Everything Dinosaur and the Cornerstones Curriculum

Whole School Topic Maps and the Cornerstones Curriculum

One of the main focal points linked to the establishment of a new curriculum was the aim to help every child reach his or her potential.  Providing an enriched and stimulating environment is essential and every day we come across examples of teaching excellence.  We see the efforts of many teachers to introduce a range of teaching styles and to really enthuse and motivate their class.  Thanks to the support of the senior leadership team, teaching professionals can set out to develop children emotionally and help them to prepare for adult life as well as embracing an appreciation of lifelong learning.  Hence the renewed focus on helping the children to experience personal, social, health and emotional development.

Helping Young People to Become Lifelong Learners

Personal, emotional and social development.

Helping learners to gain an appreciation of lifelong learning.

Picture Credit: Press (Frankfurter Buchmesse)

The Cornerstones Curriculum

A lot of schools have chosen to adopt the Cornerstones curriculum.  This topic based curriculum reflects the requirements of the National Curriculum in a structured and organised manner, helping pupils to remain engaged and to apply skills and knowledge.  Often a whole school topic map will be planned, usually running on a biannual cycle.  Learning about rocks and fossils is now part of the science curriculum for Lower Key Stage 2, whilst evolution and natural selection subjects are found within the science subject areas for Year 6, so Everything Dinosaur’s workshops have a very broad appeal.  In addition, teachers of younger children find dinosaurs as an ideal term topic area, following on from children’s fascination for dinosaurs and providing an opportunity to develop and improve skills learnt to enable them to reach their full potential.

A Dinosaur Term Topic Can Really Help the Development of Young Minds

Children enjoy learning about dinosaurs.

Lots of literacy and numeracy activities displayed.

A Cross Curricular Approach to Learning

The Cornerstones curriculum allows the teaching team to tailor the content and delivery of the teaching scheme of work to meet the needs of individual pupils.  It is essentially, a cross curricular approach to learning, hence when we are delivering a dinosaur themed workshop to Lower Key Stage 1 for example, we like to be briefed on the learning outcomes that the teaching team require.  In this way, we can cover key aims and help to reinforce learning, as well as providing plenty of numeracy, literacy and IT based extension exercises.

Cornerstones has four main areas of learning:

  • Engage
  • Develop
  • Innovate
  • Express

During each of these interlocking stages, children have the opportunity to develop and improve skills learnt to enable them to reach their full potential.   We are often amazed at just how much knowledge children demonstrate during our school visits, for example, during our last fossil themed workshop, children were eager to tell us all about some marine reptiles that they had been learning about.

In the “Engage” element, pupils have the opportunity to kick-start a topic area with a memorable, thought provoking, first-hand learning experience.  Everything Dinosaur’s dinosaur workshops in schools are often used as a provocation to help give the term topic a good start.  Our dedicated teaching team will be undertaking a number of these provocations over the next two weeks as schools start a new dinosaur and fossil themed topic area at the beginning of the second half of the autumn term.

In the “Develop” element, children improve their knowledge and understanding in relation to their topic.  They develop and practice new skills learnt and have time to explore and create in relation to their term topic.  Many of the extension ideas we provide to teaching teams allows children to build on their pre-knowledge and to apply this and newly acquired knowledge to a range of scientific themed exercises.  All these extensions are aimed at helping to reinforce learning.

For further information about Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools: Contact the Teaching Team at Everything Dinosaur

When it comes to the “Innovate” section, we like to see pupils applying the skills and knowledge they have learnt in real life, palaeontological contexts.  An example of this is challenging a Year 6 class to debate whether cloning a Woolly Mammoth would be a good idea.

Thoughtful and Provocative Debates Related to Climate Change, Extinction and the Ethics Behind De-extinction

The science behind de-extinction.

The science of de-extinction by Beth Shapiro.

Picture Credit: Princeton Press

During our workshops, we like to give children the opportunity to explore real problems.  This helps to inspire them through learning and allows them to see how classroom teaching can be applied to real scientific conundrums.

Finally, we come to the “Express” section.  This provides young learners with the opportunity to become performers, experts and to inform others.  Demonstrating what they have learned can come in different forms, from a school assembly presentation related to mass extinction to writing and performing an expressive dance piece that depicts the extinction of the dinosaurs.  We advise teachers to have a dinosaur and fossil themed “learning wall” for this type of term topic.  This permits the class to showcase and celebrate their achievements as they have studied the topic.  A dinosaur museum set up in the classroom can provide a useful focal point for showcasing the work undertaken.

Come to the Dinosaur Museum!

A dinosaur museum set up on the classroom.

Come to our dinosaur museum!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We wish everyone well with the start of the second half of the autumn term.  Onwards and upwards with learning, whatever curriculum the school is following.

The Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals Reviewed

A Review of The Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals

Had you been around in the middle of the 19th Century and taken the opportunity to visit any one of the burgeoning number of natural history museums, you would not have found fossils of dinosaurs dominating the main galleries.  Prior to the American “bone wars” that led to the naming and describing of a number of iconic dinosaurs from the western United States, it was the many and varied prehistoric mammals that held centre stage.  Visitors would have marvelled at the fossilised bones of giant sloths, the antlers of immense ancient elks, bizarre elephants with downward pointing tusks and long-extinct cats with sabre-teeth.

Today, we have a much better understanding of the animals that came to dominate the Earth after the demise of the dinosaurs, more knowledge than the Victorians would ever have imagined.  These prehistoric beasts, their evolutionary history, diversity and variety are documented in a new book by Princeton University Press – “The Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals”.  Written by American palaeontologist Donald Ross Prothero (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and Professor Emeritus of Geology at Occidental College) and beautifully illustrated by renowned scientific illustrator Mary Persis Williams, this publication is a “must have” for academics and for fans of fossils as well as anyone with an interest in general science.

The Front Cover of “The Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals”

Documenting prehistoric mammals.

“The Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals”.

Picture Credit: Princeton University Press

A Comprehensive Inventory of Prehistoric Mammals

Following a similar format to “The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs”, compiled by Gregory S. Paul (expect a review of the second edition of this excellent dinosaur book shortly on this blog site), the author provides a general overview on the evolutionary history of the Mammalia before moving on to describe in detail representatives of each of the major groups of fossil mammals.  Mary’s fantastic drawings are augmented with stunning pictures of key fossils and the easy-to-follow text is supported by numerous cladistic diagrams that help to demonstrate the taxonomic relationships between the different types of prehistoric mammal featured in this comprehensive overview.

The Messel Shale Beds of Germany

Highlights include an extensive cataloguing of insectivorous mammals, bats (Chiroptera) and early primates illustrated by a number of detailed images showcasing the exquisite mammal fossils excavated from the UNESCO World Heritage site known as the Messel Shales.  Readers can learn how, over time, horses evolved from cat-sized forest creatures to the long-limbed animals of today, or indeed how the ancestry of dolphins and whales can be traced back to hoofed, terrestrials.

The Fossil Jaws of the Eocene Toothed Whale Basilosaurus

Basilosaurus whale skull.

The primitive whale Basilosaurus is featured in chapter 14 (pp 162-163).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

 There is certainly a great deal to commend this book.  Each of the major groups of mammals is discussed in turn, no mean feat, given the great abundance and variety of Cenozoic mammals that are recorded in the fossil record.  After all, dinosaur discoveries may make headlines, but as any vertebrate palaeontologist will tell you, the fossil record of the Mammalia over the last sixty-six million years or so is much more complete and arguably, a lot more complicated.

It is the little flourishes that appeal the most, those little details that demonstrate that this was a book that has been crafted, with the author and illustrator united in the desire to tell the story of our closest relatives in the tree of life.  For example, there is an extensive “Further Reading” section at the end of the book and within the index a handy pronunciation guide has been provided.

Thoughtful and Provocative

The closing chapter, (chapter 18), sets out to answer some of the questions associated with mammalian evolution after the Cretaceous mass extinction event that saw the end of the non-avian dinosaurs and many other kinds of giant reptile.  The author tackles questions such as “how did mammals diversify after the dinosaurs vanished?”  “Why were some prehistoric mammals so big and why have most of the huge mammals disappeared?”  These are the sort of questions that may well have vexed those Victorian visitors to museums, such questions still fascinate and Donald R. Prothero skilfully constructs answers, illustrating the points made in support of his arguments with some of the latest research on prehistoric mammals.  As to the future, the closing remarks in this 240-page volume, make sober reading.  Many mammals are on the brink of extinction, iconic mammals of today, may not be around within the lifetime of the people reading this book.

Due out towards the end of November 2016, “The Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals” is highly recommended.

More details and book orders can be made here: “Princeton University Press”

Book Details:

Title: “The Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals” by by Donald R. Prothero, with illustrations by Mary Persis Williams

Publisher: Princeton University Press

ISBN: 9780691156828

A Pack of “Raptors” Attack Tenontosaurus

Deinonychus Pack Attacks Tenontosaurus

Our thanks to Thomas, a very knowledgeable and keen dinosaur fan who sent into Everything Dinosaur a couple of illustrations of prehistoric animals earlier this week.  One of the drawings featured a trio of Deinonychus dinosaurs battling with a hapless Ornithopod (Tenontosaurus).  Deinonychus (D. antirrhopus) was formally described by the highly influential John Ostrom in 1969.  Depicted as an agile, highly active predator, Ostrom championed the idea that dinosaurs were very different from the cold-blooded reptiles of today.  Ostrom’s interpretation of Deinonychus was of an aggressive, lightly built biped with wonderful balance and a great turn of speed.  Unfortunate herbivores had to face fearsome jaws lined with sharp teeth and that highly curved, killing toe-claw that in larger animals was around thirteen centimetres long.  A number of Deinonychus fossils have been found in association with the herbivorous dinosaur Tenontosaurus (T. tillettorum).  The close proximity of predator and potential prey in the fossil record has been interpreted as evidence that Deinonychus packs hunted and killed Tenontosaurus.

The “Raptor” Attack Drawing by Thomas

 A pack of Deinonychus attack Tenontosaurus.

A trio of “raptors” attacking a Tenontosaurus dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Thomas

It’s a great picture Thomas and we appreciate you drawing the Deinonychus dinosaurs as feathered dinosaurs!  Several famous artists and illustrators have been inspired by the close affinity between the fossils of Tenontosaurus and Deinonychus and they have produced amazing illustrations of an encounter between these two types of prehistoric animal.  Perhaps, one of the most famous of these illustrations was created by the renowned British palaeoartist John Sibbick.

Deinonychus and Tenontosaurus Encounter

Deinonychus attacking Tenontosaurus.

A pack of Deinonychus attacking the herbivore Tenontosaurus.

Picture Credit: John Sibbick

The John Sibbick artwork was originally commissioned by the London Natural History, at a time when the idea of feathered members of the Dromaeosauridae was still controversial.  Over the years, we at Everything Dinosaur have seen lots of Deinonychus attacking Tenontosaurus illustrations, our congratulations to Thomas for his wonderful pencil drawing.  Ironically, Everything Dinosaur and Rebor are going to have a trio of Deinonychus figures available soon to compliment the Rebor 1:35 scale Acrocanthosaurus (Hercules) and the Tenontosaurus tillettorum (Ceryneian Hind) diorama.

One of the Trio of Deinonychus Figures for the Rebor Dinosaur Diorama

Rebor Deinonychus model.

An early image of one of the Deinonychus replicas from Rebor. (Cerberus Clan).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The set of three Deinonychus models the “Cerberus Clan”, was originally scheduled to go on sale from Everything Dinosaur in November, however, it is likely that these models will not arrive until the middle of December.  We will post up more details about these 1:35 scale dinosaurs in due course.

Our thanks once again to Thomas for his fabulous drawings.

A Dinosaur Brain from Bexhill-on-Sea

Fossilised Dinosaur Brain Tissue Identified for the First Time

Bexhill-on-Sea may not be synonymous with ground-breaking palaeontology, but a visit to the local museum will reveal that dinosaur bones and teeth have been found in this part of East Sussex (southern England).  However, a small fossil measuring a little over ten centimetres long and five centimetres across, a fossil found on the foreshore area of the beach by amateur fossil collector Jamie Hiscocks in 2004, has proved to be the first fossilised dinosaur brain known to science.

A View of the Fossil – Preserved Parts of the Exterior of a Dinosaur’s Brain

The fossilised brain of a dinosaur.

A small pebble from the foreshore at Bexhill-on-Sea is actually part of the fossilised brain of a dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Jamie Hiscocks/Press Association

The Brain from an Iguanodontid

Although the genus cannot be identified, the researchers which include Dr David Norman and Dr Alex Liu (Cambridge University), are confident that this 133 million-year-old (Early Cretaceous) fossil, came from a large Ornithopod, an iguanodontid.  Fossils of these herbivorous dinosaurs are known from the strata that is exposed in this area and the brain displays distinct similarities to modern-day Archosaurs, the closest living relatives to the Dinosauria, crocodiles and birds.

The Fossil Placed in the Correct Anatomical Position Within the Skull of an Iguanodontid

Showing the location of the dinosaur brain element.

The location of the fossil within the skull of the iguanodontid.

Picture Credit: Oxford University and Cambridge University

Meningeal Blood Vessels Identified

Scanning microscopy undertaken by colleagues at the University of Western Australia and three-dimensional animations provided by the University of Manchester reveal the meninges, the tough tissues surrounding the actual brain, as well as tiny capillaries and portions of the adjacent soft tissues representing the cortex.  The researchers describe these details as “mineralised ghosts”.

An Image from the Three-Dimensional Animation Provided by the University of Manchester

A computerised, three-dimensional image of the brain.

A still from the Manchester University animation which shows the fine detail on the fossil’s exterior.

Picture Credit: University of Cambridge/University of Manchester

This remarkable research, a first for palaeontologists who specialise in studying the Dinosauria, has been published in a Special Publication of the Geological Society of London.  The paper has been published in tribute to Professor Martin Brasier (Oxford University), who sadly died in 2014 following a road traffic accident.  Professor Brasier had coordinated the research alongside Dr David Norman.  One of the co-authors of the paper Dr Alex Liu was a PhD student of Professor Brasier at the time the research project was started.

Dr Liu, explained the importance of this study:

“The chances of preserving brain tissue are incredibly small, so the discovery of this specimen is astonishing.”

A Dead Dinosaur with its Head Stuck Upside Down in Stagnant Water

According to the researchers, the reason this particular piece of brain tissue has been so well-preserved is that the dinosaur’s brain was essentially ‘pickled’ in a highly acidic and low-oxygen body of water.  Shortly after this dinosaur died, the corpse ended up in a shallow, stagnant pool, perhaps a bog or part of a swamp.  The skull ended up buried in the fine sediment at the bottom and this allowed the soft tissue structures to be mineralised before they began to decay.  This permitted the high degree of detail to be preserved.

A Magnified View of the Exterior of the Specimen

A closer view of the dinosaur brain fossil.

A close view of the fine structures preserved on the fossil material.

Picture Credit: Oxford University and Cambridge University

Dr Norman commented:

“What we think happened is that this particular dinosaur died in or near a body of water, and its head ended up partially buried in the sediment at the bottom.  Since the water had little oxygen and was very acidic, the soft tissues of the brain were likely preserved and cast before the rest of its body was buried in the sediment.”

In collaboration with researchers from the University of Western Australia, the scientists employed scanning electron microscopy in order to identify the tough membranes, or meninges, that surrounded the brain itself, as well as strands of collagen and blood vessels.

A Highly Magnified Portion of the Brain Showing the Meningeal Blood Vessels

Meningeal blood vessels from the dinosaur brain.

Tubular structures identified on the exterior of the brain interpreted as representing meningeal blood vessels.

Picture Credit:  Oxford University and Cambridge University

Bird Brains and the Brains of Crocodilians

Such is the exceptional preservation of the specimen that the scientists have been able to identify mineralised structures that represent tissues from the cortex (the outer layer of neural tissue of the brain), along with delicate, tiny capillaries.  These preserved tissues, especially the meninges are homologous to the brain tissues of extant Aves and crocodiles, close relatives of dinosaurs.

Scanning Electron Microscopy Reveals Remarkable Details

Scanning electron microscope images of the dinosaur brain.

The scanning electron microscope images revealed details of the internal structure of the outermost surface of the brain.

Picture Credit:  Oxford University and Cambridge University

The picture above shows a highly magnified section of the fossil, sinuses as well as the tough and fibrous tissues protecting the actual brain can be made out.  Could “Dm” represent the Dura mater, the tough membrane that helps to protect the brain?

A Typical Reptilian Brain

Reptile brains (and bird brains for that matter), are shaped very differently from our own brain with its substantial cerebellum.  In most reptile brains, the brain is sausage-shaped, surrounded by a dense region of blood vessels and thin-walled vascular chambers (sinuses), the provide a blood drainage system.  The reptile brain only occupies about fifty percent of the actual cranial cavity.

In contrast, the tissue in the fossilised brain appears to have been pressed directly against the skull, raising the possibility that some dinosaurs had large brains, with a greater volume which filled much more of the cranial cavity.  With this one specimen to study, the researchers urge caution against drawing too many conclusions as to the intelligence of dinosaurs.  It is likely that post-mortem, the brain got pressed against the bony roof of the cranial cavity.  It is difficult to infer brain size based on the data available.

Dr Norman added:

“As we can’t see the lobes of the brain itself, we can’t say for sure how big this dinosaur’s brain was.  Of course, it’s entirely possible that dinosaurs had bigger brains than we give them credit for, but we can’t tell from this specimen alone. What’s truly remarkable is that conditions were just right in order to allow preservation of the brain tissue, hopefully this is the first of many such discoveries.”

Fossil hunter Jamie Hiscocks, the finder of the specimen back in 2004 said:

“I have always believed I had something special.  I noticed there was something odd about the preservation, and soft tissue preservation did go through my mind.  Martin realised its potential significance right at the beginning, but it wasn’t until years later that its true significance came to be realised.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of Cambridge University in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper:

Martin D. Brasier et al.’ “Remarkable Preservation of Brain Tissues in an Early Cretaceous Iguanodontian Dinosaur.” Earth System Evolution and Early Life: A Celebration of the Work of Martin Brasier. Geological Society, London, Special Publications.

A Video Review of the Paleo-Creatures Eotyrannus

Paleo-Creatures Eotyrannus lengi – A Video Review

Those talented people from Paleo-Creatures have put down their modelling tools for a few minutes, just long enough so that they can produce some short videos showcasing the prehistoric animal replicas that make up the Paleo-Creatures range of scale models.  The principal person behind this exciting range is Jesús Toledo and we commend him, not only for his superb models but also for narrating the videos in English, not his first language.  Our congratulations to you Jesús and the first Paleo-Creatures video we have posted up on the Everything Dinosaur blog features Eotyrannus.  This is highly appropriate, as the fossil material related to this Early Cretaceous tyrannosaurid comes from the Isle of Wight, off the coast of southern England.  Eotyrannus (E. lengi) is in fact one of three members of the Tyrannosauroidea clade or superfamily known from the British Isles (we wonder if you can name the other two)?*

The Video Review of Eotyrannus lengi by Paleo-Creatures

Video Credit: Paleo-Creatures

A Video Introduction to the Paleo-Creatures Model Range

In this short, three-minute video, the narrator discusses the thinking behind the colouration of this particular dinosaur model.  In addition, the cleverly crafted articulated lower jaw is demonstrated and some interesting information about Eotyrannus is provided.  The video is shot outside and the figure really comes into its own when seen in bright, natural light.  Listen out for the sound of some avian dinosaurs in the background.

The speaker is quite correct to state that Eotyrannus most likely lived in a forest environment (hence the green and brown counter shading given to that feathery coat, this would have been excellent camouflage).  We at Everything Dinosaur have some information from a palaeoenvironmental study of the Isle of Wight and Portsdown High region during the deposition of the Wessex Formation that supports this view.   When Eotyrannus roamed, some 130 million years ago, to the north of the area where the fossils of this dinosaur were found, the land rose gently upwards and the tree fern dominated vegetation gave way to extensive conifer forests.  It has been suggested that Eotyrannus lived in the forest and only occasionally ventured out onto the open floodplain, an area dominated by much larger Theropods.

Things Change in Palaeontology

However, new fossil finds and continuous research can change viewpoints.  A few months ago, a palaeontology student on field trip to Compton Beach (western part of the Isle of Wight), discovered a single Eotyrannus tooth that measured nearly three centimetres long.  This was a much bigger tooth than the teeth associated with the known Eotyrannus lengi fossil remains.  The Eotyrannus holotype material was from a juvenile and the length of this dinosaur when an adult had been estimated to be around five to six metres long.  With this new fossil discovery, it is likely that Eotyrannus grew to be much bigger, perhaps in excess of eight metres in length and it would have been considerably heavier than the previously estimated quarter of a tonne.  If it was a large predator, then it may well have made its home in more open country, however, juveniles would still probably have sought safety in the cover of the forested areas, better to keep out of the way of any large carnivores.

The Eotyrannus lengi Dinosaur Figure

Paleo-Creatures Eotyrannus dinosaur model.

Everything Dinosaur stocks the Paleo-Creatures range of prehistoric animal models.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Scale of the Eotyrannus Dinosaur Model

In the informative and well-shot video, the narrator states that this model is in 1:32 model scale.  At Everything Dinosaur, we have assessed this beautiful, twenty-one centimetre replica to be around 1:28 scale, based on scaling up the known skeletal material from the holotype specimen.  With the recently discovered fossil tooth, the 1:32 scale interpretation given by Paleo-Creatures may prove to be more accurate.  That’s the great thing about science, just when you thought you were on firm footing something happens and the ground falls away from you, ironically very much like the highly unstable cliffs surrounding the plant debris bed where the Eotyrannus bone material was found.

To see the Eotyrannus lengi replica and the other Paleo-Creatures models stocked by Everything Dinosaur: Purchase the Paleo-Creatures range of prehistoric animal models here

Everything Dinosaur has an exclusive agreement to stock the Paleo-Creatures range of prehistoric animal scale models in the UK.  This growing collection features a number of dinosaurs as well as some of the more unusual creatures that once roamed planet Earth or swam in ancient seas.

*Just for the record, the other two members of the Tyrannosauroidea clade associated with the British Isles are:

  • Proceratosaurus bradleyi – from the Forest Marble Formation (Middle Jurassic – late Bathonian faunal stage).  Fossil material from Gloucestershire (central, southern England).
  • Juratyrant langhami – from the Kimmeridge Clay Formation (Late Jurassic – early Tithonian faunal stage).  Fossil material from Dorset (south-coast of England).

The First Fossil Parrot from Siberia

Prehistoric “Polly” Challenges View on Ancient Parrot Radiation and Dispersal

A partial tarsometatarsus bone from Siberia proves that ancient parrots lived much further north in the past.  This fragment of bone, dating from around 18-16 million years ago was discovered in the Lake Baikal region of Siberia.  This is the first time parrot fossils have been found in Siberia or the whole of Asia for that matter.  Parrots are mostly confined to the tropics and sub-tropics of our world today.  The parrots (Order Psittaciformes), are represented by nearly 400 hundred species and they are found throughout Africa, Asia, Australasia and the New World.  This fossil discovery, a single bone that measures around half a centimetre in length has challenged the view that parrots spread into the New World by crossing the Atlantic from Africa.  Another route will have to be considered, a movement east across the northern latitudes of Siberia and down into the New World from Alaska.

The Fragment of Fossil Bone Compared to Extant Specimens

Miocene parrot fossil from Siberia.

The prehistoric tarsometatarsus fossil compared to other parrot specimens (extant).

Picture Credit: Dr Nikita Zelenkov (Borissiak Palaeontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences) with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the tiny fragment of the tarsometatarsus of the Miocene parrot (a, e, i, j, k) compared to other fossil specimens and tarsometatarsus bones from extant species.

Key

_ = specimen number PIN 2614/218 Early Miocene of Tagay (eastern Siberia)

= tarsometatarsus of the Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo (from Australia) Calyptorhynchus funereus

_ = tarsometatarsus of the Cuban Parakeet (Aratinga euops)

_ = tarsometatarsus of the Black-capped Lory (Lorius lory) of New Guinea

Psittaciformes Dispersal Routes

 The fossil was discovered at Tagay Bay, Olkhon island (Lake Baikal) in the Irkutsk Region of Eastern Siberia, Russia.  This location (Khalagay Formation), has yielded a number of Early Miocene vertebrate fossils including rodents, members of the rhino family, hippos and cats.  The deposits are also famous for the number of bird fossil specimens found.  It is the only location in Asia where Early Miocene Aves fossils have been found.  Author of the scientific paper, describing this discovery, Dr Nikita Zelenkov of the Borissiak Palaeontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences explained the significance of this fossil:

“This locality is also interesting because it preserves a rich community of fossil birds.  But no exotic birds have been found there before.  Unfortunately, this find is not good enough to reconstruct the appearance or lifestyle of this parrot, but we can see that it was rather similar to modern ones.  So, it was likely a very modern-looking small bird, around the size of a budgerigar.”

It shares features with another earlier fossil parrot bone in Germany, reported in a study published in 2010, belonging to a species called Mogontiacopsitta miocaena.  However, no parrot fossils have been found this far north before, or indeed in Asia.  This suggests that parrots may have spread to the New World via an eastern route rather than flying across the Atlantic from Africa, a hypothesis favoured by many palaeontologists until the unearthing of this new fossil evidence.

A Map Showing the Old World Distribution of Psittaciformes and Parrot Fossil Finds

Extant parrot distribution (Old World)

Old World parrot distribution and fossil finds from Europe and Asia.

Picture Credit: Biology Letters

The map above shows current Old World distribution of parrots (black area), Miocene finds of parrots in Europe including Mogontiacopsitta (white stars) and the position of Tagay locality (black star) where the tarsometatarsus fragment was found.

What is a Tarsometatarsus?

To a vertebrate palaeontologist, the tarsometatarsus is a very important bone.  It is a relatively long, lower leg bone found only in the skeletons of birds and certain types of dinosaur.  It is fully fused in modern birds although, in prehistoric bird types, the fusion is somewhat different and far from complete, for example in the Enantiornithines, a diverse group of Mesozoic birds that died out at the end of the Cretaceous, the bones that form the tarsometatarsus were only partially fused along their length.  The bones that make up the tarsometatarsus are represented by the ankle and toe bones (metatarsals) in mammals and other types of Archosaur.

The scientific paper (Biology Letters): “The First Fossil Parrot (Aves, Psittaciformes) from Siberia and its Implications for the Historical Biogeography of Psittaciformes.”

Fossil Hunting Event at Biddulph Grange Garden

Budding Palaeontologists Wanted at Biddulph Grange Garden – Sunday 30th October

On the cusp of “Dinovember” already and Sunday 30th October will see team members from Everything Dinosaur visiting the prestigious Biddulph Grange Garden (Staffordshire), to set up a fossil finding activity in support of the fund to help restore and refurbish the amazing Geological Gallery at this National Trust property.  The beautiful Biddulph Grange House and Gardens, a fine example of Victorian architecture and landscaping, hide a secret.  Theologian, lay preacher and naturalist James Bateman, the erstwhile owner of the house and gardens, built a unique gallery dedicated to uniting the ideas of a biblical creation with the newly emerging sciences of geology and palaeontology.

An Illustration of the Victorian Geological Gallery

An lithograph of the geological gallery at Bidduph Grange House.

An illustration of James Bateman’s amazing Geological Gallery in its Victorian heyday.

Picture Credit: National Trust

This amazing gallery is currently being restored and Everything Dinosaur will be inviting “palaeontologists in training” to brush up on their fossil hunting skills and help us to discover fossils.  What you find you can take home and keep!

For ticket prices and further information: Palaeontology Camp at Biddulph Grange Garden

Everything Dinosaur team members are busy sorting out all sorts of amazing fossils that they intend to giveaway to lucky fossil hunters on Sunday 30th October, with so many fossils to find, visitors to this fund-raising event are bound to come away with something special, we might even bring a few of our dinosaur fossils and other items along too.

Sorting Prehistoric Sharks Teeth Ready for the Fossil Hunt

fossilised shark teeth.

A successful fossil hunt.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A Unique Space

The Geological Gallery demonstrates the growing scientific understanding of ancient life on Earth and marries it with the biblical view of creation as outlined in the first book of the bible (Genesis).  James Bateman’s vision was to set out fossils and the history of prehistoric animals and plants in the context of the seven days of the Christian creation story.  The garden was a marvel of its age, providing a striking exhibition of beautiful fossils and colourful rocks.  A dedicated team of volunteers at the National Trust are setting out to restore the Geological Galley to its former glory and visitors on Sunday have the opportunity to see the progress, as well as to take home a little bit of Earth’s prehistory for themselves.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur might even play one or two games and provide some palaeontological puzzles to test the knowledge of the young fossil hunters who join us on the day (watch out mums, dads, grandparents and guardians, we might just teach you a thing or two too).

Chirotherium Fossil Track Being Restored to the Exhibit

A Chirotherium reptile print (Triassic).

Restoring one of the fossil exhibits in the Biddulph Grange Geological Gallery.

Picture Credit: National Trust

For further information on the exciting day of dinosaur themed activities (the fun starts at 11.30am Sunday morning), check out this link: Budding Palaeontologists at Biddulph Grange Garden!

Visit to the Senckenberg Natural History Museum

The Senckenberg Natural History Museum (Naturmuseum Senckenberg)

When in Frankfurt, take the opportunity to visit one of the largest natural history museums in Germany, the Naturmuseum Senckenberg (Senckenberg Natural History Museum).  Team members at Everything Dinosaur did just that, visiting the museum just prior to the commencement of a major refurbishment programme.  The spacious dinosaur gallery is perhaps, the most popular gallery in the museum and it is certainly worth a look around, but in addition, there are plenty of other gems to spot amongst the extensive collection of The Senckenberg Research Institute.

Tyrannosaurus rex Greets Visitors to the Naturmuseum Senckenberg

T. rex replica outside the Frankfurt museum.

A well-known Frankfurt landmark. The T. rex outside the Naturmuseum Senckenberg .

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Dinosaur Gallery

With a life-size replica of T. rex to be found opposite the main entrance, visitors to the museum will not be surprised to discover that a cast of Tyrannosaurus rex can be found in the ground floor dinosaur gallery.  The near forty-foot long replica positioned on a landscaped area over the road from the entrance to the museum, is in very good condition, given the amount of attention the Frankfurt T. rex was getting from young dinosaur fans who were delighted to get up close to the statue and run between the Theropod’s giant legs.

A Cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex Skeleton in the Dinosaur Gallery

T. rex skeleton at the Frankfurt Natural History Museum

The museum’s dinosaur gallery. Naturmuseum Senckenberg

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Dinosaur Gallery

Although the gallery is quite large and all the life-size dinosaurs that occupy the floor space are mounted on raised platforms, visiting the gallery later in the afternoon, affords the visitor the best views as towards closing time the galleries are much less busy.

For us, a highlight of the dinosaur gallery was being able to view the marvellous Bob Nicholls replica of Psittacosaurus, the dinosaur featured in a recently published scientific paper that examined the idea of counter shading in forest dwelling dinosaurs.  This beautiful model demonstrates how our views about the appearance of dinosaurs has changed.  Contrast, for example, Bob’s remarkable replica with some of the painted images of dinosaurs that occupy the walls of the dinosaur gallery.

The Life-size Psittacosaurus Replica on Display

Life-size Psittacosaurus replica.

A model of the dinosaur called Psittacosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The beautifully preserved fossil Psittacosaurus specimen that was used in the recent study into dinosaur colouration can be found in the Senckenberg Research Institute’s vertebrate fossil collection.  The fossil probably came from the Yixian Formation of Liaoning Province (north-eastern China), most likely from an illegal smuggling operation.  However, the specimen was purchased by the Frankfurt museum (see photograph below).

To read an article from Everything Dinosaur about this exciting area of research: Calculating the Colour of Psittacosaurus

A Cast of the Psittacosaurus Fossil on Display at the Museum

A Psittacosaurus fossil.

Psittacosaurus fossil on display at the Senckenberg Naturmuseum (Frankfurt).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

As well as specimens of Diplodocus, Iguanodon, Triceratops (T. prorsus) and Euoplocephalus, look out for the wall-mounted Plateosaurus and the collection of dinosaur eggs.

An Oviraptor on Display Next to Examples of Dinosaur Nests and Eggs

An Oviraptor and dinosaur eggs exhibit.

An Oviraptor and its nest.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

With many of the information panels written in both German and English, these thoughtful displays are most illuminating.

Other Museum Highlights

The mammal gallery is most impressive, look out for the Quagga display (an extinct sub-species of plains Zebra), one of just a handful of specimens in the world.  In the marsupial area, a Thylacine can be found, standing amongst its close relatives the Tasmanian Devil and the Quoll.

The Thylacine is Included in the Marsupial Mammals Display

A Thylacine on display.

A Thylacine is included in the Australian mammals part of the gallery (Senckenberg Museum).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Spectacular Displays of Ancient and Not So Ancient Prehistoric Elephants

Large elephants on display.

Prehistoric elephants on display at the Senckenberg Museum (Frankfurt).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Messel Oil Shales and Marine Reptiles

For the keen fossil fan, there is a substantial display of invertebrate fossils helping to get across the concept of deep time as well as explaining biostratigraphy (check out the ammonites that help to illustrate this).  An entire side gallery has been dedicated to the remarkable fossils from the Messel Oil Shales.  We suspect this part of the museum has been recently modernised, the displays were well lit and the many different types of animal and plant fossil from the Messel pits were thoughtfully showcased and grouped by Phyla and Orders.

Part of the Messel Oil Shales Gallery

Part of the Messel gallery (Senckenberg Museum).

The atmospheric Messel gallery at the Senckenberg Museum (Frankfurt).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The marine reptile gallery was also most impressive.  There were a large number of replica fossils on display including spectacular examples of Ichthyosaurs, Placodonts, Plesiosaurs, Turtles and Nothosaurs.  Visitors to the museum also have the opportunity to view examples of giants of the sea around today with a most informative Cetacean gallery.  It was also a pleasure to see explanation panels on the evolution of the whale family along with specimens representing Basilosaurus and Ambulocetus, the Ambulocetus tying in nicely with the Messel fossils exhibit.

 An Exhibit Explaining How the Plesiosauria “Flew” Underwater

An underwater flyer (Plesiosauria).

A display explaining how marine reptiles “flew” underwater.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

One of the Displays from the Spectacular Cetacean Gallery

Ancient whales on display.

The spectacular ancient whales gallery (Senckenberg Museum).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We look forward to learning more about the refurbishment programme for this museum and whilst we appreciate there will be some disruption during this work, we recommend this museum.  It is well worth a visit.

The Skin of a Spanish Titanosaur

Titanosaur Trace Fossils Excite Palaeontologists

Now that team members have published an article on Australia’s newest titanosaurid (Savannasaurus elliottorum), we can turn our attention to another scientific paper, actually published last month, which details an exciting Titanosaur related discovery but this time from Europe, or to be more precise Catalonia in Spain.  Researchers have discovered fossils of skin impressions in rocks that were formed from sediments deposited at the very end of the Age of Dinosaurs.

A Close View of the Larger of the Two Dinosaur Skin Impression Fossils

Titanosaur skin impression.

Titanosauriform Sauropod dinosaur skin impression (Catalonia).

Picture Credit: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Autonomous University of Barcelona)

How was the Skin Impression Made?

The picture above shows the bigger of the two dinosaur trace fossils.  Large, irregular, quite angular scales can be made out.  However, what the photograph shows is not the actual skin impression but a natural cast. Sometime around 66 million years ago a dinosaur was crossing a stretch of mud close to a river.  It may have slipped and fallen or perhaps it simply rested for a while lying down on the sticky muddy surface.  An impression of the animal’s scales was made in the soft mud.  These marks were later covered by sand, perhaps as a result of the river level rising.  Over tens of thousands of years, this sand was slowly turned to sandstone (sedimentary rock).  Uplift and subsequent erosion exposed the rock layer where the natural cast was preserved and over time the softer mudstone was gradually eroded away leading to the exposure of the natural cast of the dinosaur’s skin.  Trace fossils such as this preserve a moment in time, they preserve evidence of behaviour or activity.  If you look carefully you can see shadows around some of the individual scales, the scales are raised.  This sort of trace fossil is known as an epirelief (raised) fossil.

How do we Know the Fossils Come from a Titanosaur?

In truth, nobody knows for certain what type of animal left these impressions of its skin.  The shape of the scales are similar to other dinosaur skin impressions, so it is very likely that these fossils represent a member of the Dinosauria.  The size of the individual scales are just too big for the Theropod and Ornithopod dinosaurs that are known to have lived in this area some sixty-six million years ago.  In addition, palaeontologists have found the big, rounded tracks of wide-bodied Titanosaurs in similar-aged strata close by.  So, in all probability, these two fossils represent a Titanosaur and it is likely that the two epirelief trace fossils, one about twenty centimetres wide and the other just five centimetres across and within one and a half metres of the other, were made by the same animal at the same time.

Titanosaur Has a Lie Down

A dinosaur rests by the riverbank.

A titanosaurid takes a rest on a riverbank.

Picture Credit: Mark Witton (with some background alteration by Everything Dinosaur)

Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona researcher and lead author of the scientific paper published in the “Geological” magazine, Victor Fondevilla, explained that although dinosaur skin impressions have been discovered in Europe before, they don’t come from the very end of the Mesozoic.

He stated:

“This is the only registry of dinosaur skin from this period in all of Europe, and it corresponds to one of the most recent specimens, closer to the extinction event, in all of the world.”

These trace fossils, located in the red sandstone beds of the Tremp Formation (southern Pyrenees), represent some of the most recent dinosaur fossils ever made, coming from the chronozone associated with the period of the Maastrichtian faunal stage immediately before the K-Pg extinction event.  These, in situ Titanosaur fossils come from C29r chronozone or chron, as these slices of time are sometimes referred to.  Thus, they represent some of the last fossils known representing Titanosauriforms.

Victor Fondevilla Points out Where the Larger of the Two Trace Fossils can be found on the Exposed Rock Face

Victor Fondevilla, (Autonomous University of Barcelona) examines one of the dinosaur skin fossils.

Looking at dinosaur skin fossils.

Picture Credit: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Autonomous University of Barcelona)

The Scientific paper: “Skin Impressions of the Last European Dinosaurs” published in Geological Magazine (Cambridge University Press)

To read our article on “Wade” Savannasaurus elliottorum: Titanosaurs Crossing Continents Savannasaurus elliottorum

Carcharodontosaurus – A Very Popular Dinosaur

Carcharodontosaurus – An Enormous Carnivorous Dinosaur

Paleo Paul has been busy with his camera again as this week, team members at Everything Dinosaur were emailed some photographs of the latest addition to his fossil collection, a magnificent broken tooth from a very large Theropod dinosaur.  In his email, Paleo Paul explained that the tooth was from a North African, meat-eating dinosaur called Carcharodontosaurus, a dinosaur whose fossils first came to the attention of the scientific community in the early part of the 20th Century, although Carcharodontosaurus was not named and formally described until 1931.

The Large Theropod Tooth (Carcharodontosaurus)

Dinosaur fan sends picture of dinosaur tooth into Everything Dinosaur

The large, broken Theropod dinosaur tooth identified as Carcharodontosaurus.

Picture Credit: Paleo Paul

Carcharodontosaurus saharicus

Paleo Paul wrote to say that this dinosaur was named and described by the famous German palaeontologist Ernst Stromer von Reichenbach and this is a beautiful specimen.  In many of the fossil carcharodontid teeth that we have examined, the tip of the tooth is often missing and Paleo Paul is lucky to have this specimen in his fossil collection.  This is a broken tooth, the root is missing, this tooth was most probably shed when this dinosaur was alive.  The tooth may have been lost when this carnivore was either feeding or fighting.  Scientists now know that North Africa around 98 million years ago (Late Albian to Early Cenomanian faunal stages) was home to a number of large predatory dinosaurs.  Carcharodontosaurus saharicus is regarded as an apex predator, some of the teeth associated with this species are nearly twenty centimetres long!

A Close up of the Denticles (Serrations on the Teeth)

A close up of the denticles on the side of a Theropod dinosaur tooth.

A close up of the serrations on the side of the tooth.

Picture Credit: Paleo Paul

The photograph above shows a close up the tooth serrations (denticles) which are found on the carinae (sharp edges) of the tooth.  The shape, number and size of these denticles are helpful when attempting to identify which dinosaur the tooth likely came from.  Denticles can be found on both the leading edge (anterior) and the rear edge of the tooth (posterior), most Theropod teeth have two carinae therefore, in bilateral symmetry, but not always, the carinae can be offset or even split in some genera.  Being able to see clearly defined denticles such as these reflects the high degree of preservation of this particular fossil tooth.  Well done to Paleo Paul for getting a super close up photograph!

An Apex Predator

Carcharodontosaurus saharicus was very probably the top predator in its environment.  In the Everything Dinosaur database, we record C. saharicus as being potentially, up to fourteen metres long, reaching a head height of nearly six metres and weighing in excess of 6,000 kilogrammes.  It really was a formidable animal.  Carcharodontosaurus is very popular amongst dinosaur fans and Paleo Paul also sent in a couple of pictures of his CollectA Deluxe Carcharodontosaurus model

The CollectA Deluxe Carcharodontosaurus in a Dinosaur Diorama

The CollectA Carcharodontosaurus dinosaur model.

The CollectA Carcharodontosaurus provides an excellent example of what palaeontologists think this dinosaur looked like.

Picture Credit: Paleo Paul

The CollectA Carcharodontosaurus provides an excellent example of what palaeontologists think this dinosaur looked like.

To view the CollectA Deluxe range of scale prehistoric animal models: CollectA Deluxe Scale Prehistoric Animal Models

Paleo Paul likes to modify and repaint his prehistoric animal replicas, but in this instance he has decided that the CollectA Carcharodontosaurus needs no such makeover. It is just fine as it is.

The CollectA Deluxe Carcharodontosaurus on the Prowl

CollectA Carcharodontosaurus model.

CollectA Carcharodontosaurus prehistoric scene.

Picture Credit: Paleo Paul

Our thanks once again to Paleo Paul for sharing his photographs with us.

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