Did Modern Humans Drive the Hobbit to Extinction?

Age of Homo floresiensis Revised

The Indonesian island of Flores, provided anthropologists with quite a surprise back in 2003, scientists uncovered evidence of a diminutive species of human, quite unlike anything seen before.  This new species was named Homo floresiensis and since these people were about the size of a five year old child (about a metre tall), they were nicknamed “hobbits”.  The Peter Jackson trilogy “Lord of the Rings” had been hugely successful and the archaeologists, anthropologists and palaeontologists involved in the excavations at Liang Bua cave, where the fossils representing nine individuals were found, nicknamed these little people in deference to the characters within the Tolkien novels.

The fossilised bones and stone tools were originally dated to relatively recent times, perhaps as recently as 12 to 11,000 years ago, this meant that these small people had probably co-existed with modern humans (H. sapiens) for thousands of  years.  There was even folklore in the region of tiny people living in the forest and occasionally stealing from local villages – could the “hobbits” have survived up until just a few hundred years ago?

The “Hobbit” Homo floresiensis – Older Than Previously Thought

Homo floresiensis female based on skeletal remains LB1.

Homo floresiensis female based on skeletal remains LB-1.

Picture Credit: Reconstruction of female H. floresiensis based on LB-1 fossil material by John Gurche

In a twist in the tale, worthy of Tolkien himself, as the limestone cave deposits have been studied so their complex sedimentation has been revealed.  It seems that the strata yielding Homo floresiensis remains are much older than previously thought.  In a new study, published this week in the journal “Nature” scientists conclude that these little people had become extinct in the Liang Bua cave region by 50,000 years ago.

In short, (no pun intended given that these people rarely measured more than a metre tall), the fossilised bones and stone tools associated with H. floresiensis are tens of thousands of years older than previously thought.  One of the burning questions yet to be resolved is not how could these diminutive people co-exist alongside modern humans for thousands of years?  The unresolved question is this, around 50 – 60,000 years ago modern humans were migrating throughout south-east Asia, could the “hobbits” have been driven to extinction by the arrival of modern mankind?

A Lot Older Than Initially Thought

Lead author of the new research, Thomas Sutikna (University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia and National Research Centre for Archaeology, Indonesia), explained that the research published in the journal “Nature” in 2004 was the culmination of three years of excavations.  The scientists concluded that a skeleton found in the eastern part of the cave (LB1), representing a 30-year-old female was about 18,000 years old.  Fragmentary bones and stone tools found in older and younger layers represented a geological distribution of some 95,000 to 12,000 years ago.

Seven Years of Research

Further excavations carried out from 2007 until 2014 by researchers from Indonesia’s National Research Centre for Archaeology, the Smithsonian Institute (USA) and the University of Wollongong, revealed that the stratigraphic sequence in the cave was far more complicated than previously thought.  New dating studies indicated that all the skeletal remains ascribed to Homo floresiensis was far older than originally described.  The fossils are between 100,000 to 60,000 years old.  Some stone tools associated with H. floresiensis are a little younger, approximately 50,000 years old.  Modern humans were migrating across south-east Asia reaching Australia at around this time, but whether or not the two species interacted or even encountered each other is not known.  Could the “hobbits” have also encountered other human species H. erectus or indeed the enigmatic Denisovans for example?

A View of the Liang Bua Cave

A view of the Liang Bua cave showing the various excavations.

A view of the Liang Bua cave showing the various excavations.

Picture Credit: Liang Bua excavation team

Thomas Sutikna stated:

“We didn’t realise during our original excavations that the ‘hobbit’ deposits near the eastern wall of the cave were similar in age to those near the cave centre, which we had dated to about 74,000 years ago.  As we extended our original excavations each year, it became increasingly clear that there was a large remnant pedestal of older deposits truncated by an erosional surface that sloped steeply toward the cave mouth.”

Co-author of the academic paper published this week, Wahyu Saptomo, added:

“Unfortunately, the ages of these overlying sediments were originally thought to apply to the ‘hobbit’ remains, but our continuing excavations and analyses revealed that this was not the case.”

Although, Homo floresiensis is much older than previously thought, questions still remain, for example, scientists are not sure where in the hominin family tree these people fit. Could they be an example of island dwarfism and descended from Homo erectus or could they represent an entirely different lineage?  It has also been suggested that the fossils represent a group of people struck down with some form of genetic disorder that led to their diminutive size.  In essence, scientists remain puzzled over how these people fit into our family tree and the reason for their extinction.

The Skull of Homo floresiensis compared to a H. sapiens Skull

The skull of H. floresiensis reveals a brain about the size of a chimps.

The skull of H. floresiensis reveals a brain about the size of a chimps.

Sudden Disappearances from the Liang Bua Strata

H. floresiensis is not the only species that suddenly disappears from the Liang Bua stratigraphic sequence about 50,000 years ago.  The researchers found that much of the endemic fauna of Flores seems to have disappeared at around the same time.  Dr. Matt Tocheri, (Canada Research Chair in Human Origins at Lakehead University and Research Associate at the Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Programme), another of the scientists involved in the H. floresiensis  date revision.

Giant marabou storks, vultures, pygmy Stegodon (an extinct relative of elephants) and even Komodo dragons vanish from the stratigraphic sequence at the same point that H. floresiensis vanishes.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“The new study resolves some of the issues surrounding these ancient residents of Flores, but there are still lots of questions to be answered.  The stratigraphic sequence suggests that there were a number of extinctions at or around 50,000 years ago, including H. floresiensis, perhaps the incoming modern human populations led to added pressure and this caused the extinction of a number of species on this island.”

Origins of Malaria Traced Back 100 Million Years

Malaria Dates Back to the Cretaceous

The disease malaria which is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by parasitic protozoans belonging to the Plasmodium type, killed an estimated 438,000 people in 2015.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that there were some 214 million cases last year and currently, this debilitating and often fatal disease accounts for 40% of all public health spending in Africa.  Although, our understanding of the parasite and its life cycle has greatly improved over the last five decades or so, fundamental questions still remain.  For example, when did the malaria vectors first evolve?  Was malaria a disease of insects that transferred to vertebrates or did this disease originate in some prehistoric land vertebrate, a dinosaur perhaps?

Writing in the scientific journal the “American Entomologist”, researcher George Poinar Junior, a specialist in palaeo-entomology, sets out new research that seeks to establish for how long malaria has been plaguing our planet.  He concludes that the origins of the disease can be traced back to the Cretaceous, a time when the Dinosauria dominated terrestrial ecosystems.  The research suggests that dinosaurs would have probably been amongst the Plasmodium parasites first vertebrate hosts.

Fossil Evidence (Biting Midge) with Evidence of Malaria Parasite Infection Preserved in Amber

One hundred million-year-old Protoculicoides biting midge containing numerous oocysts (arrow) of the malarial parasite Paleohaemoproteus burmacis in Myanmar amber.

One hundred million-year-old Protoculicoides biting midge containing numerous oocysts (arrow) of the malarial parasite preserved in amber.

Picture Credit: Oregon State University

The picture above shows a 100 million-year-old biting midge, preserved in amber from Myanmar (Burma).  The black arrow indicates numerous oocysts of the malarial parasite Paleohaemoproteus burmacis.

Zoologist George Poinar has specialised in studying ancient insects and other members of the Order Arthropoda.  Much of his work has focused on the study of micro-organisms preserved in fossilised tree resin (amber).  Everything Dinosaur has written a number of articles highlighting his research over the years, back in 2008 we wrote about a book co-authored by Professor Poinar that proposed the dinosaur extinction event was brought about, in part, due to disease transmission from biting ticks, mites and insects.

To read more about this: Biting Bugs Brought About the Demise of the Dinosaurs

The Evolution of Malaria

Understanding how malaria evolved and its long-term relationship with hosts can help scientists when it comes to searching for vaccines and other measures to eradicate the disease.  The fossil record such as biting insects preserved in amber can help researchers to establish a better understanding.

Professor Poinar explained:

“Scientists have argued and disagreed for a long time about how malaria evolved and how old it is.  I think the fossil evidence shows that modern malaria vectored by mosquitoes is at least 20 million years old, and earlier forms of the disease, carried by biting midges, are at least 100 million years old and probably much older.”

The modern strains of malaria are thought to have evolved much more recently, sometime between 15,000 years ago to perhaps as far back as 8 million years ago, before hominins evolved.  The modern form of malaria is carried by Anopheles mosquitoes, but Professor Poinar suggests that the ancestral forms may have been spread by other types of biting insect.

A Tertiary Mosquito Preserved in Amber with a Malarial Parasite Infection

Evidence of malaria parasite in a mosquito preserved in Dominican amber.

Evidence of malaria parasite in a mosquito preserved in Dominican amber.

Picture Credit: Oregon State University

The photograph above shows the preserved remains of the mid-Tertiary mosquito Culex malariager preserved in Dominican amber. Professor Poinar identified gametes inside the mosquitoes body and oocysts of the malaria parasite Plasmodium dominicana in various stages of development.  This research, conducted in 2005, provided the first fossil record of Plasmodium malaria, demonstrating that the genus was established in the Americas at least fifteen million years ago.

Implications for this Research

If Poinar and his research team have hit the nail on the head, then ancestral malaria could have been influencing terrestrial vertebrate evolution from the Cretaceous onwards.  Poinar proposes that other ancient insects such as sand flies, ticks as well as mosquitoes could have been malarial vectors.  Of all these Arthropods, the biting midges are the most ancient with a fossil record dating back to the Early Cretaceous, some 140 million years ago.  This means that malaria could have had insect vectors this far back in geological time.

The professor is keen to point out that he is not claiming an ancient malaria pathogen caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, but he does suggest that diseases passed on via biting and sucking insects could have had an effect on populations that were already under considerable environmental stress.

The Professor added:

“There were catastrophic events known to have happened around that time, such as asteroid impacts and lava flows, but it’s still clear that dinosaurs declined and slowly became extinct over thousands of years, which suggests other issues must also have been at work.  Insects, microbial pathogens and vertebrate diseases were just emerging around that same time, including malaria.”

Next time you see a mosquito, consider the evolutionary history of this winged creature and the evolutionary history of the deadly vector that some of its kind carries…

“The Order of the Dragon” Book Review

“The Order of the Dragon” Reviewed

To fans of all things Dinosauria, Phil Hore, may be best known for his almost decade long contribution to the “Prehistoric Times” magazine, but this talented writer, science enthusiast and educator has many strings to his writing bow.  Take for example, his first venture into writing a novel, “The Order of the Dragon”, a fast-paced and carefully crafted gothic horror that succeeds in weaving together real lives and real events with a twist of macabre fantasy.

Set in London in 1888, the reader is teased throughout by the skilful writing of the author.  Details of the principal characters, the enigmatic and worldly wise Amun Galeus and his hulking, comrade-in-arms Sebastian Vulk are slowly revealed as the story progresses, just enough information to intrigue and tantalise.  Clearly there is more to these two characters than first appears.  Our pair of protagonists are called upon to solve the mysterious and unsettling series of events taking place in and around the grounds of Stamford House in the borough of Islington.   Not wanting to deprive readers of the pleasures in discovering the first of the bloodline trilogy for themselves, suffice to say the story is interlaced with such luminaries as Bram Stoker, Winston Churchill, Conan Doyle and Frederick Abberline (Chief Inspector for the London Metropolitan Police) and his own nightmarish nemesis “Jack the Ripper”.

The Order of the Dragon by Phil Hore

Pulp horror at its best.

Pulp horror at its best.

Picture Credit: Raven’s Head Press

 Thrills, Spills and Chills

Can the gentle folk of England be saved from the supernatural Order of the Dragon and the evil that they command?  The story soon picks up pace and moves breathlessly from one dangerous encounter to another, if battling vampires ticks your literary box then seek out this exciting debut.  There are more sword fights than you can shake a sabre at, the body count rises rapidly and leads to an underground lair via a Victorian greenhouse and a railway constructed merely for the convenience of the dead.

To purchase the “Order of the Dragon” by Phil Hore (Raven’s Head Press): Buy on Amazon

The Author Phil Hore

Fast-paced pulp horror story that cleverly weaves fact and fantasy.

Fast-paced pulp horror story that cleverly weaves fact and fantasy.

Picture Credit: Raven’s Head Press

Australian Phil Hore, demonstrates considerable panache and flair as he combines his encyclopaedic knowledge of 19th Century affairs with gruesome and ghastly happenings, enough to satisfy the blood lust cravings of even the most avid fan of this genre.  We salute the way in which the author has utilised historical fact to build and blend together a story that whets the appetite for the other two books that will develop and then conclude the bloodline trilogy.

Recommended.

New for 2016 CollectA Models

New for 2016 CollectA Prehistoric Animal Models

The next set of 2016 CollectA prehistoric animal models are due to arrive at Everything Dinosaur this week.  We thought we would post up some pictures of the new models, using some prototypes and samples we were sent a few weeks ago.  Coming into stock will be the beautiful horned dinosaur Mercuriceratops, the Tyrannosaurus rex corpse and the hunting T. rex.  In addition, dinosaur model fans will be able to purchase the new 1:40 scale Torvosaurus dinosaur model and the fantastic Deluxe (1:40 scale) Beishanlong.

New for 2016 Dinosaur Models from CollectA

New models in the Deluxe and "Prehistoric Life" series.

New models in the Deluxe and “Prehistoric Life” series.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The above picture shows the five new models that are due in at our warehouse in the next few days.  At the front there is the very detailed (and rather gory), Tyrannosaurus rex cadaver.  The bite mark on the thigh and the exposed ribs are a lovely touch and we are sure this figure will prove to be extremely popular with model makers and fans of dioramas.  Behind the T. rex body is our particular favourite, the beautiful Mercuriceratops (horned dinosaur) model.  In the centre, the splendid, grey and black Beishanlong (B. grandis), a member of the Ornithomimosauria (bird-mimic clade), can be seen.  This model has been painted in a colour scheme inspired by the Secretary Bird of Africa (Sagittarius serpentarius).  To the rear the 1:40 scale Deluxe Torvosaurus dinosaur model lurks and then to the left of the photograph the hunting T. rex can be seen.  They certainly are a very impressive collection.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of CollectA models currently available: CollectA Prehistoric Animal Models

The CollectA “Prehistoric Life” Series

The CollectA “Prehistoric Life” model range consists of over 130 models.  It is one of the most diverse of all the main stream model ranges available with all sorts of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals included within the series.  CollectA have built up a very strong reputation for the quality and finish of their model replicas.

The Two New Feathered T. rex Dinosaur Models

CollectA hunting T. rex and T. rex corpse.

CollectA hunting T. rex and T. rex corpse.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

These are not the last of the 2016 models to be introduced by CollectA.  Later on in the year, Everything Dinosaur will be expecting delivery of four more replicas, two dinosaurs (one of which is another tyrannosaurid), one marine reptile and a model of an animal that is believed to have become extinct shortly before WWII.   These new models are:

  • Lythronax (the new tyrannosaurid)
  • Struthiomimus (great to see a another ornithomimid dinosaur added to this model range)
  • Thalassomedon – a giant plesiosaur
  • Thylacine – also known as a Tasmanian Tiger, a carnivorous marsupial that, according to some cryptozoologists (and some zoologists for that matter), may not actually be extinct

The team members at Everything Dinosaur are really looking forward to welcoming all the new CollectA models into the fold.  Expect the Torvosaurus, Beishanlong, the two T. rex models and the Mercuriceratops to be available in just a few days time.

Climate Change and an Inability to Evolve Led to Ichthyosaur Extinction

New Study Suggests Reasons for the Extinction of the Ichthyosaurs

A study undertaken by an international team of scientists and published in the open access journal “Nature Communications”, concludes that the extinction of the Ichthyosaurs was probably due to an inability to evolve quickly enough in combination with intense climate change.

Superbly Adapted to a Marine Environment – The Ichthyosauria

Detailed Ichthyosaur figure.

Evolving live birth (viviparity) just one adaptation to an entirely marine existence.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Widely regarded as perhaps, the best adapted of all the marine reptiles of the Mesozoic, the Ichthyosaurs with their stream-lined bodies, well developed fins varied diets and their viviparity (live birth as evidenced in a number of fossil specimens), died out some twenty-eight million years or so before the end Cretaceous mass extinction that saw the end of the dinosaurs and other types of marine reptile such as the Mosasaurs and the long-necked Plesiosaurs.  The reason(s) for this demise have long been debated.  During the mid part of the 20th Century it had been suggested that the Ichthyosaurs had persisted until the end of the Cretaceous, however, most palaeontologists now agree that the very last of these “fish lizards” died out at the end of the Cenomanian faunal stage, some 93 million years ago, a time when the world was undergoing a period of dramatic climate change.

The Rise of the Mosasaurs Not to Blame

The rapid evolution and radiation of the Mosasaurs during the Late Cretaceous had been proposed as a possible factor in the extinction of the Ichthyosaurs.  Many academics had argued that these lizards, (Squamata), competed with the Ichthyosaurs for food and other resources such as breeding grounds.  However, recent studies have indicated that the earliest large-bodied mosasauroids, animals which could have competed with the Ichthyosaurs, first appear in strata laid down in the Middle Turonian stage of the Late Cretaceous some three million years after the last appearance in the fossil record of the Ichthyopterygia Order (also called the Ichthyosauria).  It is likely that the Mosasaurs benefited from the absence of the Ichthyosaurs and rapidly radiated to fill some of the niches once occupied by them.

The Evolution of the Mosasaurs Not Likely to be the Cause for Ichthyosaur Extinction

Mosasaurus with a "sharks tail"

Ancestral Mosasaurs during the Cenomanian faunal stage were small, the first large bodied Mosasaurs did not evolve until around 90 million years ago

Picture Credit: Stephanie Abramowicz (The Dinosaur Institute, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County)

Explaining the Extinction

Lead author of the research paper, Dr. Valentin Fischer (Oxford University and the University of Liège, Belgium), explained that the research team carried out an extensive analysis of the geological record of the Ichthyosaurs, combing through data that represented the last 120 million years of this Order’s evolutionary history.

He stated:

“We analysed the extinction of this crucial marine group thoroughly for the first time.  We compared the diversity of the Ichthyosaurs with the geological record of global change, emphasising the dynamics of these datasets.  Ichthyosaurs were actually well diversified during the last chapter of their reign, with several species, body shapes and ecological niches present.  However, their evolution was much slower than earlier in their history.  Additionally, they were seemingly negatively affected by the profound global changes going on during the Cretaceous, as their extinction rate correlates with environmental volatility.”

 A Perfect Storm for the Ichthyosauria

It seems that the Ichthyosauria endured a severe decline in the number of species at the beginning of the Cenomanian.  Many specialist predators of soft-bodied creatures, died out along with several “generalist” Ichthyosaurs, but those Ichthyosaur species that filled apex predator roles seem to have persisted until the end of this faunal stage.  A two-pronged event is suggested to have added up to the “perfect storm” for the Ichthyosauria.  At this time, the Earth’s poles were free of ice and sea levels were much higher than today.  The analysis revealed that this two-phase extinction event (Early Cenomanian and Late Cenomanian), can be associated both with reduced evolutionary rates (a failure to evolve novel body plans for a prolonged period of geological time) and dramatic climate change (strong fluctuations in sea surface temperatures and sea levels).

The International Research Team Plotted the Demise of the Ichthyosauria

Marking the demise of the Ichthyosauria.

Marking the demise of the Ichthyosauria.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

The two graphs above were compiled by the international research team.  The top graph shows the number of marine reptile-bearing formations recorded throughout the whole of the Cretaceous (black line), plotted against the proportion of these formations that contain Ichthyosaur fossils (beige line).  The proportion of marine reptile-bearing formations yielding Ichthyosaurs decreased from 84% in the Albian to 19% in the Cenomanian and to 0% in the Turonian.  The bottom graph, plots the proportion of marine reptile-bearing formations containing Ichthyosaurs throughout the Cretaceous, with calculation of a 95% confidence interval.  These graphs indicate that the extinction is not biased by a lack of fossils of Ichthyosaurs, it seems that the Ichthyosauria did indeed become rarer and rarer and then disappeared from the oceans of the world, at a time when other marine reptile populations were recovering from any extinction pressures.

Dr Fischer added:

“Although the rising temperatures and sea levels evidenced in rock records throughout the world may not directly have affected Ichthyosaurs, related factors such as changes in food availability, migratory routes, competitors and birthing places are all potential drivers, probably occurring in conjunction to drive Ichthyosaurs to extinction.”

This new work supports a growing body of evidence suggesting that a major, global, change-driven turnover profoundly reorganised marine ecosystems at the beginning of the Late Cretaceous (Cenomanian faunal stage), giving rise to the highly peculiar and geologically brief Late Cretaceous marine world.  Ichthyosaurs disappeared in the course of this turnover, while numerous lineages of bony fishes and sharks evolved.   It is also suspected that surface levels of oxygen were depleted during the Cenomanian.  This may have impacted on the strength and vigour within food chains, with the apex predators such as those remaining types of Ichthyosaur, at the top of the food chain, affected more than most.   The extinction of Ichthyosaurs thus appears to be one aspect of a larger event, something the team, which includes scientists from England, Russia, Belgium and France is currently investigating.

To read a related article written by Everything Dinosaur in 2013, that looked at how fossil finds from Iraq were changing views on the evolution of the Ichthyosauria: Fossilised “Fish Lizard” Changing Views of Ichthyosaur Evolution

Weather Warnings Issued for Fossil Hunters

Strong Winds Forecast for England’s South Coast

The holiday weekend will see a lot of amateur fossil collectors dusting off their geological hammers and heading for the coast to begin this year’s fossil hunting.  The BBC weather centre has issued warnings over strong winds gusting up to sixty miles an hour in exposed coastal areas.  The wind and rain will dampen many a fossil hunter’s spirit, but also these conditions might make looking for fossils in areas such as Bracklesham Bay, Bognor Regis, Eastbourne, Beachy Head and Lyme Regis hazardous.

Bad weather can lead to a number of fossils being washed out of the cliffs and ending up on the foreshore at these locations, however, rock falls are common around the Beachy Head and Lyme Regis beaches and Everything Dinosaur urges all would-be fossil hunters to take caution.

Brandon Lennon, an expert fossil hunter and guide located on England’s Jurassic Coast at Lyme Regis commented:

“We had some severe storms during winter and they have washed a lot of fossils out, however, I would advise all visitors to the beaches around Lyme Regis and Charmouth to avoid getting too close to the cliffs and to heed the tide times.”

Sensible advice indeed, Brandon, although these beaches can provide a wonderful fossil hunting experience, especially for families, we echo Brandon’s words of caution.

Lyme Regis – Experienced Fossil Hunters Advise Visitors to Stay Clear of the Cliffs

Fossil hunting can be fun but beware of the cliffs.

Fossil hunting can be fun but beware of the cliffs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

With the holiday weekend upon us, this gives families visiting the seaside to participate in a guided fossil walk.  This is often the best way to explore a beach and to look for fossils, especially if the weather is likely to be inclement.

We wish all fossil hunters the very best of luck and hope that everyone has a successful fossil hunt.  Everything Dinosaur team members hope to take some time out from their fieldwork and teaching commitments to do some fossil hunting, just for fun.

 We look forward to hearing about fossil discoveries from our many thousands of customers.

To read more about guided fossil walks with Brandon Lennon: Guided Fossil Walks

As for team members at Everything Dinosaur, this weekend we are all in the office preparing for some new arrivals…

One of Britain’s Largest Ichthyosaurs Goes on Display

Manchester University Palaeontologist Helps Build an Ichthyosaur

The fossilised remains of a large Ichthyosaurus, one of the biggest specimens of a “fish lizard” found in the British Isles, goes on display today as a new gallery opens at the Birmingham Thinktank Museum.  Providing an exciting centrepiece to the new Marine Worlds Gallery, the fossils may represent an entirely new species of Ichthyosaur.

The Skull of the Warwickshire Ichthyosaurus

A wonderful conservation example, the rebuilt Ichthyosaurus skull.

A wonderful conservation example, the rebuilt Ichthyosaurus skull.

Picture Credit: Birmingham Thinktank

Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist from Manchester University has been involved in the project to rebuild and put on display the 200 million-year-old predator.  The fossils were originally found in 1955 when a farmer unearthed the first evidence of this sea monster and a field team from the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery was despatched to investigate.  The location was Fell Mill Farm, near to the small Warwickshire town of Shipston-on-Stour in the far south of the county.  There are a number of sites in Warwickshire that yield fossils from the Early Jurassic.  Extensive quarrying of clays and limestone for the cement industry has exposed Jurassic-aged sediments and very occasionally the remains of ancient marine vertebrates are found.  Unlike most of the Ichthyosaurus fossils found in Europe, the Fell Mill Farm skull specimen has been preserved in three-dimensions (most Ichthyosaur specimens, especially the skulls, are flattened and crushed during the fossilisation process).

Working with expert conservator Nigel Larkin and Luanne Meehitiya (Natural Science Curator for Birmingham Museums), Dean has been able to rebuild the skull specimen and unite it with post cranial elements from the same animal that were stored within the Birmingham Museum vertebrate fossil collection.  The restored skull measures some eighty centimetres long and is thirty-three centimetres wide (at the widest part, the rear of the skull).  It is difficult to estimate just how big this Ichthyosaur was when it patrolled the shallow seas of an archipelago of islands, that were one day to become the British Isles, but it could have measured up to six metres in length.  This would have made this animal, one of the largest types of marine reptile known from Europe excavated from Lower Jurassic strata.  It may have filled an apex predator niche, feeding on cephalopods, fish and probably, smaller marine reptiles.

The Reconstructed Skeleton Ready for Display

Nigel Larkin (left), Luanne Meehitiya (centre) and Dean Lomax (right) with the Warwickshire Ichthyosaurus specimen (scale bar 10 cm)

Nigel Larkin (left), Luanne Meehitiya (centre) and Dean Lomax (right) with the Warwickshire Ichthyosaurus specimen (scale bar 10 cm)

Picture Credit: Birmingham Thinktank

Rebuilding the skull and the rest of the fossil material was an exceptionally tricky task.  The skull had been constructed sometime in the late 1950’s and excessive amounts of glue and filler had been used to stick the bones together.  In addition, plaster and wood had been employed to help support the fossilised bones as well as to fill in the missing bone pieces.  A number of bones had been positioned in the wrong place, the orientation was inaccurate and the whole of the jaw had been set further back.  The coat of varnish, added more than six decades ago had become discoloured and was hiding a lot of the detail, so this too had to be removed.  It was Nigel’s job to carefully take the skull to pieces and, under the expert guidance of Dean, to clean and prepare the individual fragments so that they could be put together in a more anatomically correct arrangement.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“When the skull was first put together, the scientists at the time had not got the benefit of three-dimensional CT scans, or access to a global digital database of Ichthyosaur skull fossils to help in the construction process.  We tend to take technologies like email, high resolution images, on line journals and data sharing for granted these days, but back in the late fifties the fragments of bone that make up the skull were most probably pieced together using some of the 19th Century line drawings of the very first Ichthyosaur fossils to be described. “

Once the skull had been fully restored, the project team set about conserving the rest of the skeleton creating a most impressive centrepiece for the new gallery at the Birmingham Thinktank museum.  More accurate casts of missing fossils could be used to help to fill out the exhibit and the three-dimensional nature of the skull permitted the team to gain some valuable insight into the true shape of the Ichthyosaurus skull, the basioccipital bone, for example, had been preserved.  This is one of four bones at the very base of the skull that surrounds the foramen magnum, the hole in the skull through which the spinal cord passes.  This bone could provide valuable information on the shape of the Ichthyosaur brain.

Commenting on the research work and the way in which this fearsome reptile is being displayed at the museum, Luanne Meehitiya stated:

“One of the most fun parts of this project has been working with palaeo-artist Robert Nicholls to produce a new artistic reconstruction of the Ichthyosaur, which gives us a much better impression of what the massive marine reptile must have looked like and this is displayed life-sized above the skeleton.”

The Wonderful Illustration of the Ichthyosaur in the Marine Worlds Gallery

Large teeth in the jaws indicate predation, most probably of fish and other small marine organisms.

Large teeth in the jaws indicate predation, most probably of fish and other small marine organisms.

Picture Credit: Bob Nicholls @Paleocreations

Palaeontologist Dean Lomax added:

“This is a very important specimen.  It comes from a location previously unrecorded for Ichthyosaurs, so this adds to our understanding of the geographical distribution of Ichthyosaurs during the Early Jurassic, a time when the UK was a series of islands.”

Back in February 2015, Everything Dinosaur reported on some other Ichthyosaur research undertaken by Dean Lomax.  Thanks to his efforts, the first “new” species of Ichthyosaurus for 127 years was identified.

To read about this research: New Ichthyosaurus Species Honours Mary Anning

For those wishing to learn more about the types of dinosaur that roamed the land whilst this Ichthyosaur patrolled the sea, Everything Dinosaur recommends “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” by Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura: Dinosaurs of the British Isles is available here.

“Dinosaurs from Top to Bottom” with Everything Dinosaur

Talking Science with Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur will be bringing a little bit of “Jurassic World” to Warrington next month when the Cheshire based company delivers a dinosaur themed presentation as part of the Talking Science series of public lectures held at the prestigious Daresbury Laboratory.

Each month, the talented team at Daresbury Laboratory put on a FREE public lecture on a scientific theme and Everything Dinosaur’s “Dinosaur Mike” has been invited in to talk about some of the latest research into dinosaurs.

Everything Dinosaur Will Be Presenting at Daresbury Laboratory

Talking Science - Talking Dinosaurs

Talking Science – Talking Dinosaurs

The Daresbury Laboratory hosts a monthly series of inspiring public lectures, themes this year include the Big Bang, super computers, imaging comets, looking for ancient royalty and climate change.  Everything Dinosaur’s contribution will be to provide a family themed, fun exploration of dinosaurs with lots of audience participation.  The team members have written a brand new presentation, building on the company’s excellent teaching reputation.

The Venue has been Checked Out by Everything Dinosaur

Dinosaurs are coming to this location in April 2016.

Dinosaurs are coming to this location in April 2016.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Talking Science lectures are FREE but reservations must be made prior to the event, for further information and to reserve tickets: Free Talk on Dinosaurs – Dinosaurs from Top to Bottom

The Proposed Running Order

One of the challenges facing the Everything Dinosaur team is to how to cram 160 million years of dinosaur evolution into a single presentation.  This is not easy to do, but with the youngest members of the audience in mind, the talk will focus on the likes of Triceratops, the tyrannosaurids and of course Tyrannosaurus rex!

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur explained:

“Our intention is to deliver a very interactive dinosaur show, with lots of information and dinosaur facts.  We will be inviting members of the audience to help us explore some of the latest research into prehistoric animals as well as setting a number of puzzles and quizzes along the way.”

Notes for Teachers and Parents

The April 6th presentation will include lots of handy teaching information.  Free support materials will be made available and these can be requested by emailing Everything Dinosaur.

JurassicCollectables Review the CollectA Feathered T. rex

JurassicCollectables Reviews the CollectA Feathered T. rex

This week the talented team at JurassicCollectables have put together another dinosaur model review.  This time, the splendid CollectA 1:40 scale feathered Tyrannosaurus rex is featured.  This replica was officially released late last year, but Everything Dinosaur received some stock early.  This is the second 1:40 scale model T. rex produced by the Hong Kong based company, under the “Deluxe” brand, the original T. rex (see picture below), was amongst the very first of the larger scale models CollectA introduced, it was released in 2009.

The Non-Feathered CollectA 1:40 Scale Tyrannosaurus rex Model

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No longer covered in scales, now regarded as having a feathery coat.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The feathered Tyrannosaurus rex replica reflects the revision of the Tyrannosauroidea that has taken place over the last decade or so and JurassicCollectables guides the viewer through the main anatomical features of this, the most famous of all dinosaurs.  The wonderful lighting really helps to showcase the vibrant colours on this model and the narrator takes great care to discuss the fine detail of the sculpt, particularly that magnificent skull.

The Review of the Feathered Tyrannosaurus rex Model (CollectA) by JurassicCollectables

Video Credit: JurassicCollectables

With a running time of nearly eight minutes, the video provides an excellent opportunity to peruse this CollectA replica.  There are two more feathered T. rex models being introduced by CollectA this year (hunting T. rex and T. rex corpse), delivery into our warehouse is imminent and we have already made plans to send these models over to JurassicCollectables for review.

To view more prehistoric animal reviews on the YouTube channel and to subscribe to JurassicCollectables: JurassicCollectables YouTube Channel

Anatomy of a Feathered Tyrannosaur

It just goes to show how our views regarding tyrannosaurids and feathered dinosaurs in general have changed in the last decade or so.  Not only are depictions of feathered dinosaurs now commonplace in the scientific literature, but the model making companies are really working hard to update their various ranges.  The CollectA feathered Tyrannosaurus rex is one of the best of these replicas introduced to date, the commentator in the video compares this replica very favourably to the Sideshow Collectibles range, even though the CollectA model is a fraction of the price.

CollectA Feathered Tyrannosaurus rex Model is Praised

1:40 scale model of a feathered T. rex.

1:40 scale model of a feathered T. rex.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To purchase this CollectA replica and other prehistoric animals in the CollectA Deluxe model range: CollectA Deluxe Model Range

The video review gives a mention to the human figure that is supplied with most of the CollectA large models.  The figure, a palaeontologist of course, is Sir Arthur Gauge.  He was first introduced to the world when CollectA launched its scale model series, all those years ago now.  The dinosaur models may have changed, but Sir Arthur does not look a day older than when he was first seen in Everything Dinosaur’s warehouse back in 2009.

The Sir Arthur Gauge Figure Provides a Useful Scale

A clever way to provide a scale for dinosaur models.

A clever way to provide a scale for dinosaur models.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Dinosaur Workshops in Schools

Five Stars for Dinosaur Workshops in School

As the Spring term in the UK draws to a close, Everything Dinosaur team members can reflect on a job well done with their dinosaur and fossil themed workshops in schools.   Since January, our dedicated teaching team have been working the length and breadth of the country supporting teachers and teaching assistants by providing dinosaur workshops to assist in the teaching of the curriculum.  Whether it is a Reception class learning about the properties of materials, a Year Six class discussing natural selection and evolution or even Key Stage Three tackling the complexities of genetics, our experts have been on hand to support learning.

Everything Dinosaur team members receive top marks from teachers for their dinosaur and fossil themed workshops in schools.

The feedback we receive from schools has continued to give our workshops five stars out of five and as we approach the one hundred and fiftieth on line review published on our specialist teaching website: Teaching About Dinosaurs and Fossils in Schools we still have top marks.  Below is a review provided by a Reception school teacher from Cheshire, one of the schools we visited last week.

Top Reviews for Everything Dinosaur’s Teaching Work in Schools

Praise for Everything Dinosaur.

Praise for Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Black Firs Primary/Everything Dinosaur

The teacher who provided this review also added:

“The children had a brilliant time and we absolutely loved it – so a huge THANK YOU to all concerned especially Mike who was fab.”

As well as the teaching workshop, we also provided some extension resources including a dinosaur measuring exercise specially designed for EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage).  These extra resources are just part of the assistance we provide teaching teams.  Everything Dinosaur also offers free dinosaur and fossil themed teaching resources to download.  The downloads are divided into helpful categories, there are general downloads such as pronunciation guides and anti-bullying posters and then categories dedicated to EYFS, Key Stage One and Two and then yet another section dedicated to providing free teaching resources for Secondary schools.

Free downloads of dinosaur and fossil themed teaching resources can be found here: Download Dinosaur and Fossil Themed Teaching Resources

A Key Stage One teacher providing feedback to Everything Dinosaur, after our work with her class wrote in to say:

“It was a really engaging session.  Lots of opportunities for the children to handle objects.  The children really enjoyed learning about dinosaurs and the Everything Dinosaur expert has a great manner with the class.”

To learn more about our dinosaur and fossil themed workshops in schools: Contact Everything Dinosaur

Fun Learning All About Fossils and Life in the Past

Brainstorming dinosaurs with a class of school children.

Brainstorming dinosaurs with a class of school children.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Once the short Easter break is over and the Everything Dinosaur team members have finished their outreach work scheduled to take place over the holiday period, then its Summer term and more dinosaur themed workshops being delivered at various schools across the country.  Naturally, Everything Dinosaur will be aiming to keep up its five star rating!

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