All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//April
30 04, 2017

DNA from Ancient Hominins Discovered in Cave Sediments

By | April 30th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

DNA from Cave Sediments Reveals Ancient Human Occupants

Close to the Belgium town of Modave, there is a large cave.  It overlooks the Hoyoux River, a tributary of the Meuse and although no human bones have ever been found at this cave site, palaeoanthropologists are confident that it was once occupied by ancient humans as animal bones with stone tool cut marks are associated with the site.  The cave is called Trou Al’Wesse (“Wasp Cave” in Walloon) and thanks to a remarkable application of technology, scientists now know that some fifty thousand years ago, a Neanderthal relieved himself inside the cave.  That person’s urine and faeces may have long since decomposed but, left in the cave sediments were minute traces of his DNA.  Researchers have shown that they can find and identify such genetic traces of ancient humans, enabling them to test for the presence of ancient hominins even at sites where no human bones have been discovered.  In addition, the same technique can be used to map other mammalian fauna at these locations.  The scientists, including researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany) propose that this technique could become a standard tool in palaeoarchaeology.

Excavations at the site of El Sidrón, (Spain) – One of the Cave Sites in the Study

Searching for evidence of ancient hominin DNA.

Excavations at the site of El Sidrón, Spain.

Picture Credit: El Sidrón research team

The Secrets of Cave Soils and Sediments

Human remains are extremely rare and although scientists are aware of the existence of ancient hominins such as the Denisovans, they are only known from a handful of fossilised bones (literally, a single finger bone and a possible femur, plus some teeth).  However, cave soils and sediments themselves can provide genetic evidence in the form of tiny traces of ancient hominin DNA.  By examining cave soils and sediments and extracting genetic traces, scientists can gain a better understanding of the evolutionary history of humans, even if no bones or stone tools are present.

The research team members collected eighty-five sediment samples from seven caves in Europe and Russia that humans are known to have entered or even lived in during the Pleistocene Epoch.  The samples dated from between 14,000 and 550,000 years ago.  Using a refined DNA analysis technique, one that was originally designed to identify plant and animal DNA, the team were able to search specifically for hominin genetic evidence.

Commenting on the significance of this research, Matthias Meyer (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology) and co-author of the study published in the journal “Science” stated:

“We know that several components of sediments can bind DNA.  We therefore decided to investigate whether hominin DNA may survive in sediments at archaeological sites known to have been occupied by ancient hominins.”

Entrance to the Archaeological Site of Vindija Cave, Croatia

Searching for traces of ancient human DNA.

Entrance to the archaeological site of Vindija Cave, Croatia.

Picture Credit: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology/J.Krause

The picture above shows a view from the entrance of Vindija Cave in northern Croatia, one of the seven sites studied.  Analysis of microscopic amounts of mitochondrial DNA at the Vindija Cave location confirmed the presence of several large mammals including Cave Bears at this location.  The researchers found evidence of a total of twelve different mammalian families across the sites that were included in this study, including enigmatic, extinct species such as Woolly Mammoth, Woolly Rhinoceros and Cave Hyena.

 Mitochondrial DNA Helps Map the Presence of Large Mammals (Including Hominins)

DNA analysis identifies cave inhabitants.

DNA analysis helps map the presence of mammalian fauna in the absence of body fossils.

Picture Credit: Journal Science

Once animal DNA had been mapped the researchers turned their attention to identifying ancient human genetic traces within the samples.

Lead author of the research paper, PhD student Viviane Slon (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology), explained:

“From the preliminary results, we suspected that in most of our samples, DNA from other mammals was too abundant to detect small traces of human DNA.  We then switched strategies and started targeting specifically DNA fragments of human origin.”

In total, nine samples from four cave sites contained enough ancient hominin DNA to permit further analysis.  Of these, eight sediment samples contained Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA, either from one or multiple individuals, whilst one sample contained evidence of Denisovan DNA.  The majority of these samples were taken from archaeological layers or sites where no Neanderthal bones or teeth had been previously found.

A New, Important Tool for Palaeoanthropology

Svante Pääbo, another co-author of the paper and director of the Evolutionary Genetics department at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology commented that the ability to retrieve ancient hominin DNA from sediments represented a significant advance in palaeoanthropology and archaeology.  The use of this technique could become a standard analytical procedure in future.

A Sample Ready for Testing

Testing cave sediments for ancient human DNA.

A cave sediment sample is prepared for DNA testing.

Picture Credit: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology/S. Tüpke

Even sediment samples that were stored at room temperature for years still yielded DNA.  Analyses of these and of freshly-excavated sediment samples recovered from archaeological sites where no human remains are found will shed light on these sites’ former occupants and our joint genetic history.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the contribution of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in the compilation of this article.

29 04, 2017

Japan’s Most Complete Dinosaur Discovery

By | April 29th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Late Cretaceous Hadrosaur “Japan’s Greatest Dinosaur Fossil Find”

Scientists for Hokkaido University and Hobetsu Museum have announced the discovery of the fossilised remains of a Late Cretaceous duck-billed dinosaur.  In truth, a number of fragmentary fossils relating to a dinosaur had been found some years earlier, most notably caudal vertebrae (tail bones), before a more detailed and larger scale excavation was carried out to determine just how much of the dinosaur skeleton laid buried on a steep slope forming part of the large hills on the island of Hokkaido.

Many hundreds of hours of fieldwork later and some six tons of material have been removed containing one hundred and ninety fossils which represent the remains of an eight-metre-long hadrosaurid.  The fossils of this duck-billed dinosaur are the largest and most complete dinosaur discovery from Japan.  In a country where understatement tends to be the norm, some commentators have stated that the discovery of these fossils represent “one of the greatest discoveries in Japanese dinosaur research history.”

A Photograph Taken in 2013 Showing the Position of the Dig Site

Digging up the dinosaur bones (Hokkaido, Japan).

The outcrop on the steep slope where the fossilised remains of the duck-billed dinosaur were found on Hokkaido (Japan).

Picture Credit: Hobetsu Museum

Found in Marine Deposits

The hadrosaurid bones were found in the marine deposits of the Upper Cretaceous Hakobuchi Formation.  These sediments represent continental shelf strata, with a water depth of anything from 80 to 200 metres.  Scientists are not sure how the terrestrial dinosaur came to be located in offshore rock sediments.  Perhaps the dinosaur was washed out to sea and drowned or, the carcase of a dinosaur could have travelled out to sea with the gases inside its large gut keeping it afloat before the body cavity was ruptured and the corpse sank and settled on the seabed.  Ammonites and other zonal fossils indicate that the rocks from which the dinosaur was excavated are approximately 72 million years old (Late Campanian to Early Maastrichtian faunal stage).

A Photograph Showing the Dig Site with the Location of Several Bones Mapped Out

Part-way through the Japanese dinosaur excavation.

A photograph showing a large rock nodule with fossil dinosaur bone positions marked.

Picture Credit: Hobetsu Museum

Incredibly Rare Find

Japanese dinosaur discoveries are few and far between, with most of Japan’s dinosaurs having been described from a few, isolated fragments.  Experts say it’s incredibly rare to unearth so many fossils and be able to piece back together almost the entire skeleton.  Researchers from Hokkaido University and Hobetsu Museum are confident that these fossils will prove to be a new species of duck-billed dinosaur.  The excavation and preparation work has taken a total of four years.  Fortunately, the researchers had been posting regular updates on their progress to keep the inhabitants of the nearby town of Mukawa (on the southern coast of Hokkaido), fully informed and to deter any curious parties attempting to remove any of the partially excavated remains.

Commenting on the significance of the discovery, Professor Yoshitsugu Kobayashi (Hokkaido University) stated:

“The fossils are also valuable in global terms.  We hope to discover what kind of dinosaur habitat existed along the coast.”

The Cleaned Bones Laid Out in Anatomical Position (Japanese Hadrosaurid)

Japanese hadrosaurid fossils.

Remains of a Late Cretaceous herbivorous dinosaur found in Japan.

Picture Credit: Avalon Red

The Hadrosaurid Fossils Probably Represent a New Species

Japanese hadrosaurid fossils.

The fossils of this duck-billed dinosaur represent the largest and most complete dinosaur discovery from Japan.

Picture Credit: Avalon Red

The picture above shows the scale of the dinosaur and the number of fossil bones discovered, laid out in approximate anatomical position.  The articulated section of caudal vertebrae, one of the first fossil finds at the site, are shown on the far right of the photograph.

An Artist’s Impression of the Hadrosaurid Corpse Floating Out to Sea

Dinosaur corpse washed out to sea.

An artist’s illustration of the duck-billed dinosaur carcase washed out to sea.

Picture Credit: Masato Hattori

The dinosaur has been nick-named the “Mukawa dragon” and it is hoped that an exhibit will soon be created telling the story of how this duck-billed dinosaur came to rest at the bottom of a shallow tropical sea and what its carcase can tell palaeontologists about life in the Late Cretaceous.

Other Japanese dinosaur discoveries:

Schoolboy finds dinosaur bone: Japanese Schoolboy Finds Dinosaur Toe Bone

Hinting at a Japanese Theropod: Fragmentary Fossil Teeth Indicate Large Japanese Theropod Dinosaur

28 04, 2017

Fossil with “Can-opener” Claws – Tokummia katalepsis

By | April 28th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Origins of the Mandibulate Body Plan

Scientists at the University of Toronto in collaboration with colleagues at the Royal Ontario Museum, have published this week a scientific paper describing Tokummia katalepsis, a predator from the Cambrian, one that has provided palaeontologists with a better understanding of the evolution of one of the most numerous and diverse group of animals on Earth.  The fossils, collected during extensive field work exploring 508 million-year-old sedimentary rocks near Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park, (British Columbia), shed light on the origin of a group of arthropods collectively known as the Mandibulata.  The Mandibulata is a clade of the phylum Arthropoda that consists of millipedes, centipedes, the crustacea and insects.  Mandibulates are united by having a pair of specialised jaws “mandibles”, which can be used for a variety of purposes such as hunting, biting, cutting food into smaller pieces, digging, carrying items and constructing nests.

A Computer-Generated Image of Tokummia katalepsis

Tokummia katalepsis computer generated image.

A three-dimensional computer generated image of Tokummia katalepsis showing serrated pincers and the pair of mandibles.

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

The mandibulates constitute the largest, most speciose and most varied clade within the Arthropoda, but their evolutionary origins are poorly understood.  The discovery of several well-preserved specimens of T. katalepsis documents, for the first time, the anatomy of an early member of the Mandibulata.

Commenting on the significance of this research, Cédric Aria (University of Toronto) and lead author of the paper published in the journal “Nature” stated:

“In spite of their colossal diversity today, the origin of mandibulates had largely remained a mystery.  Before now we’ve had only sparse hints at what the first arthropods with mandibles could have looked like and no idea of what could have been other key characteristics that triggered the unrivalled diversification of that group.”

One of the T. katalepsis Fossils Used in the Study

Tokummia fossil material.

The flattened fossil of Tokummia showing numerous legs, the dorsal carapace and the specialised pincers.

Picture Credit: Jean-Bernard Caron (Royal Ontario Museum)

The photograph above shows one of the beautifully preserved fossils found in 2014.  This specimen of Tokummia katalepsis shows a number of strong legs on the left partially protruding from the body, the shape of the bivalved carapace and dozens of small paddle-like limbs below the trunk at the lower right.

A Cross Between a Crab, a Centipede and a Can-opener

Described by some observers as looking like a cross between a crab, a centipede and a can-opener, Tokummia lived in a tropical sea that teemed with early marine life-forms including the ancestors of vertebrates.  At around ten centimetres in length, T. katalepsis was one of the largest predators in the ecosystem.  It had large pincers which the researchers thought would have been too delicate to tackle shelled animals like brachiopods and bivalves.  The research team postulate that Tokummia was primarily benthic (living on the sea floor), where it scuttled about digging into the sediment to catch soft bodied creatures such as worms.  The claws reminded the scientists of a can-opener, once grasped, any unfortunate prey would have been cut up into more easily digestible pieces by those revolutionary, broad, serrated mandibles.

The genus name honours Tokumm Creek, a small river that runs through Marble Canyon, the location of the fossil finds.  The species or trivial name is derived from the ancient Greek for “grasping”.

A Computer-Generated Image from a Video that Demonstrates Tokummia Locomotion

Tokummia katalepsis - computer generated image.

A computer animated image showing the basic body plan of Tokummia katalepsis.

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

Co-author of the scientific paper and an expert on the Burgess Shale biota, Jean-Bernard Caron (Royal Ontario Museum and an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto), stated:

“This spectacular new predator, one of the largest and best preserved soft-bodied arthropods from Marble Canyon, joins the ranks of the many unusual marine creatures that lived during the Cambrian Explosion, a period of rapid evolutionary charge starting about half a billion years ago when most major animal groups first emerged in the fossil record.”

Numerous Fossil Specimens Studied

Careful mechanical preparation of the numerous specimens coupled with photographic work carried out under differing wavelengths of light, revealed the details of the Tokummia body plan.  The segmented trunk of Tokummia consisted of fifty small segments covered by a wide, two-piece carapace.  The delicate fossils show evidence of the pair of broad, notched mandibles as well as the large but quite delicate-looking front claws (maxillipeds), which are typical features of extant mandibulates.

Importantly, the animal bears subdivided limb bases with tiny projections called endites, which can be found in the larvae of certain crustaceans alive today and are now thought to have been critical innovations for the evolution of the various legs of mandibulates, and even for the mandibles themselves.

Fossils Providing an Insight into the Evolution of the Mandibulata

Tokummia katalepsis fossil.

Dorsal/ventral view of Tokummia katalepsis fossil material.

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

Graduate student Cédric Aria added that the many segments that make up the body are very reminiscent of living Myriapoda, the sub-phylum of Arthropoda that includes centipedes, millipedes and their relatives.

He went onto state:

“Tokummia also lacks the typical second antenna found in crustaceans, which illustrates a very surprising convergence with such terrestrial mandibulates.”

The study also resolves the affinities of other emblematic fossils excavated from Canada’s famous Burgess Shale deposits, more than a hundred years after their initial discovery.  Burgess Shale fossils such as Branchiocaris, Canadaspis and Odaraia form with Tokummia, a group of crustacean-like arthropods that can now be placed at the base of all mandibulates, they can be regarded as basal members of the Mandibulata.

The scientific paper: “Burgess Shale Fossils Illustrate the Origin of the Mandibulate Body Plan”: by Cédric Aria and Jean-Bernard Caron, published in the journal “Nature”.

27 04, 2017

JurassicCollectables Schleich “First Giants” Dunkleosteus Review

By | April 27th, 2017|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur videos, Main Page|0 Comments

JurassicCollectables Reviews the Schleich Dunkleosteus Model

Everything Dinosaur team members had the opportunity to examine the sculpt for the Schleich “First Giants” Dunkleosteus model and we commented at the time that we thought this would prove to be one of the most popular Schleich models to be introduced for quite a while.  This has certainly turned out to be the case and now JurassicCollectables has given model fans the chance to get a good look at this Placoderm in their latest video review.

JurassicCollectables Reviews the Schleich “First Giants” Dunkleosteus

Video Credit: JurassicCollectables

Prehistoric Fish into the Spotlight

This heavily armoured fish from the Late Devonian with its distinctive plates is one of the best known of all the prehistoric animals outside of the Dinosauria amongst model collectors.  As a group the Placoderms (Class Placodermi), evolved in the Silurian and Dunkleosteus, is regarded by many as the first vertebrate super-predator in the fossil record.  A number of species have been named and described, in the video the narrator states a length of six metres for this formidable marine monster, however, the lack of postcranial fossils precludes accurate measurements or even an assessment of the body plan of this prehistoric fish, but we at Everything Dinosaur have seen plates, (some of which are more than five centimetres think), that indicate individuals may have reached lengths in excess of nine metres.

In the short, highly informative video, the remarkable dermal plates and jaws are seen in close-up view and the narrator comments on the silver finish that Schleich opted for and the battered, scratched and nicked appearance of the plates.  This is very much how the plates would have appeared if you had braved diving in the Late Devonian and been unfortunate to meet one of these fearsome creatures.

A Dunkleosteus Guards the Entrance to the Fish Gallery at the Frankfurt Natural History Museum

Dunkleosteus on display.

The spectacular Dunkleosteus exhibit.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Comments on the Scale of the Scales

The JurassicCollectables video also pays close attention to the different types of scale depicted along the body.  The viewer is given the opportunity to compare and contrast the different sizes of scale depicted on this skilfully crafted replica.

A Close-up View of the Different Sized Scales on the Flank and Fins of the Schleich Dunkleosteus Model

Schleich "First Giants" Dunkleosteus.

Schleich Dunkleosteus model.  The scales are highlighted in the video.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

JurassicCollectables have a wonderful YouTube channel which is full of dinosaur model reviews and other very informative and interesting videos.  This YouTube channel has over 54,000 subscribers, that’s an amazing achievement, our congratulations to everyone at JurassicCollectables for such an amazing YouTube channel.

Visit the YouTube channel of JurassicCollectables here: JurassicCollectables on YouTube , Everything Dinosaur recommends that prehistoric animal model fans subscribe to the JurassicCollectables YouTube channel.  The YouTube channel of JurassicCollectables has got reviews of a number of Schleich replicas, including all of the 2016 Schleich “First Giants” releases.

The Schleich Dunkleosteus Model

The Dunkleosteus model from Schleich.

The Schleich Dunkleosteus model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the range of Schleich prehistoric animal replicas available from Everything Dinosaur, including the Schleich “First Giants” Dunkleosteus: Schleich Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animal Models

26 04, 2017

Headless Duck-Billed Dinosaur Reunited with Skull

By | April 26th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Corythosaurus Fossil Gets its Head Back

Scientists from the University of Alberta have been able to reunite the fossilised body of a Corythosaurus to its head, nearly one hundred years after the skull fossil was removed from the dig site.

Researchers have matched the headless skeleton to a Corythosaurus skull (C. excavatus) from the university’s Palaeontology Museum that had been collected in 1920 by the eminent George Sternberg during field work in what is now called the Dinosaur Provincial Park (southern Alberta).

Graduate Katherine Bramble, a co-author of the scientific paper that appears in the latest issue of “Cretaceous Research” commented:

“Based on our results, we believed there was potential that the skull and this specimen belonged together.”

The Corythosaurus (C. excavatus) Skull Collected by George Sternberg in 1920

Corythosaurus fossil skull.

The Corythosaurus skull collected by George Sternberg in 1920.

Picture Credit: The University of Alberta

Trophy Hunting When It Came to Dinosaur Fossils

The Corythosaurus skull shown in lateral view (above) was collected in 1920 and designated the holotype fossil for a new hadrosaurid (Corythosaurus excavatus) by C. W. Gilmore in 1923.  The skull, (UALVP 13) became part of the University’s vertebrate fossil collection.  In 1992, a previously uncovered, weathered, Corythosaurus skeleton was found.  A field team from the University of Alberta collected the specimen in 2012 and research undertaken by Darren Tanke (a technician at the Royal Tyrrell Museum), a co-author of the paper indicated that the body remains could be associated with the already known skull material.

In the 19th and early 20th Century, palaeontologists in North America were almost faced with an embarrassment of riches when it came to dinosaur fossils.  The extensive fossil deposits in Utah, Montana and southern Alberta led to many field teams simply “cherry picking” and only collecting the most spectacular of fossils, items such as claws, skulls, dermal armour, horns and teeth.  It is relatively common for a field team working in the Dinosaur Provincial Park to come across specimens missing skull material.

A Close-Up View of a Corythosaurus Dinosaur Model

CollectA Corythosaurus dinosaur model.

A close-up of the head of Corythosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Lower Jaw (Dentary) Found

In addition, an isolated Hadrosaur dentary (lower jaw bone), found in 1992, close to the articulated, postcranial skeleton may be one of the missing jaw fossils from the holotype skull.  The idea that this postcranial material be the skeleton of the holotype of Corythosaurus excavatus was tested using anatomical information and statistical analyses.  Statistical comparisons suggest that it is possible that the skull and dentary belong to the same individual.  Furthermore, the researchers postulate that the postcranial material could belong to the UALVP 13 skull.

Katherine Bramble explained:

“Using anatomical measurements of the skull and the skeleton, we conducted a statistical analysis.  Based on these results, we believed there was potential that the skull and this specimen belonged together.”

Matching Disparate Fossils to Individual Dinosaurs

This discovery highlights a growing field of study in palaeontology, wherein, scientists try to develop new ways of determining whether various parts of a skeleton, often located in different museum collections, belong to the same individual.  For this paper, the team used anatomical measurements, but there are several other ways of matching up fossil bones, such as conducting a chemical analysis on the surrounding matrix to identify the rocks from which the fossils were found.

The scientific paper, “Reuniting the ‘head hunted’ Corythosaurus excavatus (Dinosauria: Hadrosauridae) holotype skull with its dentary and postcranium,” published in the journal of “Cretaceous Research.”

25 04, 2017

Fossil Fungus Discovery Rocks Geology and Biology

By | April 25th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

Fungus-Like Forms Found in 2.4 Billion-Year-Old Rocks

An international team of researchers, including scientists from the Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm University and the University of California, have identified microscopic structures found in tiny bubbles and pores in ancient basalt that resemble fungi.  If these fungi-like structures are indeed Palaeoproterozoic remnants of members of the Kingdom Fungi, then this discovery could push back the date for the oldest fungi by between 1,000 and 2,000 million years.

Thin Sections of the Ongeluk Basalt Showing Evidence of Mycelium

Ancient fungi in ancient marine rocks.

Views of treated micro-slides showing potential mycelium.

Picture Credit: Nature, Ecology and Evolution (Swedish Museum of Natural History)

Over the last few decades, cores drilled deep into the seabed and other exploration techniques utilised to build knowledge of the biota present in oceanic sediments and crustal rocks have revealed that many different types of fungi thrive in these environments.  The fossil record of fungi is extremely intermittent and the identification of possible fungal remnants in the fossil record is controversial to say the least, (look up the Devonian Prototaxites for further details).  However, many geologists and palaeontologists have proposed that the fossil record for such extremophiles does date back to at least the Early Devonian, a time when primitive plants and fungi were beginning to diversify and radiate in terrestrial environments.  Drill cores taken from the Ongeluk Formation in South Africa show microscopic signs of filamentous fossils in vesicles and fractures.  The filaments form mycelium-like structures growing from a basal film attached to the internal rock surfaces and they look very similar to the structures attributed to fungi found in rocks which are hundreds of millions of years younger.

The Ongeluk fossils, are two to three times older than current age estimates of the Kingdom Fungi. Unless they represent an unknown branch of fungus-like organisms, which are new to science, the fossils imply that the fungal clade is considerably older than previously thought, and that fungal origin and early evolution may lie in the deep ocean rather than in terrestrial environments.

The Ongeluk discovery suggests that life has inhabited deep sea oceanic rocks for more than 2.4 billion years.

The Impact on Eukaryotes

The jumbles of tangled threads, which are only a few microns across, if they are fungi, belong to the Eukaryote Domain (Eukarya), a diverse group containing at least four Phyla and some 6,000 species, (fungi include the familiar mushrooms and toadstools plus yeasts and moulds).  Eukaryotes have cells that are complex with a distinct nucleus protected by a membrane.  Animals and plants are also Eukaryotes and the discovery of such ancient life forms, preserved in ocean rocks has implications for the early history of the whole of the Eukarya, as well as potentially, pushing back the date for the evolution of the first fungi to around 2.4 billion-years-ago.

Commenting on the significance of this research, lead author of the scientific paper, Stefan Bengtson (Department of Palaeobiology and Nordic Center for Earth Evolution, Swedish Museum of Natural History), stated:

“The deep biosphere [where the fossils were found] represents a large portion of the Earth, but we know very little about its biology and even less about its evolutionary history.”

The Professor added, that there was a clear possibility that these fossils represent the world’s oldest fossil fungi, much older than anything else known to the scientific community.

He went onto state:

“If they are not fungi, they are probably an extinct branch of Eukaryotes or even giant Prokaryotes.”

The Impact on the Hunt for Extraterrestrial Life

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented that if these fossils represent fungi occupying gas bubbles in lava that form rocks in the seabed, it demonstrates how organisms can survive in extreme habitats.  Tests have indicated that the rocks where the structures were found could have been as hot as 250 degrees Celsius and these lifeforms would have had to survive without sunlight and cope with immense pressure.  If the fossil record for such fungi is extended by billions of years on our own planet, then it raises the intriguing possibility that such life forms may well have evolved and if they did, they probably still exist in extreme environments elsewhere in our solar system.  The watery environment trapped under the ice of Saturn’s moon Enceladus could harbour the sort of conditions where organisms such as these could still thrive.

Saturn’s Icy Moon Enceladus – Perhaps Home to Marine Crustal Fungi?

Saturn's icy moon Enceladus.

A view of the moon Enceladus – could this icy world harbour fungi?

Picture Credit: NASA

24 04, 2017

Lucky Dinosaur Fossil Egg Find in China

By | April 24th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans|0 Comments

Five Dinosaur Fossil Eggs Found by Chance

Construction workers have unearthed five dinosaur eggs in the city of Foshan (Guangdong Province, south-eastern China).  The eggs, preserved in red sandstone, were laid by a herbivore, but scientists are unable to identify the genera.  The eggs are quite rounded in shape and measure approximately 13-14 centimetres in diameter.  The strata dates from around 70 million years ago (Late Cretaceous) and the fossils have been taken to a local museum for safekeeping and further study.

The Dinosaur Eggs were Briefly Put on Display Before Being Removed for Further Analysis

Dinosaur eggs from Guangdong Province.

Plant-eating dinosaur fossil eggs from China.

The two blocks containing the fossils were found at a depth of eight metres and Qiu Licheng from Guangdong’s Archaeological Institute in China commented:

“We found five eggs, three were destroyed, but they are still visible.  The other two have their imprints on the stone.”

The discovery was made last Monday and video footage has been taken showing the construction site and the fossils that were found.  Dinosaur eggs have been found in the Foshan area before, although to find a clutch is quite significant.  Local palaeontologists are hopeful that these fossils will help to provide a clearer picture of what life was like in this part of China during the Maastrichtian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous.

The “Red Beds” of sandstone have produced a number of dinosaur fossils, including Theropods.  At least three different types of dinosaur egg fossil have been described and in some parts of southern and south-eastern China, they act almost like index fossils helping to date the relative ages of sediments.  A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented that Titanosaurs are known to have lived in this part of China around 70 million years ago, but the eggs are too small to be ascribed to a type of Titanosaur with any confidence.  The eggs may have come from a hadrosaurid.

23 04, 2017

Happy St George’s Day

By | April 23rd, 2017|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Dinosaur Names Related to Dragons – St George’s Day

Today, April 23rd, is St George’s Day, the national day for England (St George is the patron saint of England, a saint incidentally celebrated and revered by a number of other countries too).  The story about brave St George slaying a dragon might be a myth, but we thought just for fun we might try and list as many dinosaurs associated with dragons as we could.  This is harder than it seems, for example, St George is honoured in both western and eastern cultures and in China, the origin of the dragon legends could have originated from the discovery of fossils of dinosaurs.  Which dinosaurs?  We don’t think anyone can be sure.

The White Horse Prehistoric Chalk Figure at Uffington (Oxfordshire) Has Been Described as Dragon

The Uffington chalk figure.

Children draw the Uffington prehistoric chalk figure.

Picture Credit: Great Wood Primary School

Chinese Dragon Dinosaurs

The word “long” translated from the Chinese means “dragon” so we could have the Theropods Guanlong, Shaochilong, Zhenyuanlong, Dilong and Zuolong for starters.  To this list, we could add the basal Ceratopsian Yinlong (Y. downsi) and we must not forget the beautiful “sleeping dragon” fossil, representing a troodontid, named as Mei long.

An Illustration of the Sleeping Dragon (M. long)

Mei long illustration.

The sleeping dragon Mei long.

Dinosaurs and Dragons

As well as those dinosaurs from Asia with names that reference dragons, there are a number of genera named after the Latin for dragon “draco”. How many can we name?

Firstly, we have Dracoraptor hanigani, a very early Jurassic dinosaur from Wales, a country with its own dragon culture and stories.

An Illustration of the Welsh Theropod Dracoraptor (D. hanigani)

Dracoraptor hanigani.

An illustration of the Theropod dinosaur from Wales Dracoraptor hanigani.

Picture Credit: Bob Nicholls (National Museum of Wales)

In addition, we can add Pantydraco (P. caducus), a Late Triassic member of the Sauropodomorpha from the Vale of Glamorgan.  What other dinosaur dragons can we think of?

Here’s our list:

  • Dracovenator (D. regenti) – from the Early Jurassic of South Africa, believed to be a dilophosaurid.
  • Dracorex (D. hogwartsia) – A member of the bone-headed Pachycephalosauridae named and described in 2006
  • Draconyx (D. loureiroi) – from Portugal a possible iguanodontid.
  • Dracopelta (D. zbyszewskii) – from Portugal, fragmentary fossils indicate a Thyreophoran (armoured dinosaur affinity)
  • Dracoraptor (D. hanigani) – from Wales (see notes above)
  • Pantydraco (P. caducus) – (see above)

A Mounted Skeleton of Dracorex (D. hogwartsia)

Reconstruction of Dracorex.

Dracorex fossil skeleton.

Picture Credit: Indianapolis Children’s Museum

How many dragon inspired dinosaurs can you name?

22 04, 2017

The Tactile Nature of a Schleich Brachiosaurus

By | April 22nd, 2017|Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Main Page, Teaching|0 Comments

The Schleich Brachiosaurus and Creative Play

The recently introduced Schleich Brachiosaurus dinosaur model is proving to be a big hit amongst teachers and teaching assistants who work with Foundation Stage children and those children in Year 1.  The model, which measures around thirty-two centimetres in length and stands a fraction under twenty centimetres high is an ideal size for little hands to handle and the dinosaur is sturdy enough to withstand the attentions of even the most enthusiastic, budding palaeontologist during creative play.

The Schleich Brachiosaurus Dinosaur Model

Schleich Brachiosaurus dinosaur model.

The Schleich Brachiosaurus dinosaur model (2017).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Suitable Dinosaur Models for Early Years Foundation Stage 

Children in Foundation Stage (Nursery and Reception) will be mostly learning through games and creative play activities, although in Reception classes (Foundation Stage 2), by the beginning of the summer term, many schools will be introducing more structured learning routines to help prepare the children for the greater emphasis on cognitive abilities which comes with Year 1.  One of the key areas of learning is to help children to develop language and communication skills, as well as learning about the properties of materials (understanding the world).  The Schleich Brachiosaurus model has a roughened texture over part of the dinosaur’s body.  Other areas are smooth, as a result, the figure is ideal for exploring how different objects feel.

The Beautiful Texture on the Schleich Brachiosaurus

The texture on the neck and shoulders of the Schleich Brachiosaurus dinosaur model.

The beautiful texture of the Schleich Brachiosaurus is ideal for creative play.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Looking at the Properties of Different Materials

Dinosaur toys and models are a source of fascination for both young boys and girls.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur use an assortment of dinosaur models and figures in their outreach work with children, particularly those children in Year 1 and Foundation Stage.  The tactile, kinaesthetic quality of the Schleich Brachiosaurus dinosaur makes it ideal, as the children feel the model’s rough scales and smooth skin.  We also use this Schleich dinosaur model to help children learn and remember the names for different parts of the body and to compare our bodies to that of a dinosaur.

Can You See His Eyes?  How Many Eyes Does the Dinosaur Have?

The Schleich Brachiosaurus dinosaur model.

The tactile quality of a Schleich Brachiosaurus dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Schleich model is ideal for exploring parts of the body with young children at Foundation Stage and Year 1.  Can they point to the teeth?  Where’s the dinosaur’s tongue?  Can you count the dinosaur’s toes?

To view the range of Schleich prehistoric animal models including the robust, sturdy Schleich Brachiosaurus figure: Schleich Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animal Models

The Schleich Brachiosaurus dinosaur model has a very tactile nature, a result of the carefully moulded scales on various parts of the body.  It is a robust and sturdy dinosaur model, ideal for use when working with EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage).

21 04, 2017

New Species of Hyaenodont from Egypt Described

By | April 21st, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Masrasector nananubis – From the Late Eocene of Egypt

If people are asked to name a meat-eating mammal, you can expect to get answers such as tiger, bear or lion.  Those of us with more of a domestic outlook on life might mention cats and dogs, but for a significant portion of the Cenozoic, sometimes referred to as the “Age of Mammals”, the Carnivora, the Order to which bears, cats and dogs belong, did not get a look in.  Prior to the evolution of many types of recognisable carnivorous mammal alive today, other types of mammals filled the role of hypercarnivores*.

One such group was the Hyaenodonta.  A diverse clade of carnivorous mammals that filled a variety of roles in terrestrial ecosystems in both the New and the Old World.  Writing in the on-line academic journal PLOS One, scientists from Ohio University and the University of Southern California have published details of a new species of Yorkshire terrier-sized hyaenodont, the beautifully preserved skull and jaws are helping palaeontologists to understand more about the evolution and phylogeny of this extinct group, a group that has no close relatives alive today.

The Skull and Jaws of a Newly Identified Species of Hyaenodont

Skull and jaws of Masrasector nananubis.

Computer generated image showing the skull and jaws of Masrasector nananubis (right lateral view).

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Masrasector nananubis – Named after a God of Ancient Egypt

The Late Eocene deposits of the Fayum Depression (Egypt), have provided scientists with a substantial number of mammal fossils, including a number of hyaenodonts, the latest to be added to this list is Masrasector nananubis.  It has been classified as member of the Hyaenodontidae, specifically part of the Teratodontine clade, a poorly known group which are distinguished from other hyaenodonts by subtle differences in the shape of their skulls, jaws and teeth.  Masrasector translates as “the Egyptian slicer”, a reference to the large molars (carnassials).  The species or trivial name honours Anubis, the jackal-faced Egyptian god of mummification.  The premolars and molars of Masrasector have larger grinding surfaces when compared to other hyaenodonts.  The researchers have speculated that Masrasector nananubis may have supplemented its diet of small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects by feeding on fruit and nuts.  This suggests that, like other members of the Teratodontinae clade, it may not have relied on meat consumption as much as other hyaenodonts that were hypercarnivorous.  It has been suggested that M. nananubis may have been mesocarnivorous*.

Views of the Skull of Masrasector nananubis

Cranium material of Masrasector.

Views of the skull of Masrasector (Hyaenodont).

Picture Credit: PLOS One

It may be true that hyaenodont fossils are known from Africa, North America, Asia and Europe and that the genus Hyaenodon survived for around twenty-six million years, the longest temporal spam known for a fossil mammal, but the discovery of these Masrasector fossils is still very significant.  The fossils comprise largely complete skulls, jaws, and parts of the skeleton, making them one of the most complete known African hyaenodonts from the Paleogene found to date.  Previously, researchers only had isolated bones and teeth fragments to work with, frustrating palaeontologists as they attempt to piece together the family tree representing the Hyaenodontidae.

The fossils come from a dig site (locality 41) in the Fayum Depression, the well-consolidated clays have been dated to the Late Priabonian of the Eocene (approximately 34 million years ago).  The Masrasector material represents some of the oldest fossils known for this type of hyaenodont.

Commenting on the importance of the fossils, corresponding author for the study, Matthew R. Borths (Department of Biomedical Sciences, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, Ohio University), stated:

“These fossils might be the oldest and most complete ever discovered, but there is still much that remains to be discovered as the fossils of other members of this group are fragmentary.  Masrasector can be used as a cornerstone of character development for exploring the evolution and diversity of other hyaenodontids.”

 

An Illustration of the Giant Hyaenodont (H. gigas)

Hyaenodon gigas scale drawing.

A scale drawing of the giant Hyaenodon gigas.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Matthew went onto add:

“Hyaenodonts were the top predators in Africa after the extinction of the dinosaurs.  This new species is associated with a dozen specimens, including skulls and arm bones, which means we can explore what it ate, how it moved, and consider why these carnivorous mammals died off as the relatives of dogs, cats, and hyenas moved into Africa.”

Hypercarnivore* an animal which has at least 70% of its diet made up of meat.

Mesocarnivore* an animal which has around 50% to 70% of its diet made up of meat.

The scientific paper: “Craniodental and Humeral Morphology of a New Species of Masrasector (Teratodontinae, Hyaenodonta, Placentalia) from the Late Eocene of Egypt and Locomotor Diversity in Hyaenodonts” by Matthew R. Borths and Erik R Seiffert published in PLOS One.

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