All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//December
12 12, 2013

Dangerous Cliffs at Lyme Regis

By | December 12th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur videos|0 Comments

Young Matthew Comments on the Dangers of Fossil Collecting at Lyme Regis

An enthusiastic fossil collector called Matthew and the grown ups with him made a short video highlighting the danger of land slides and mudslips around the Dorset coast.  The video was shot on the west beach at Lyme Regis and it nicely demonstrates how unstable the cliffs are in the area.

Matthew’s Safety Video – Lyme Regis Cliffs

Matthew points out just how dangerous the cliffs at Lyme Regis and elsewhere on the “Jurassic Coast” can be.  Landslides and mudslips can happen at any time and without warning.  If walking around the cliffs we urge everyone to heed any warning signs posted and to keep away from the edge.  As for the beaches themselves, it is best to avoid getting too close to the cliffs, rocks and boulders can travel quite far down the beach from any rock fall so it is essential to keep your distance.  Advice from the locals is well worth taking too.

We are grateful to Brandon Lennon for sending us this video.  For those keen on a bit of fossil hunting in the Lyme Regis area, we at Everything Dinosaur strongly recommend that you take advantage of one of the regular fossil hunting walks organised by experienced professionals who know the cliffs and tides well.

For further information on organised fossil walks on the Dorset coast: Lyme Regis Fossil Walks

It’s a great video Matthew, you make a great health and safety spokesperson and we hope you enjoyed your trip to the beach.

11 12, 2013

Duck-Billed Dinosaur with a Comb like a Rooster

By | December 11th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Mummified Edmontosaurus Fossil Provides Evidence of a Soft-Tissue Comb like a Rooster

The weird and wonderful world of the Dinosauria just got a little more peculiar with the publication of a scientific paper in the academic journal “Current Biology” that announces the discovery of a soft-tissue comb present in the fossilised remains of a duck-billed dinosaur discovered in Canada.  The fossil record rarely preserves soft tissues and although a number of palaeontologists had suspected that some types of dinosaur may have sported flamboyant soft tissue crests, fossil evidence had been rather thin on the ground.  Looking at birds, reptiles and mammals today a number of species have various soft skin pouches, wattles combs and even trunks in the case of members of the Proboscidea.  So why not extinct animals?  It seems that scientists examining the skull of a beautifully mummified Hadrosaur from Upper Cretaceous sediments that make up the Wapiti Formation (Alberta, Canada) have uncovered evidence of soft tissue crests in a species of Edmontosaurus (E. regalis) whilst working close to the city of Grande Prairie.

The three-dimensional, cranial crest seems to be entirely composed of soft tissue.  Its location came as a big surprise to Dr. Phil Bell (Department of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales, Australia), as he put his chisel through the middle of it as he prepared the fossil skull specimen.  He simply did not expect to find any structure that was part of the dinosaur in that part of the matrix that he was excavating.

Edmontosaurus is one of the best known Late Cretaceous dinosaurs.  It was one of the most abundant types of dinosaur roaming North America in the Late Cretaceous.  These herbivores grew up to 12 metres in length and a number of species have been described from fossil remains found in both the United States and Canada.

An Illustration of an Edmontosaurus

Edmontosaurus Dinosaur

Edmontosaurus Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Commenting on the discovery, Dr. Bell stated:

“An elephant’s trunk or a rooster’s comb might never fossilise because there is no bone in them.  This discovery is equivalent to learning for the first time that elephants had trunks.  We have lots of skulls of Edmontosaurus, but until now there have been no clues to suggest they might have had a big fleshy crest.”

Previously, palaeontologists had described the likes of Edmontosaurus as “flat-headed Hadrosaurines”, their skulls generally lacking the spectacular bony, hollow crests of the Lambeosaurine Hadrosaurs, dinosaurs such as Corythosaurus and Lambeosaurus.  Now it looks like this view is going to have to be revised.  The crests on some Hadrosaurs had been linked to vocalisation, social signalling or intra-specific competition where animals of the same species might compete for mates.  This fossil find, from a mummified Edmontosaurus, one of a few dinosaur “mummies” known to science, provides the first view of a soft-tissue signalling structure in the Dinosauria.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Although no colour evidence has been recovered from the fossil, we can speculate that this was a colourful crest, further evidence of ornamentation in the Dinosauria.  This is additional evidence that hints at complicated social behaviour amongst Ornithopods.”

Crest evolution within Hadrosaurinae apparently culminated in the secondary loss of the bony crest in genera that lived at the very end of the age of dinosaurs.  However, the new specimen indicates that cranial ornamentation was in fact not lost but substituted in Edmontosaurus by a fleshy display structure.  It also implies that visual display played a key role in the evolution of Hadrosaurine crests and raises the possibility of similar soft-tissue structures among other members of the Dinosauria.

An Illustration of E. regalis with the “Rooster” Comb

Soft-tissue crests in members of the Dinosauria.

Soft-tissue crests in members of the Dinosauria.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

Described as being like a rather small, rounded bowler hat-like structure, the palaeontologists studying the fossil material estimate the soft-tissue crest was approximately 2o centimetres high and perhaps as much as 30 centimetres in length.  Although the fossilised remains are described as “mummified” this is not a technically correct term.  Very hot and dry conditions can desiccate the bodies of once living creatures, leading to a remarkable degree of preservation.  In the case of the dinosaur fossils often referred to as “mummies”, their remains have been buried quickly, the bones are in the “life position” and articulated, very occasionally soft tissue structures such as skin impressions are preserved. However, this is the first time that scientists have found evidence of a skull crest comprised entirely of soft tissue.

Dr. Bell went onto to speculate that other dinosaurs, even really famous ones might have sported soft-tissue crests and other structures.  He stated:

“There’s no reason that other strange fleshy structures couldn’t have been present on a whole range of other dinosaurs, including T. rex or Triceratops.”

The Hadrosaur specimen has been preserved in the typical “death pose” of a dinosaur, with the head and neck arched over the back, the picture below shows the position of the fossil portion in respect to the rest of the animal and the white arrows indicate the position of the crest.

Looking at the Crest Fossil Material (E. regalis)

Dinosaur with a chicken's comb

Dinosaur with a chicken’s comb

Picture Credit: Federico Fanti et al/Current Biology

The white arrows indicate the position of the crest, “c” = comb or crest indicate, the “m” refers to matrix, infill by sediment.  Scale bar shown represents 10 centimetres and the “ca” represents cluster areas which are referred to within the scientific paper.

A Close up of the Edmontosaurus Skull Material

Arrows indicate preserved impression of skin, the presence of a crest and skull bones.

Arrows indicate preserved impression of skin, the presence of a crest and skull bones.

Picture Credit: Federico Fanti

This fossil discovery provides further evidence that the bones of dinosaur and other vertebrates do not necessarily, give us the complete picture of how they actually looked.  The research team have to be congratulated for the great care they have taken (not withstanding the odd slip with the chisel), in the preparation of this fossil material.

10 12, 2013

Extraterrestrial Impacts – Demise of the Dinosaurs Could have Helped Fuel Life Elsewhere

By | December 10th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Space Object Earth Impacts – Debris Could have Reached Other Planets and Moons

When discussing the demise of the Dinosauria and that mass extinction event that saw the end of the Mesozoic around 66 million years ago, most scientists accept that there was an extraterrestrial impact which probably contributed to the extinctions.  The Chicxulub impact, was certainly colossal, one event that would have caused immense devastation, but at the same time, such an impact could have helped spread life to other parts of our solar system.  The debris (known as ejector) hurled out into space from the huge explosion that occurred when the space object hit our planet, could have led to rocks from Earth landing on other planets and moons.  Organisms such as bacteria and other forms of extremophiles are capable of surviving in very harsh environments, even those such as found in outer space (if protected adequately from the full intensity of the sun’s radiation).  Microbes and other bacteria could have survived the immensely long journey from Earth to distant parts of our solar system, to moons such as Europa, a frozen satellite of the gas giant Jupiter.  Europa may have liquid water trapped beneath ice sheets thousands of metres thick.  If such organisms survived, then they could have “seeded” other parts of the cosmos with life forms that originated on Earth.

This is the main finding from a study carried out by researchers at Pennsylvania State University (United States) into the possible implications of extraterrestrial impacts.  Ironically, what brings death and destruction to one environment may prove to be the catalyst to establishing life elsewhere in our solar system.

Extraterrestrial Impacts – Potentially Spreading Life Throughout the Solar System

Rocks on their way to Mars or Venus?

Rocks on their way to Mars or Venus?

The idea that life from one part of outer space could seed life in another part has been around for a long time.  It is called Panspermia, the concept  that organisms can “hitch-hike” around the solar system on comets and debris from meteor strikes.  Conversely, if life has existed elsewhere in our solar system, perhaps on Mars for example, then meteor strikes on Mars could have sent ejector towards Earth.  Any organisms sent out into space as a result of the collision, if they survived their journey of many millions of miles and if they also survived passing through our planet’s atmosphere; could then have contributed to or even established life on our planet.   Odd to think it, but we could all be Martians, or at least part Martian as a result of this “space shooting gallery” as one of our colleagues calls it.

The scientists from Pennsylvania  State University set about calculating how many rocks potentially big enough to harbour life securely on a space journey had been ejected beyond our atmosphere in the last 3.5 billion years.  Why 3.5 billion years?  Simple, it is now a consensus view that life was present on Earth at least 3.5 billion years ago.  We may have been on an extremely slow fuse towards what is known as the Cambrian explosion, a time in our planet’s history equating to around 540 million years ago when preservable hard parts of organisms are found in abundance in the fossil record.  However, all the way back to 3.5 billion years ago, there was very probably types of archaic life and bacteria present.  Such organisms could have found themselves travelling to Mars and other exotic destinations as a result of extraterrestrial impacts.

The research team have concluded that many thousands of potentially life-bearing rocks may have made it to Mars, which may have had in the past a more hospitable environment than it does today.  Arrivals having unwillingly landed on the Red planet, hundreds of millions of years ago, could well have survived and might even have flourished in their new home.

Lead author of the research, which has just been published in the academic journal “Astrobiology”, Rachel Worth stated:

“We find that rock capable of carrying life has likely transferred from both Earth and Mars to all of the terrestrial planets in the solar system and Jupiter.  Any missions to search for life on Titan [a moon of Saturn] or the moons of Jupiter will have to consider whether biological material is of independent origin, or another branch in Earth’s family tree.”

A computer model was used to calculate the number of rocks bigger than three metres in size that had left the Earth’s atmosphere as a result of impact events.  Why three metres in size?  Simple, this is the minimum size the scientists think necessary to protect any travelling microbes from the Sun’s radiation on their extremely long journeys around the solar system.  Journeys to the satellites of the gas giants of Jupiter and Saturn could take over ten million years it has been estimated.

The computer model mapped the number of likely impact events over the last 3.5 billion years, estimated the ejector and what proportion of the ejected material would have been at least three metres in size (think Nissan Micro sized).  The next stage was to plot what happened to the rocks and other debris that was now in space.  A significant portion of the material would have been recaptured by Earth’s gravity and sent back down to Earth.  Other rocks would have been pulled into the Sun to be consumed, whilst others would have been sling-shotted out of the solar system altogether and into deep space.  However, a small proportion of the huge amount of material ejected into space, could have travelled to relatively suitable habitats and allowed the establishment of “outposts of life” outside of our home planet.  The Chicxulub impact for example, may have led to the ejection of some seventy billion kilogrammes of rock into outer space.  As much as 20,000 kilogrammes of which could have travelled as far as the moon Europa.

Commenting specifically about debris landing on Earth from Mars, Ms Worth stated:

“Billions of rocks have fallen on Earth from Mars since the dawn of our planetary system.  It is even possible that life on Earth originated on Mars.”

The Pennsylvania University team are not the first group of scientists to study the concept of panspermia, but their computer model is one of the most sophisticated created to date.  Professor Jay Melosh, of Purdue University (Indiana, United States) commented:

“The study strongly reinforces the conclusion that, once large impacts eject material from the surface of a planet such as the Earth or Mars, the ejected debris easily finds its way from planet to another.”

With regards to the Chicxulub impact, it is a relatively poor candidate as a catalyst for panspermia to take place as this city-sized extraterrestrial object crashed into the ocean, therefore restricting the amount of debris hurled into space.

The professor confided that when considering the Chicxulub impact he occasionally speculates as to what else might have been thrown up into space as a result of an impact between a huge object crashing into a Late Cretaceous sea-scape.

He stated:

“I sometimes joke that we might find Ammonite shells on the Moon as a consequence of that impact event.”

Speculating that Ammonite Shells Could be Found on the Moon
Potential for Ammonite Shells to be Found on the Moon?

Potential for Ammonite Shells to be Found on the Moon?

Picture Credit: BPCA

Based on the Pennsylvania University research, the following table gives an estimate of the amount of debris that reached planets and satellites in our solar system as a consequence of Earth impact events:
Earth rocks big enough to support life (bigger than three metres in size) made it to:
  • Venus 26,000,000 rocks
  • Mercury 730,000
  • Mars 360,000
  • Jupiter 83,000
  • Saturn 14,000
  • Io 10 (moon of Jupiter)
  • Europa 6 (moon of Jupiter)
  • Titan 4 (the largest moon of Saturn)
  • Callisto 1 (moon of Jupiter)

Source: Worth et al (published in Astrobiology).

9 12, 2013

Sir David Attenborough to be Awarded the Freedom of the City of Bristol

By | December 9th, 2013|Famous Figures|0 Comments

Award for Naturalist and Broadcaster

Sir David Attenborough is to be awarded the honour of the Freedom of the City of Bristol in a ceremony at the City Hall on Tuesday, 17th of December.  This is the highest accolade that the city can bestow and Sir David will be joining an elite club of scientists, public figures and sports personalities who hold this honorary position.  Other holders of the Freedom of the City of Bristol are the British theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Peter Higgs (he of Higgs Boson fame) and Kipchoge (Kip) Keino the head of the Kenyan Olympic Committee.  Kip Keino, a top athlete in the 1970’s did much to establish Kenya as a world force in middle and long distance running.  He was awarded the Freedom of the City last year, when Bristol hosted the Kenyan Olympic and Paralympic teams as they prepared for London 2012.

Sir David Attenborough Honoured by the City of Bristol

Sir David is honoured by a city in the south-west of the UK.

Sir David is honoured by a city in the south-west of the UK.

Sir David’s award is in recognition of his close association with the BBC’s Natural History Unit which is based in Whiteladies Road, Bristol.  The Natural History Unit has been located in the city since its inception back in 1957.  The BBC’s Natural History Unit produces about fifty hours of television output each year as well as a great many radio programmes and contributions to radio programme content.

Asked to comment on this award, one of many such accolades the broadcaster has received after some sixty years of work in television, Sir David stated:

“It’s a pleasure to receive this honorary title from Bristol, a city I love to visit.  To be made a freeman of the city is a great privilege and one I’m delighted to accept.”

Sir David can be heard on radio 4 next week, when he talks to wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson about his life in sound.  One of his first jobs in the Natural History Unit was as a sound recordist.  The interview was recorded in Qatar, where Sir David is making a film about the captive breeding of Birds of Paradise.

Congratulations to you Sir, look out for those Bristol hills.

8 12, 2013

Therizinosaur Study Adds “Bite” to the Purpose of Beaks in the Dinosauria

By | December 8th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

New Research Sheds Light on the Role of Beaks in Some Members of the Dinosauria

Many different types of dinosaur had beaks, the role of the beak, was thought to simply act as an efficient device for, in most cases, getting plant material into the jaws but a new study using computerised tomography suggests that these keratinous structures may have served a more subtle function.  The beak may have helped stabilise those light dinosaur skulls and helped to reduce stresses on the skull bones during feeding.  In new research published in the academic journal “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”, a team of international researchers including palaeontologists from Bristol University in collaboration with American palaeontologist Lawrence M, Witmer studied the fossilised skull of a four metre long, Theropod dinosaur called Erlikosaurus andrewsi.  This dinosaur belongs to a bizarre group called the Therizinosaurs (Scythe Lizards).  Although, descended from meat-eating dinosaurs, the Therizinosaurs seem to have adapted to a herbivorous diet.  All the Therizinosaurs described to date are thought to have possessed beaks.

An Illustration of a Typical Therizinosaur (T. cheloniformis)

Huge "scythe lizard"

Huge “scythe lizard”

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

E. andrewsi is known from an almost complete fossilised skull found in Mongolia (Bayenshiree Svita) and other fragmentary fossil remains.  Like all the known Therizinosaurs, it had huge claws on its three-fingered hands.  Scientists still debate what these claws were used for, they were probably efficient hooks that could grab branches to help with feeding, although some palaeontologists have abandoned the idea of this type of dinosaur being a herbivore and suggested that the claws could have been used to tear termite nests open.  The Erlikosaurus fossil material dates from the Cenomanian/Turonian faunal stages of the Cretaceous.  The skull is almost preserved in three-dimensions with very little distortion, the fossil is the best example of a Therizinosaur skull found to date.  Using sophisticated three-dimensional CT scans, a digital representation of the original specimen was created and from this a complete skull with jaw muscle groups and other muscles located.  The research team were then able to model how the beak and the jaws functioned and they examined the stresses and bite forces exerted.

The team’s findings demonstrate that this dinosaur’s beak played an important role in stabilising skeletal structure during feeding, making the skull less susceptible to bending and deformation.  Beaks, as seen in extant Aves were traditionally thought of being an adaptation that came about as powered flight evolved.  The beak evolving as teeth and heavier jaws were lost.

Commenting on this research, lead author of the study, Dr. Stephan Lautenschlager (Bristol University) stated:

“It has classically been assumed that beaks evolved to replace teeth and thus save weight, as a requirement for the evolution of flight.  Our results, however, indicate that keratin beaks were in fact beneficial to enhance the stability of the skull during biting and feeding.”

The Skull and Skull Reconstructions Utilised in the Research
A = original fossil B = 3-D computer image C = completed model of skull

A = original fossil
B = 3-D computer image
C = completed model of skull

Picture Credit: Proceedings National Academy of Sciences/University of Bristol

Co-author of the study, Dr. Emily Rayfield (Bristol University) added:

“Using Finite Element Analysis, a computer modelling technique routinely used in engineering, we were able to deduce very accurately how bite and muscle forces affected the skull of Erlikosaurus during the feeding process.  This further allowed us to identify the importance of soft-tissue structures, such as the keratinous beak, which are normally not preserved in fossils.”

This is not the first time that techniques and methods used in other fields of study have been used in palaeontology.  Many new insights into fossil material have been made using techniques that have been developed originally for use in physics, medicine, chemistry as well as engineering.

American palaeontologist, Professor Lawrence Witmer (Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine) stated:

“Beaks evolved several times during the transitions from dinosaurs to modern birds, usually accompanied by the partial or complete loss of teeth and our study now shows that keratin-covered beaks represent a functional innovation during dinosaur evolution.”

Dinosaur Beaks – A Functional Innovation of the Dinosauria
"Captain beaky!"

“Captain beaky!”

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

7 12, 2013

500,000 Video Views on Everything Dinosaur’s Youtube Channel

By | December 7th, 2013|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur videos, Press Releases|0 Comments

Half a Million Views on Everything Dinosaur’s Youtube Channel

A few days ago we were notified that Everything Dinosaur’s video views had gone through the half a million mark.  A big thank you to everyone who has watched our model reviews and other prehistoric animal inspired videos. Our small team of dedicated dinosaur enthusiasts work really hard when it comes to our social media output and yes, we do respond to all those comments, questions and such like which require a reply.  Back in September we reviewed our progress to date in terms of Youtube video views.  We had originally aimed for about 300,000 video views by the end of this year, but this target had already been exceeded by May.

To read the September update on Everything Dinosaur’s social media activities: September’s update on Everything Dinosaur’s social media activities

We are really excited and chuffed to have reached this landmark and we shall continue to make prehistoric animal model reviews and other videos, especially for our many, many channel subscribers.

Celebrating Reaching Half a Million Video Reviews

Half a million views on Everything Dinosaur's Youtube channel.

Half a million views on Everything Dinosaur’s Youtube channel.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A very big thank you to everyone who has watched our videos, we did set a target of 600,000 video views earlier this year and given the number of daily views on our channel it is very likely that we hit this target and go slightly beyond it by the end of this month.

To visit Everything Dinosaur’s Youtube channel: Everything Dinosaur on Youtube

The majority of our videos are short (five minute) reviews of prehistoric animal models.  In these reviews we discuss the replica in detail and point out how it reflects the known fossil material.  One of our most popular videos is this brief review of the Schleich World of History T. rex model, like many of our videos it has had tens of thousands of video views.  We may be a small, UK-based supplier of dinosaur models toys and games, but our passion for dinosaurs and palaeontology has enabled us to make these short video reviews and they do seem to be very popular – which is fine by all of us.

The Schleich Tyrannosaurus rex Video Review by Everything Dinosaur

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view Everything Dinosaur’s Youtube channel: Everything Dinosaur on Youtube

Once again,  a very big thank you to everyone who has viewed and commented on our videos.

6 12, 2013

A Video Review of the Wild Safari Dinos Elasmosaurus Model (Safari Ltd)

By | December 6th, 2013|Everything Dinosaur videos, Product Reviews|0 Comments

Wild Safari Dinos (Safari Ltd) Elasmosaurus Reviewed

It is always exciting to see a member of the Plesiosauria included in a model manufacturer’s range and this year, Safari Ltd added a detailed replica of the long-necked Plesiosaur known as Elasmosaurus to their Wild Safari Dinos model range.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur have produced a short video review of this excellent replica.

A Video Review of the Wild Safari Dinos Elasmosaurus Marine Reptile Model

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The length of this video is approximately 5 minutes and forty seconds.  We look at the model in detail, comment on the skin texture, the detailing around the mouth, teeth and skull and assess the colours chosen by the artists at Safari Ltd to depict this Late Cretaceous marine reptile.   The name Elasmosaurus means “plate lizard”, a reference to the substantial, plate-like shoulder bones that covered this animal’s chest and formed the arm sockets.  These “plates” anchored the huge muscles of the front limbs that helped to power this large animal through the water.

To see the range of Safari Ltd prehistoric animals stocked by Everything Dinosaur: Prehistoric animal models (Safari Ltd)

5 12, 2013

Wild Safari Dinos & Prehistoric Life Dimorphodon Model Reviewed

By | December 5th, 2013|Everything Dinosaur videos, Product Reviews|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur Reviews the Wild Safari Dinos Dimorphodon Pterosaur Figure

The latest video created by Everything Dinosaur team members has been completed.  It is a review of the Dimorphodon model which is part of the Wild Safari Dinos and Prehistoric Life model series made by Safari Ltd.  This model was introduced in 2013 and it is always a pleasure to see a new Pterosaur replica in a mainstream model range.

Everything Dinosaur Reviews the Dimorphodon Model

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In this six minute video review, we look at the Dimorphodon model and discuss features such as the large head, the different shaped teeth seen in the jaws and the curved claws on the hands and feet.  We then reflect on what the known fossil data tells us about Dimorphodon and explain how the model relates to the fossil material.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of prehistoric animal models including the Dimorphodon replica from Safari Ltd: Dinosaur and Flying Reptile Models

4 12, 2013

Drawing Inspiration from the Dinosauria

By | December 4th, 2013|Dinosaur Fans|0 Comments

Life-Long Fan of Dinosaurs Embarks on Graphic Novel Project

Cartoonist Phil Machi has a love of dinosaurs.  So much so that he’s crafting a story all about them in his new book!

“Not Quite Extinct” is a coming-of-age story that follows the journey of a lone Stegosaur as he discovers new places, friends and himself in the process.

Said the author/illustrator:

“This is something I feel my entire life has led up to.  I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember and my fascination with dinosaurs is a passion just as much as is history.  Combining the two has been a life-long goal and it’s finally happening with this story.”

Known for comic strips like “Retail Sunshine” and “Livestock”, the graphic novel format is a new venture for Machi.  Unlike the former web-comics, it will be a while before readers can pick up this latest creation but in the meantime, Machi has dedicated his website to a blog chronicling the process.

He added:

“There is so much context underneath this story…it’s very personal for me.  I felt it would be a good idea to track my progress on-line for two reasons.  It allows my current readers to see I’m still creating new work (even if it is hidden for now) and it keeps me from getting too far off track since I no longer have the deadlines a bi-monthly strip provided.”

Machi has set up a Facebook page for the story which reminds readers when a new blog post is up.  Machi is also treating the page as a source of information for palaeontology fans.

“I love learning about new discoveries and I hope my readers do too!  That is why on the days where I don’t have any news of my own progress to report, I will offer little glimpses into the world of palaeontology.  The kid in me loves it and I want to share that with the world.”

The Facebook page is located at: Not Quite Extinct

To read Machi’s blog and other examples of his cartoon creations visit: Phil Machi’s Blog

3 12, 2013

The Mystery of the Denisovan Hominins

By | December 3rd, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Ancient Hominin Species Interbred with an Unknown Hominin Species – Surprising DNA Analysis

Researchers have pieced together the oldest human DNA sequence ever recovered from the fossil record after extracting genetic material from the thigh bone of an ancient hominin who lived 400,000 years ago.  The DNA study has added to the mystery of early human evolution, it suggests that our family tree was somewhat more crowded than previously suspected.  The femur (thigh bone) found in Spain, suggests that this early human was related to a species of hominin known from a few fragments of fossil material found in Siberia (Denisova hominin).  In 2010, scientists discovered evidence of a species of human, perhaps a sub-species of H. sapiens, or an entirely different branch of the human family tree in the Denisova Caves in the remote Altai Mountains (Siberia).

To read more about this human fossil discovery: Evidence of Third Ancient Hominin Species Discovered in Europe/Siberia

The surprising result poses a puzzle for palaeoanthropologists because it shows that the humans living in northern Spain, where the femur fossil was found, share aspects of their DNA with another type of human that is known to have lived 5,000 miles away.  The femur and the DNA contained within it belong to a type of human that pre-dates our own species.   Fossils have been found in large numbers at La Sima de los Huesos – the “bone pit”, in the caves of  Atapuerca (northern Spain).  The cave system, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has yielded at least two dozen skeletons, it seems likely that these ancient humans may have deliberately placed bodies of their clan members in the caves.  Although this species has been classified as the robust, six foot plus, H. heidelbergensis, studies also show that these people had some Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) characteristics.  Indeed, it has been suggested by some scientists that the fossil bones represent a group of early Neanderthals, as it is believed that H. neanderthalensis evolved from H. heidelbergensis.

The Enigmatic Early Hominins of Europe – Interbreeding Taking Place?

New gene research helping to unravel human evolution.

New gene research helping to unravel human evolution.

The thigh bone enabled the research team to sequence almost the complete genome from the creature’s mitochondria (part of the cell that is responsible for the production of energy).  Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed down the maternal line and this makes it extremely valuable when it comes to tracking evolutionary lineages.  Once analysed, the mtDNA suggested a link between this Spanish population and the Denisovans.  This came as a huge surprise to the researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, (Germany).

Scientists know that around 40,000 years ago three types of human existed in Europe/Siberia, our species (H. sapiens), the Neanderthals and the Denisovans.  It is possible, that all three types of humans interbred.  The research, led by Matthias Meyer has been published in the academic journal “Nature”.

Professor Chris Stringer, an expert on human evolution at the Natural History Museum (London), commented:

“This unusual finding could be due to at least two different scenarios, both relating to the maternal inheritance of mtDNA and the ease with which it can be lost in a lineage.  One scenario is that the mtDNA is derived from an ancient population, ancestral to both the Sima fossil population and Denisovans, which has since been lost in lineages in Africa and Western Eurasia.  A second, is that ancestral species interbred in Eurasia, passing over distinctive mtDNA which may have been lost later in the Neanderthal lineage, yet retained in the Denisovan branch”.

The study of genetic material from ancient hominins is opening up a whole new area of study for palaeoanthropologists.  The analysis of 400,000 year old mtDNA is helping scientists to gain a better understanding of the complex origins of our own species and the connections between other types of ancient human.

Professor Stringer added:

“Either way, this new finding can help us start to disentangle the relationships of the various human groups known from the last 600,000 years.  If more mtDNA can be recovered from the Sima ‘population’ of fossils, it may demonstrate how these individuals were related to each other, and how varied their population was.  Additionally, the recovery of such ancient DNA means that other human fossils from this time period can now be considered for DNA analysis.”

The mtDNA was extracted from just two grammes of powdered fossil bone taken from the femur.  Once the genetic information had been isolated and sequenced it was compared to extant simians, our own genome and the genome of the Neanderthal plus genetic data from Denisovan fossil material.  Although this technique is destructive, only minute amounts of fossil material are needed, but it is important to ensure no contamination of the sample occurs.  Thanks to this study, the researchers have revealed that at least one member of the ancient hominin Spanish population shared a 700,000 year old common ancestor with the hominins that were present in the Altai Mountains of Siberia (Denisovans).

Dr. Meyer stated:

“The fact that the mtDNA of the Sima de los Huesos hominin shares a common ancestor with Denisovan rather than Neanderthal mtDNA is unexpected because its skeletal remains carry Neanderthal-derived features.”

Professor Svante Paabo, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, exclaimed:

“Our results show that we can now study DNA from human ancestors that are hundreds of thousands of years old.  This opens prospects to study the genes of the ancestors of Neanderthals and Denisovans.  It is tremendously exciting.”

It seems that the branch of evolution that led to the hominins and ultimately to us is a little more complicated than previously thought.  However, new techniques of genetic data recovery and analysis will in the future unlock the secrets of our ancestry.  We can expect one or two more surprises in store.

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