New School Curriculum With Rocks, Fossils and Dinosaurs

New Curriculum – New Challenges For Teaching Teams

This week sees the introduction of the new national curriculum for school children in England.  A more “rigorous” curriculum with English, Mathematics and Science as core subjects with pupils at Key Stage 1 (five to seven years old) being introduced to simple fractions and even computer programming.  The aim of this new curriculum which is being rolled out across all state-funded primary and secondary schools, is to improve standards.  However, academies, which now form the majority of secondary schools, will not be required to follow the new curriculum.  State funded schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are managed differently but current policies and practices are being reviewed in many parts of the British Isles.

Why the Changes?

The Department for Education, responsible for children’s’ services and education in England, cites falling academic standards when students in England are compared to students from other countries, particular countries such as Singapore, South Korea and China.  From Everything Dinosaur’s perspective, our teaching work aims to help promote the concept of working scientifically and we deal with classes ranging from EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) right up to Key Stage 4 (students from fourteen to sixteen years).  A number of comparative studies have been undertaken and just like schools themselves, the results vary.  For example, back in 2012 Everything Dinosaur team members reported on the biannual comparative study carried out by researchers at Boston College (USA), which covers the results from two very important international teaching studies, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and the trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).  Broadly, the United Kingdom had shown good progress when it came to mathematics but standards seemed to be slipping when it came to the sciences.

Teaching about Dinosaurs and Fossils in School – Working Scientifically

Lots of facts about dinosaurs.

Lots of facts about dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A topic all about dinosaurs, fossils and extinction helps to bring together core teaching subjects such as science, English and mathematics.

To read more about the study: Mixed Results for Science and Maths in English Schools

 Where does Everything Dinosaur Come In?

With the emphasis on scientific knowledge, conceptual understanding and learning about scientific methods, dinosaurs as a term topic or part of a special science themed teaching week is a great way to engage young minds at Key Stage 1 and earlier.  As children tend to have a fascination with prehistoric animals, our dinosaur workshops help to introduce and reinforce learning objectives as outlined by the new curriculum.  Lower Key Stage 2 have to learn about fossils, how they are formed and what they tell us about the once living things that they represent.   As one of our colleagues declared “Mary Anning is on the curriculum” – great to see a female role model in science.

Older students  in Key Stage 3 and heading up to Key Stage 4 are being given the opportunity to study genetics, evolution and the work of such notable scientists as Darwin and Wallace.

Teachers and their support providers have been working hard to get to grips with this new “rigorous” curriculum.  We are aware that some of the teaching resources related to dinosaurs and fossils used in the past are in some cases out of date, or worse still inaccurate. Everything Dinosaur offers lots of free, downloadable prehistoric animal themed teaching resources from its bespoke teaching website, as well as helpful articles, tips, advice and the opportunity to invite our dinosaur experts into school.

To visit Everything Dinosaur’s teaching website: Everything Dinosaur’s Website For Schools

A Teaching Exercise – Our Hands versus the Hands of a Dinosaur

Examining Dinosaur Hands (Key Stage 2/3)

Examining Dinosaur Hands (Key Stage 2/3)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In terms of teaching resources, Everything Dinosaur team members have been advising learning support providers about all sorts of prehistoric animal related merchandise – from finger puppets to science kits.  All the resources we supply have been tested and reviewed by our own teaching team, there’s even free dinosaur fact sheets included as well.

Resources for schools: Teaching Resources for Schools

Here’s to that dedicated group of professionals who serve our school children so well and we wish all the students starting the new curriculum every success with their studies.

Palaeontologist versus Paleontologist

Palaeontologist v Paleontologist – What’s the Difference?

During our school visits to carry out dinosaur and fossil themed workshops we often get asked to help with various aspects of the teaching scheme of work.  Everything Dinosaur’s team members are happy to provide advice and to assist where they can.  We even send out lots of free teaching resources, lesson plans, activity ideas and learning aids related to fossils and prehistoric animals.  However, we do see a lot of other teaching resources, many of which have been downloaded from education company websites, that are inaccurate.  Some of these resources have cost money, thus depleting an already stretched teaching budget.  We try to do what we can to help out.

Everything Dinosaur Provides a Lot of Teaching Resources to Schools

So many events, so many activities, so many photographs.

So many events, so many activities, so many photographs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Today we will deal with a very simple point, the difference between “palaeontology” and “paleontology”.  We know that a number of the resources used by teachers and learning support providers (home educators too for that matter), are sourced from other countries, such as America.  Herein lies the confusion.   The word palaeontology is often seen in these resources (and elsewhere) with an “a” missing.  We have the term “palaeontologist” and also “paleontologist”.

So let’s start at the beginning – what is palaeontology or paleontology? 

Palaeontology or paleontology mean the same thing.  These words describe the branch of science that deals with the study of extinct animals and plants and their fossilised remains.  The word is derived from the Greek palaios which means “ancient”, a reference to prehistoric times.  Palaeontology (with an extra “a” added) is the term used in Britain and elsewhere in the world, whilst paleontology is the Americanised version of the word and it is customarily used in the USA.  Both words are interchangeable but most institutions tend to use one word rather than the other.  For example, Everything Dinosaur uses the term palaeontology, whilst the Chicago Field Museum (Illinois, USA) uses the word paleontology.  The dropping the “a” convention applies to all the sub-disciplines in this broad area of scientific study.

Common Terms in Palaeontology and Related Subjects

Palaeontology (UK) Paleontology (USA) - The study of extinct organisms and their fossils.
Palaeontologist (UK) Paleontologist (USA) - A person who studies extinct organisms and their fossils.
Vertebrate Palaeontologist (UK) Vertebrate Paleontologist (USA)  - The branch of palaeontology that studies animals with back bones.
Invertebrate Palaeontologist (UK) Invertebrate Paleontologist (USA) - The branch of palaeontology that studies animals without back bones.
Micropalaeontology (UK) Micropaleontology (USA) - The study of microscopic fossils (micro-fossils).
Palaeobotany (UK) Paleobotany (USA) - fossil plants; traditionally includes the study of fossil algae and fungi in addition to land plants.
Human Palaeontology (UK) Human Paleontology (USA) The study of prehistoric human and proto-human fossils.
Palaeoanthropology (UK) Paleoanthropology (USA) - As above (prehistoric human and proto-human fossils).
Palaeoecology (UK) Paleoecology (USA) - Ecology of extinct and prehistoric organisms.
Palaeoclimatology (UK) Paleoclimatology (USA) - The study of past climates.
Palaeogeography (UK) Paleogeography (USA) - Study of geographical features of the past.
Palaeomagnetism (UK) Paleomagnetism (USA) - Study of the magnetism remaining in rocks and related magnetic fields.

 Credit: Everything Dinosaur

So the terms palaeontology and paleontology are equally valid, but whilst working in schools and UK based museums we tend to use the terms with an extra “a”.

To learn more about Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools: Dinosaur and Fossil Workshops in Schools

Did Psittacosaurus Use Baby Sitters?

Palaeontologists Suggest Dinosaur Fossil Material Shows a “Creche” with Baby Sitter

A team of international researchers have re-examined a set of Psittacosaurus dinosaur fossils that come from the Lujiatun beds of the Yixian Formation in Liaoning, China.  The rock slab has preserved the fossilised remains of twenty-four young Psittacosaurs and one older individual.  It has been suggested that the fossil represents a group of hatchlings being looked after by an older animal.  Could this be evidence of a dinosaur “creche” with a “baby sitter”?

The paper on this new research has been published in the academic journal “Cretaceous Research”.  The international team included University of Pennsylvania based scientists Brandon P. Hedrick and Peter Dodson as well as researchers from China’s Dalian Museum of Natural History, where the rock slab is currently stored.  The fossil material was first described ten years ago, the block, which measures a little over sixty centimetres in length was discovered by an amateur palaeontologist, it is believed to date from around 120 million years ago (Aptian faunal stage of the Cretaceous).

Psittacosaurus is one of the most studied of all the dinosaurs.  A number of species have been assigned to the genus, it remains the most specious of all the Dinosauria, although some species have been described as nomen dubium following a recent review (2013).  Seen as a transitional form between the Ornithopods and the horned dinosaurs, Psittacosaurus is regarded as a basal member of the Marginocephalia.  Rarely exceeding two metres in length, fossils of this herbivorous dinosaur have been found in China, Russia and Thailand.

An Illustration of Psittacosaurus

A typical psittacosaurid.

A typical psittacosaurid.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Despite its spectacular appearance, the fossil material has only been briefly described, although the idea of a “dinosaur creche” has been proposed before.  The exact location of the discovery was never recorded, this hampered the international research team but as PhD student Brandon P. Hedrick stated:

“I saw a photo of it [the block] and instantly knew I wanted to explore it in more depth.”

Dalian Museum of Natural History Slab of Fossil Material

Is this evidence of a dinosaur creche with a baby sitter?

Is this evidence of a dinosaur creche with a baby sitter?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/University of Pennsylvania

In order to learn more about how these dinosaurs may have died, the orientation of their bodies was carefully studied.  Thin slivers of rock were examined under the microscope and further samples were subjected to X-ray diffraction.  The analyses suggested that the matrix was composed of volcanic material, indicating that these prehistoric animals were caught in a flow of material as a result of a volcanic eruption.  Since all the fossils were orientated in the same plane, the position of the fossils supports this idea that all these dinosaurs were engulfed in a flow.

As the fossilised bones showed no scorch marks or signs of heat damage, the researchers concluded that the flow was unlikely to be pyroclastic in nature.

Hedrick added:

“If they were captured in a flow, the long axis, their spines, would be orientated in the same direction.  That was what we found.  They were likely trapped by a flow.”

It is likely the flow was some sort of lahar – a mixture of water, mud, rock and other debris associated with volcanic eruptions.

Since no egg shell material has been found, it is believed that the twenty-four fossils represent a group of hatched dinosaurs.  The larger skull was found in close association with the fossil material, it is likely that this larger Psittacosaurus perished at the same time as the younger animals.  All the Psittacosaurs have been assigned to the same species Psittacosaurus lujiatunensis, the skull probably belonged to an immature adult, one not old enough to breed, so the researchers have hypothesised that this was an older sibling helping to care for its younger brothers and sisters.

Family members helping out to raise the following year’s brood is a type of behaviour found in a number of bird species.  It has been estimated that around 8% of all, extant bird species are involved in some form of co-operative breeding in which other family members help to raise young.  This behaviour is found in many types of song bird and the crow family for example.  The scientists emphasise that this material cannot be regarded as a dinosaur “nest”.

Hedrick explained:

“It certainly seems like it might be a nest, but we were not able to satisfy the intense criteria to say definitely that it is.  It is just as important to point out what we don’t know for sure as it is to say what we are more certain of.”

The scientists hope to continue their work by focusing on the micro-structure of the fossilised bones of the smaller dinosaurs to establish whether they were all at the same stage of development.  If this is found to be the case, this would support the theory that this rock slab represents the preserved remains of one clutch or brood of animals.

Walking Fish Provides Clues to the First Tetrapods

Researchers Study Living Fish to Gain Insight Into Fossil Record

Arguably one of the most significant events in the history of life on Earth occurred when the first vertebrates walked on land.  The date when types of prehistoric fish made the move to land and began the evolutionary journey that would lead to the Tetrapods keeps changing in the light of new fossil discoveries.  Tetrapods are vertebrates, this group includes the amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals and that means, we are Tetrapods too.  One of the most important fossil discoveries in recent years, was made in a limestone quarry in Poland.  On one stone slab scientists discovered strange track-like marks about fifteen centimetres wide.  These were controversially interpreted as having been made by the limbs of an animal capable of moving around on land.  It was envisaged that whatever strange creature made these marks, it must have been more than two metres long.  This trace fossil suggests that the first animals walked on land around 400-395 million years ago, some thirty-five million years earlier than previously thought.

To read more about this Polish discovery: Clues to the First Land Animals?

A team of researchers from McGill University (Montreal, Canada), have turned to a living fish in order to gain a better understanding of the evolutionary changes that must have taken place to allow certain types of fish such as the Sarcopterygians to adapt to a more terrestrial lifestyle.  If, sometime around 400 million years ago (Lower Devonian Epoch), a group of fish began exploring terrestrial environments, the first stage on the long evolutionary journey to the Tetrapods, how did these fish do it?  What changes to their bodies and fins took place to allow them to adapt to this new habitat?  Helping to answer these questions was the aim of the research team at McGill University and to do this they turned to a living (extant) fish called Polypterus.

Little Fish Takes Part in “Ground Breaking” Experiments

A giant leap for fish-kind!

A giant leap for fish-kind!

Picture Credit: McGill University

There are ten or so species in the Polypterus genus, as far as we at Everything Dinosaur know, they are all African and freshwater fish.  Polypterus is the only vertebrate known to science that possesses lungs and is capable of breathing air but has no trachea.  These little fish have been studied for more than one hundred and fifty years, Thomas Huxley no less was involved in some of the earliest research.  He placed them in the Order Crossopterygii, now regarded as a synonym of the Sarcopterygii – although this classification has now been largely disproved.  The first successful domestic breeding programme commenced in 2005, this paved the way for laboratory studies.

The McGill team in collaboration with the University of Ottawa, studied Polypterus fish to show what might have happened when fish first attempted to walk out of the water.  These air breathing fish can “walk” on land, (really it is a bit of shuffle), but they do superficially resemble Devonian Sarcopterygians, (hence Huxley’s classification).  The scientists raised juvenile Polypterus on land for nearly a year, with an aim of revealing how these “terrestrialised” fish looked and moved when compared to Polypterus specimens raised in a more normal environment.

Project leader, Emily Standen, a former McGill University post-doctoral student stated:

“Stressful environmental conditions can often reveal otherwise cryptic anatomical and behavioural variation, a form of developmental plasticity.  We wanted to use this mechanism to see what new anatomies and behaviours we could trigger in these fish and see if they match what we know from the fossil record.”

The team discovered that these fish underwent remarkable anatomical and behavioural changes in response to their stressful environment.  These fish walked more effectively by placing their fins closer to their bodies, lifted their heads higher and kept their fins from slipping as much as fish that were raised in water.

Polypterus Showed Anatomical and Behavioural Changes

Helping to explain the evolution of Tetrapods.

Helping to explain the evolution of Tetrapods.

Picture Credit: McGill University

Fellow researcher, Trina Du (McGill University PhD student) explained:

“Anatomically, their pectoral skeleton changed to become more elongate with stronger attachments across their chest, possibly to increase support during walking and a reduced contact with the skull to potentially allow greater head or potential neck motion.”

Hans Larsson, Canada Research Chair in Macroevolution at McGill and an Associate Professor at the Redpath Museum added:

“Because many of the anatomical changes mirror the fossil record, we can hypothesise that the behavioural changes we see also reflect what may have occurred when fossil fish first walked with their fins on land.”

The “terrestrialised” Polypterus is unique and provides fresh ideas on how fossil fishes may have used their fins in a terrestrial environment and what evolutionary processes may have been involved.  Hans Larsson went onto to say that this experiment was the first example that they were aware of, that demonstrated developmental plasticity may have facilitated a large-scale evolutionary transition, by first accessing new anatomies and behaviours that could later be genetically fixed in the population by natural selection.

The study was conducted by Emily Standen, University of Ottawa, and Hans Larsson, Trina Du at McGill University and supported by the Canada Research Chairs Program, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Tomlinson Post-doctoral fellowship.  It has been published in the journal “Nature”.  Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of McGill University in the compilation of this article.

Cracking the Secrets of Dinosaur Eggs

University Team Hope to use Synchrotron Light Source to Scan Dinosaur Eggs

Scientists from Mississippi State University hope to learn more about the contents of dinosaur eggs using the Diamond Light Synchrotron facility based near Didcot in Oxfordshire to “virtually dissect”  fossil material.  In an international collaboration with researchers from the National Museum of Wales, the intention is to produce three-dimensional, X-ray images of two batches of Late Cretaceous dinosaur eggs from Montana.  The first set of fossilised dinosaur eggs, each one about the size of a Galia melon, was found in 2002, the second clutch of eggs was found last year at the same location.

It is the first time, (as far as we at Everything Dinosaur are aware), that scientists will examine dinosaur eggs using a synchrotron in a bid to identify the dinosaur species from an embryo.  Leading the research, is Geosciences doctoral student at Mississippi State, John Paul Jones, he was lucky to have found the dinosaur eggs whilst exploring part of the Judith River Formation.  One of the batches of eggs has already been subjected to CT (computerised tomography) scanning, this has helped reveal evidence of dinosaur bones in some of the eggs, however, the images and data produced by the Diamond Light Source should help John Paul Jones identify the species and perhaps even the gender of the embryos.

Both the CT scans and the synchrotron method are non-destructive, the actual fossil material remains undamaged and intact.

The Geosciences student explained:

“If you cut it, then you have a damaged egg.  It’s just a rock that has been sliced in half.  With the synchrotron technology, we will get the actual image that can be used to make a model.  We should get a three-dimensional replica of the bones.”

If the images are able to provide greater clarity of the skull material along with the pelvic bones, it is hoped that the species of dinosaur that laid the eggs will be revealed.  The scientists are fairly confident that the eggs were produced by a Hadrosaur, trouble is, a number of Hadrosaur fossil remains are associated with the strata that make up this part of the Judith River Group.  Could the eggs be from a Brachylophosaurus or a Lambeosaurine duck-billed dinosaur?  Indeed, the eggs could provide evidence of other types of Hadrosaur living in this part of Montana at this time in the Late Cretaceous (between 80 and 75 million years ago), or perhaps the eggs could be from an entirely new to science species of dinosaur.

Some of the Dinosaur Fossil Eggs Having a CT Scan

Dinosaur eggs being CT scanned.

Dinosaur eggs being CT scanned.

Picture Credit: Megan Bean

Recently, Everything Dinosaur reported on a media day that took place in southern Alberta at the famous Devil’s Coulee fossil site.  A team from the Royal Tyrrell Museum took members of the public and the media on a tour of this highly fossiliferous location looking at the remains of dinosaur nests and eggs that had been found there.

To read more about this article: Updates on Alberta’s Scrambled Eggs

The Devil’s Coulee site is part of the Oldman Formation of Alberta. This strata is between 77 and 75 million years old.  These rocks are contemporaneous with parts of the Judith River Group, so it is possible that these locations may share closely related Hadrosaurine fauna.

At this stage, the scientists are reluctant to speculate on any species identification. From the lower resolution scans a potential skull crest has been identified on one embryo.  The synchrotron should be able to create a series of three-dimensional slices through the fossil material.  These slices can be used by a computer programme to build a 3-D model of the contents.  If the resolution is high enough, a species identification could be made.  If this is the case, then we at Everything Dinosaur think that this might be a first for palaeontology.

The doughnut shaped Diamond Light Source (Didcot, Oxfordshire) is in essence, a particle accelerator, with a circumference in excess of half a kilometre.  Electrons are generated and fired out into the synchrotron, these electrons are then accelerated to very near light speed.  They give off energy in the form of intense light.  This light can be channelled via “beamlines” and it is this very bright light source that enables scientists to X-ray solid objects such as rocks containing fossils to produce 3-D pictures of the contents.  As these extremely strong X-rays travel through an object, the different densities of the fossil material and the surrounding matrix absorb different parts of the X-ray light spectrum.  These different absorption rates are then used to plot data and produce the images.

One of the Images Generated by the Recent CT Scans

A labelled CT scan showing dinosaur embryo fossils.

A labelled CT scan showing dinosaur embryo fossils.

Picture Credit:  Megan Bean; submitted image highlighted by Hayley Gilmore

The picture above shows an image from a CT scan, the egg shell and fossilised bones have been labelled and highlighted.  In the other eggs, the resolution of the scanner was not high enough to create a definite internal image.  Researchers involved in this joint project between the American university and National Museum of Wales, hope to use an analysis of zircon crystals deposited amongst ash from ancient volcanic eruptions within the Judith River Formation to more accurately date the eggs.  A better idea of the age of the dinosaur eggs will help the team to assess which dinosaur species potentially produced these clutches.

Everything Dinosaur’s New School Website Is Launched

Dinosaur Workshops In School

Everything Dinosaur’s new teaching themed website has been launched today.  This new site, aimed at helping teachers, learning support providers and home educators is packed full of dinosaur and fossil themed teaching ideas, blog articles, helpful hints and free downloads.

Dinosaurs for Schools

Everything Dinosaur aims to help teachers, museums and home educators.

Everything Dinosaur aims to help teachers, museums and home educators.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To visit Everything Dinosaur’s educational site: Dinosaur Workshops and Teaching Resources

The new website has been designed to act as an educational resource to help teachers, teaching assistants and other member of the teaching profession to cover science subjects aimed at school children from the Early Years Foundation Stage right up to Key Stage 4 and beyond.  Home educators too, will find this new resource helpful.  Everything Dinosaur’s team of teaching professionals have worked over the last six months or so to provide reliable assistance with the challenges posed by the new curriculum.  The intention is to help learning support providers and teachers by permitting access to dinosaur, fossil and evolution teaching resources that have been checked over by dinosaur experts and fossil collectors, thus providing a reliable set of resources and guides to assist educators as they instil the skills needed to develop an interest in and perhaps a career in the sciences.

A spokesperson for Everything Dinosaur commented:

“It is all about getting students to develop scientific skills such as enquiry, investigation, observation and analysis.  For many teachers the challenge will be to help pupils to work scientifically, whilst for those teaching professionals working at EYFS and Key Stage 1 a dinosaur themed teaching topic is a great way to help engage the children.”

Dinosaur Toy Forum Diorama Contest Still Time to Enter

Entries for Dinosaur Toy Forum Contest Have to be in by Sept. 27th 2014

Everything Dinosaur is proud to sponsor this year’s Dinosaur Toy Forum diorama competition.  Not long to go now before the closing date for this prestigious contest (Saturday, September 27th),  so model makers and landscape designers are going to have to get a move on if they want to claim the accolade of creating the best (as voted for by forum members), prehistoric diorama of the year.

Everything Dinosaur Sponsors The Dinosaur Toy Forum’s Annual Competition

Proud to sponsor the competition.

Proud to sponsor the competition.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The rules and regulations for the 2014 contest are as follows:

-Entry is free.

-All members of The Dinosaur Toy Forum, including staff, are invited to participate.  Non-members wishing to participate are invited to register to the forum, this is free.

-Dioramas have to feature prehistoric creatures: from Trilobites to Triceratops, it doesn’t matter, so long as it is prehistoric.

-The deadline for entries is Saturday 27th September 2014. (Entries received after 00.00 hours GMT September 27th will be invalid.)

-One diorama per member.  Once submitted it cannot be exchanged for an alternative entry.

-Entries must be accompanied by a creative title.

-Dioramas have to be new (never published on the web before) and you must have produced the diorama yourself.  Stealing somebody else’s diorama will result in disqualification.

-Photoshop is allowed, but the original photograph(s) must be your own.

-Winners will be selected by a poll open to all Dinosaur Toy Forum members (there will be no professional judges), that will take place shortly after the closing date.  There will be three winners in first, second and third place respectively (no joint positions), as selected by the poll.  In the event of a tie for any position, a tie-break poll will be created. There will also be three non-prize winning honourable mentions.

As well as the honour of the title, there are a range of prehistoric animal models up for grabs supplied by ourselves and we look forward to viewing all the entries.

How to Enter

-Entries will remain anonymous until the winners are announced.  For this reason we request that entrants do not watermark or sign their entries.

-Entries should be submitted as a .jpg file 1000px wide.

-Entries should be sent via email as an attachment to plesiosauria@gmail.com.  The email title should read as follows: “dinosaur diorama contest 2014 – [forum username]“, and the email body should include the diorama    title.

For further guidance Everything Dinosaur recommends that The Dinosaur Toy Forum should be viewed and consulted or emails can be sent to the email address provided immediately above.

To register to join The Dinosaur Toy Forum: The Dinosaur Toy Forum

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur explained:

“The model making community is very well informed about ancient life.  Model makers in our experience, are also very imaginative and we have had the pleasure of viewing dioramas that have been submitted as competition entries in previous years.  We are all really looking forward to seeing this year’s entries.”

The very best of luck to all of this year’s entrants, as fans of dinosaur toys and models ourselves we are really excited to be involved.

Woolly Mammoth Diorama

Create a realistic Ice Age Scene

Can you create a realistic Ice Age scene?

Remembering Samuel Husbands Beckles (1814-1890)

Samuel H. Beckles and Iguanodonts plus Becklespinax

Whilst going over some notes in a rare office tidy up, we came across a handful of old genealogy papers relating to research on Samuel Husbands Beckles.  Who, you might ask?  One thing that is for certain, names such as Gideon Mantell, Sir Richard Owen and Mary Anning may be quite well known, but few people outside the Earth sciences (and perhaps one or two in the disciplines we group together as the  Earth sciences), may not be familiar with the name.  Samuel Husbands Beckles was born in 1814 (April 12th we think), on the island of Barbados.  He came from a wealthy and well-to-do family and he found great success as a lawyer.  Samuel Beckles had always been keen on studying the natural world and science, although he lacked any real, formal scientific training.

Unlike people in the UK today, who might dream of early retirement in the Caribbean, Samuel decided at the grand old age of 31 to give up the vast majority of his legal work and retire in England.  As a rich, and well connected member of Georgian/Victorian high society, he did much to fund and popularise the study of the geology and fossils found in southern England (he lived at St Leonards-on-Sea, E. Sussex).  He dedicated much of the rest of his life to collecting fossils and learning about the geology of the Weald.  He is credited with the discovery of three, articulated, tall-spined dorsal vertebrae (back bones), no vertebrae fossils had ever been found that looked like these, indeed the exact location of the find remains uncertain.  We do know that these fossils were found at a site close to the small town of Battle, in East Sussex, it is probable that these fossils came from a cutting or quarry that represented strata that make ups the Hastings Subgroup of the Weald basin.  This would suggest that the fossils came from a dinosaur that lived during the Early Cretaceous.

The Fossil Material and Original Drawing (Becklespinax)

The three articulated dorsal vertebrae that represent Becklespinax.

The three articulated dorsal vertebrae that represent Becklespinax.

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

These fossils were identified as belonging to some sort of large, carnivorous dinosaur (Theropoda).  Following  a review of the known fossil material in 1988, the genus Becklespinax was erected (Gregory S. Paul), the species name being Becklespinax altispinax.  The genus name honours the work of Samuel Husbands Beckles (the name translates as Beckles’ tall spines).  The contribution he made to palaeontology and geology was recognised in his own lifetime, when against the custom of the day, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London.  Although he had accumulated a vast amount of fossil material and been actively involved in cataloguing and analysing a substantial amount of vertebrate fossil material, his close friendship with the highly influential Richard Owen may have contributed to his appointment.

An Illustration of the Humped-Back Dinosaur (Becklespinax altispinax)

Becklespinax - an English dinosaur

Becklespinax – an English dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Samuel H. Beckles collected a large number of fossil specimens from the Weald of Sussex which at the time were described as belonging to the Iguanodon genus.  Iguanodon was rapidly becoming a bit of a “catch-all” when it came to large dinosaur bones with affinities to the material described by Gideon Mantell.  The Iguanodon genus was completely revised following a study in 2000 which reviewed the British “Iguanodon” material, including a lot of the fossils originally collected by Beckles and now the property of the Natural History Museum (London).

Although more closely associated with the study of dinosaur remains found in southern England, Samuel Beckles played a significant role in helping to interpret the geology and fossil material found on the Isle of Wight.  In 1854, he described a series of three-toed prints, the first to be described from the Isle of Wight (Compton Bay).  In February 1862, he published a formal review of the dinosaur footprints that he had found in the quarterly journal of the Geological Society.  The paper had the snappy title – “On some Natural Casts of Reptilian Footprints in the Wealden Beds of the Isle of Wight and of Swanage”.

So today, in recognition of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Husbands Beckles we take time out to recognise his contribution to geology and palaeontology.

For further information on fossils of dinosaurs from the British Isles check out “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” by Dean R. Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura which is available from Siri Scientific Press: For Further Details Click Here

Updates on Alberta’s “Scrambled Eggs”

“Egg-citing” Times Ahead for Palaeontologists on Prehistoric Egg Hunt

With the summer excavation season drawing to a close and with wet and unsettled weather forecast, fieldworkers from the Royal Tyrrell Museum (Alberta, Canada) are in a race against time to identify and protect dinosaur eggs being eroded out of the hillsides at the Devil’s Coulee dig site.  Earlier this week, the Royal Tyrrell Museum in association with the Devil’s Coulee Dinosaur and Heritage Museum held an open day, inviting the media and members of the public to tour the highly fossiliferous site located close to the small town of Warner (southern Alberta).

Palaeoecologist Dr. Francois Therrien identified a possible Maiasaura nest site at Devil’s Coulee and this week, the Drumheller based scientist conducted a tour of the Devil’s Coulee giving the media a rare insight into the current research work being undertaken.

Dr. Francois Therrien with a Cast of a Baby Dinosaur

A cast of a baby duck-billed dinosaur fossil.

A cast of a baby duck-billed dinosaur fossil.

Picture Credit: Devil’s Coulee Dinosaur and Heritage Museum

The mudstones in this area were formed around seventy-five million years ago (Campanian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous) and they have yielded a number of fossil finds including dinosaur bones and turtle shells.  However, the site is most famous for the numerous dinosaur eggs discovered and the fossilised remains of dinosaur embryos that have been found.  Two different genera of giant, herbivorous dinosaurs used this area as a nesting site.  Maiasaura, whose fossils have been found in Montana in the main and a second duck-billed dinosaur known as Hypacrosaurus.  Dr. Therrien and his colleagues also believe that at least five different Cretaceous carnivores also nested at this location, just a dozen or so miles north of the Canadian/United States border.

The Media and Members of the Public are Taken on a Tour of the Fossil Site

An audience for an excavation.

An audience for an excavation.

Picture Credit: Picture Credit: Devil’s Coulee Dinosaur and Heritage Museum

Dr. Therrien commented:

“This is a really rich spot, the area is literally covered with dinosaur egg shells.  Earlier this summer I was walking around the Devil’s Coulee and I saw egg shells breaking through the surface.”

The significance of the Devil’s Coulee site became apparent in 1987 when a local teenager exploring the site came across some strange objects eroding out of the soft mudstones.  These turned out to be fragments of dinosaur eggs, since then, four fossilised embryos of the Hadrosaur known as Hypacrosaurus have been discovered, including “Charlie”, a beautifully preserved baby dinosaur, one the most important baby dinosaur fossils known to science.  The Devil’s Coulee site was the first and so far only, extensive dinosaur nesting site to have been discovered in Canada, although the last nest to be excavated, that of a little carnivorous dinosaur called Troodon took place six years ago.

One of the problems with Devil’s Coulee is that there is a rapid rate of erosion.  The harsh Canadian winters and hot summers have taken a terrible toll on the delicate fossils eroding out of the hillside.  If sites such as this are not explored frequently then who knows what untold ancient treasures would be lost to the elements.  The best way to recover both fossilised eggs and any potential dinosaur embryos that may have been preserved is to identify fossil material at an early stage of erosion and then to carefully excavate and remove the surrounding rock.  In this way, the large blocks containing the fossil material can be transported to a preparation lab and painstakingly excavated to reveal their fossilised secrets.

The eggs that Dr. Therrien spotted are most likely those of a Maiasaura.  The eggs are approximately the size of a galia melon.

A Model of a Maiasaura Dinosaur with her Nest

Model of "Good Mother Lizard"

Model of “Good Mother Lizard” – Maiasaura

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd

The picture above shows a Maiasaura dinosaur model with a nest.

The doctor explained:

“When the egg comes to the surface, it falls apart so in order to preserve it we have to collect a big block of rock and take it back to the lab.  We know the eggs will be inside the block.”

The Royal Tyrrell Museum field team are also examining a second, nearby location that might be the remains of a Hypacrosaurus nest.  Unfortunately, this delicate process, literally a case of “avoiding treading on egg shells”, may have to be suspended as bad weather is forecast in the area.  Once September draws to an end, the nights are getting increasingly longer and the temperature begins to drop.  The permineralised remains of the eggs of dinosaurs are then subjected to frequent freeze/thaw actions with the onset of winter.  This can lead to the fragmentation and break-up of any exposed fossil material.  Field workers help to minimise this damage by covering potential dig sites with jackets of burlap and plaster.  These afford some protection for the fragile fossils held in the rocks underneath.

One of the Most Important Vertebrate Fossils Found in Canada

"Charlie" the baby Hypacrosaurus dinosaur.

“Charlie” the baby Hypacrosaurus dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Devil’s Coulee Dinosaur and Heritage Museum

We at Everything Dinosaur wish all those involved in the excavation and study the very best of luck and we thank the Devil’s Coulee Dinosaur and Heritage Museum for sending us some photographs of the media event.

Win! Win! Win! with Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur Competition Time Again!

To celebrate the launch of Everything Dinosaur’s exclusive range of childrens’ dinosaur themed T-shirts, we have come up with a little, fun competition.  A sort of T-errific , T-yrannosaurus, T-easer T-shirt competition.  One of the designs on our new T-shirts features a baby T. rex.  He (or she for that matter), looks quite cute but we don’t have a name for this little dinosaur.

The Range of Exclusive Everything Dinosaur T-shirts

The first of the dinosaur themed T-shirts from Everything Dinosaur.

The first of the dinosaur themed T-shirts from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

So our competition is this, name our baby dinosaur and we will send one lucky winner a dinosaur T-shirt from our new range* for their young dinosaur fan.

Think of a name for me to win a T-shirt!

Think of a name for me to win a T-shirt!

To enter the competition, a chance to win a dinosaur themed T-shirt for your own little monster, all you have to do is “Like” Everything Dinosaur’s FACEBOOK page, then comment on the picture of the baby dinosaur design on our red T-shirt (shown above).  It certainly is a very cute looking dinosaur with a geological hammer in its claws, a very friendly looking “Apprentice Palaeontologist”, our little dino just needs a name.

Don’t forget, to enter, just visit Everything Dinosaur on FACEBOOK  and “like” our page and leave a suggested name for our baby dinosaur by adding a comment to the baby dinosaur’s picture.

Everything Dinosaur on Facebook

Click the logo to visit our Facebook page and to give our page a "like".

Click the logo to visit our Facebook page and to give our page a “like”.

Everything Dinosaur on FACEBOOK: “LIKE” Our Facebook Page and Enter Competition

We will draw the lucky winner at random and the name caption competition closes on Friday 19th September 2014.  Good luck!

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of dinosaur and prehistoric animal themed clothing click on the picture below:

Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Pjs, T-shirts, Sweatshirts etc.

Exclusive to Everything Dinosaur

Exclusive to Everything Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

*The range of T-shirt sizes available to the prize winner

Competition Winner can choose from these sizes.

Competition winner can choose from these sizes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* please note the red “Appentice Palaeontologist T-shirt is only available in sizes up to 9 yrs-11 yrs, chest size 82 cm.

Terms and Conditions of Name Our Baby Dinosaur Competition

Automated entries are not permitted and will be excluded from the draw.

Only one entry per person.

The prize is non-transferable and no cash alternative will be offered.

The Everything Dinosaur name a baby dinosaur caption competition runs until Friday 19th September 2014.

Winner will be notified by private message on Facebook or email.

Prize includes postage and packing.

For full terms and conditions contact: Contact Everything Dinosaur

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