domesticated cattle in the region and the importance of milk to its prehistoric pastoral people.

One of the authors of the paper, PhD student at Bristol’s School of Chemistry, Julie Dunne commented:

“We already know how important dairy products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt and butter, which can be repeatedly extracted from an animal throughout its lifetime, were to the people of Neolithic Europe, so it’s exciting to find proof that they were also significant in the lives of the prehistoric people of Africa.”

The student went on to add:

“As well as identifying the early adoption of dairying practices in Saharan Africa, these results also provide a background for our understanding of the evolution of the lactase persistence gene which seems to have arisen once prehistoric people started consuming milk products.”

Not all Neolithic or indeed Bronze Age people were lactose tolerant, able to consume dairy products.  A new analysis of the genome of “Oetzi” – The Iceman, a frozen 5,300 year-old mummy found in the Alps suggests that this particular European was lactose intolerant.

To read more about this new genetic study of the ice mummy: “Oetzi” – The Iceman – New Genome Study Reveals More Secrets

Commenting on the presence or absence of a lactose tolerant gene within early human populations a spokesperson for the research team stated:

“The gene is found in Europeans and across some Central African groups, thus supporting arguments for the movement of people, together with their cattle, from the Near East into eastern African in the early to middle Holocene, around 8,000 years ago.”

Explaining the problems that had been encountered when trying to accurately calculate when dairying was first practiced, Co-author Professor Richard Evershed (Bristol University’s School of Chemistry) added:

While the remarkable rock art of Saharan Africa contains many representations of cattle – including, in a few cases, depictions of the actual milking of a cow – it can rarely be reliably dated.  Also, the scarcity of cattle bones in archaeological sites makes it impossible to ascertain herd structures, thereby preventing interpretations of whether dairying was practiced.”

However, molecular and isotopic analysis of absorbed food residues in pottery is a reliable way to investigate the diet of and agricultural practices of early humans.  Scientists have used similar methods to determine the adoption of other farming methods in the Near East and their spread westwards into Europe.

It seems that as far back as seven thousand years ago, in the area that was to become the country of Libya, some people were milking cows.  It is not sure whether this work would have been carried out by the menfolk or left to the women.  The cave art that depicts milking scenes does not provide strong evidence either way.

U.S. Authorities Set to Seize T. bataar Fossil at Centre of Auction Row

U.S. Immigration and Customs Expected to Act on Friday (22nd June)

The mounted skeleton of an Asian cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex is expected to be seized by U.S. Custom officials tomorrow as the international legal dispute over the rightful ownership of this fossil specimen continues.  The eight metre long, mounted skeleton of a Tarbosaurus bataar was auctioned in New York last month, it fetched over £630,000 GBP when it went under the hammer, but from the day the auction lot was announced it has attracted controversy.

To read about the T. bataar fossil coming up for auction: Tyrannosaurid Up for Auction

A team of palaeontologists from North America and Mongolia examined the specimen after the sale, once a court order had been put in place to prevent the movement of the specimen to the private individual who had bid the highest at the New York based auction.  These experts declared that the fossils had originated from Mongolia, most probably the Nemegt Formation where a number of Tarbosaurus fossils have been discovered.  It has been illegal for more than fifty years to excavate and take fossils out of Mongolia and it is suspected that this particular specimen was collected by poachers and smuggled out of the country.

To read more about the palaeontologist’s study of the Tarbosaurus remains: Experts state that Tarbosaurus fossils definitely smuggled out of Mongolia

The Tarbosaurus Specimen Under Investigation

Going Nowhere- Mounted Skeleton set to be Seized by Customs Officials

Picture Credit: Reuters/Heritage Auctions

When team members at Everything Dinosaur were first informed about the intended auction, they signed an online petition to help stop the sale taking place, as they were aware that it had been against the law in Mongolia to export such specimens.  Now a warrant that allows U.S. officials to seize the fossil has been signed by a New York based federal judge.

Commenting on the case, Luis Martinez, a spokes person for the U.S. Immigration and Customs stated:

“We should have it by the end of the week.”

The government of Mongolia will no doubt, welcome this move, prior to the auction the Mongolian President personally intervened to try to stop the sale.  Mongolia is claiming sovereign ownership of the T. bataar specimen and wanting the fossils returned to Mongolia.

At the request of the Mongolian government, a U.S. District judge in Dallas (Texas) issued a restraining order preventing the skeleton from being moved or the ownership transferred while the dispute continued.  Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara filed a lawsuit on Monday seeking the forfeiture of the nearly intact skeleton and its return to the Mongolian government.

In New York, U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel on Tuesday issued an order to seize the fossil, ruling there was probable cause it was subject to forfeiture under federal laws due to false claims made regarding the value of the imported item into the USA from the United Kingdom and other infringements concerning the customs paperwork.

A spokesperson stated:

“From a legal standpoint, the U.S. government’s lawsuit shifts the burden of proof from Mongolia to Heritage [Heritage Auctions who organised the original sale in New York] and others who might make a claim to its ownership.”

Heritage Auction officials have stressed from the beginning that they would cooperate with authorities, keen to avoid any adverse publicity and any legal ramifications for their part in the sale.  The company maintains that the fossil was legally obtained and brought to auction by a reputable consignor.

Jim Halperin, Co-chairman of Heritage Auctions said in a statement:

“We believe our consignor purchased fossils in good faith, then spent a year of his life and considerable expense identifying, restoring, mounting and preparing what had previously been a much less valuable matrix of unassembled, underlying bones and bone fragments.  We sincerely hope there is a just and fair outcome for all parties.”

U.S. federal officials claim that the smugglers made false statements about the skeleton when it was imported into the United States from the UK in 2010.  The skeleton did not originate in Britain nor was its value only $15,000  (£10,000) as claimed, the officials assert.

Mongolia has has strict laws in place for five decades regarding the excavation, removal and shipment of fossils and other rare artefacts from the country.  Such items are considered property of the Mongolian government.  It is likely that this fossil specimen was removed from Mongolia between 1995 and 2005 according to the palaeontologists who examined the Tarbosaurus.

We expect this dispute to rumble on, but hopefully action taken by the U.S. authorities will serve as a deterrent and prevent the smuggling of other specimens out of Asia for sale in the West.

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