Giant Abelisaurid Footprint Discovered in Bolivia

Huge Dinosaur Footprint Discovered in Bolivia

Everything Dinosaur has received reports of a super-sized, meat-eating dinosaur’s footprint being found in Bolivia.  The footprint, measuring some 1.15 metres wide is the largest tridactyl (three-toed) print ever discovered in Bolivia.  The huge footprint represents a track probably made by an abelisaurid, a type of Cretaceous Theropod dinosaur, however, it suggests a carnivorous dinosaur much larger than most of the Abelisauridae.

The fossilised footprint was found in the municipality of Sucre in southern Bolivia.  Dinosaur tracks have been recorded from Bolivia before, but the three-toed print indicates that something extremely large and fierce roamed this part of South America sometime between 80 and 78 million years ago.

Argentine Palaeontologist Sebastian Apestiguia Lies Next to the Dinosaur Footprint

A footprint of a giant abelisaurid dinosaur.

Huge meat-eating dinosaur footprint discovered in southern Bolivia.

Picture Credit: EFE

Omar Medina, a palaeontologist with the Bolivian Palaeontology Network explained that the single footprint could represent one of the largest footprints associated with an abelisaurid dinosaur ever found.

The fossil discovery emphasises the significance of the geology in this part of southern Bolivia which has provided ichnologists (scientists who specialise in studying trace fossils such as footprints and tracks), with thousands of dinosaur footprints to study.

To read an article about a Bolivian farmer finding the tracks of an ancient ankylosaurid: Farmer Finds Dinosaur Tracks

An article highlighting the threats to one of the most remarkable dinosaur fossil tracks found anywhere in the world (The “Huellas de Dinosaurio de Cal Orck”, close to the Bolivian town of Sucre): Dinosaur Tracks in Danger of Becoming Extinct

Argentine palaeontologist Sebastian Apestiguia, who verified the find and is in the photograph above, commented that the carnivorous dinosaur that made this print in soft sediments could have measured more that twelve metres in length, making it much larger than most abelisaurids.  For example, Rugops (R. primus) known from Niger in Africa, measured around nine metres in length, whilst the South American Abelisaurus (A. comahuensis), from which the family derives its name, probably reached a maximum size of about six and half metres.  To put this into context, that is around half the length of an adult Tyrannosaurus rex.

An Illustration of a Typical Abelisaurid Dinosaur

A drawing of a dinosaur (Abelisaurus).

A typical member of the Abelisauridae.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Mike Fredericks

Tour guide Grover Marquina, literally stumbled over the footprint whilst exploring the area in a bid to identify suitable tourist sites.  The fossil track might represent the largest known member of the Abelisauridae dinosaur family, although a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented that they were aware of an, as yet, not scientifically described Abelisauridae specimen from Turkana in Kenya that might have reached a length of around eleven to twelve metres.

The Deccan Traps and the Extraterrestrial Impact Responsible for Dinosaur Demise

Temperature Spikes Point to Two Events Causing End Cretaceous Mass Extinction

A study of the fossilised shells of several species of bivalves that existed towards the end of the Cretaceous suggests two distinct phases of global warming occurred that instigated mass extinctions.  Scientists have debated how much of an impact the eruption of the Deccan Traps in India had on the mass extinction event that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs along with about seventy percent of all terrestrial animals.  Much of the difficulties surrounding this debate concern the separating of the consequences of the extensive volcanism from the devastation caused by the Chicxulub impact event.  Approximately sixty-six million years ago, a massive extraterrestrial body slammed into our planet in the Gulf of Mexico.  This new research suggests that these two cataclysmic events combined to bring about the mass extinction.

The Location of the Deccan Traps (Flood Basalts)

The Deccan Traps location.

The location of the Deccan Traps (flood basalts).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Researchers from the University of Florida, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Michigan examined the fossil record of a series of Upper Cretaceous bivalve shells, representing part of a mollusc biota that lived at depths of around 200 metres in a shallow marine environment that is represented by sequences of Maastrichtian faunal stage strata preserved on the Antarctic Seymour Island.  The Upper Cretaceous/Lower Palaeogene strata is particularly well suited for studying the end Cretaceous extinction event as the rocks here form a continuous sequence covering a time interval dating from around sixty-nine million years ago into the Palaeogene.  The abundant and well-preserved fossils of sea creatures are ideal study material and some understanding of the extinction process and its selectivity can be gained as several genera represented in the fossil record survive across the Cretaceous-Palaeogene boundary (K-Pg).

Cretaceous Extinction Event – Extraterrestrial Impact

Extraterrestrial impact event.

A contributory factor in the mass extinction?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Geochemist Andrea Dutton (University of Florida), working with Sierra Petersen and Kyger Lohmann (University of Michigan), used a new analytical technique to establish sea temperatures in the Antarctic towards the end of the Cretaceous and into the Palaeogene.  Their analysis, published in the journal “Nature Communications”, supports the idea of the combined effects of excessive volcanism on the Indian sub-continent and the  Chicxulub impact brought about the mass extinction event.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“It’s a double whammy for the end Cretaceous.  Two distinct ocean temperature spikes as a result of these two events.  Such temperature variations at high latitudes indicate a huge change in global climates, these would have most definitely resulted in extinctions and the stratigraphic record of Seymour Island provides the most conclusive evidence yet.”

Clumping Isotopes of Carbonates

The team used a new analytical technique called carbonate clumped isotope palaeothermometer to study the chemical composition of twenty-nine fossil bivalve shells, from a sampling set of one hundred and sixteen.  A total of five species of bivalve were studied (Lahillia larseni, Cucullaea antarctica, Cucullaea ellioti, Eselaevitrigonia regina and Nordenskjoldia nordenskjoldi).  The analysis shows that ocean temperatures rose approximately 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and links these measurements to two previously documented warming events that occurred near the end of the Cretaceous Period, one related to volcanic eruptions in India (Deccan Traps), the other, related to the Chicxulub impact on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

The isotopic composition of the fossilised shells provided a map of the ancient temperatures at high latitudes spanning some 3.5 million years, covering the crucial end Cretaceous (Maastrichtian faunal stage and into the Palaeocene (Danian faunal stage).  Whilst a graduate student at the University of Michigan, Andrea Dutton studied the palaeoclimate of Seymour Island.  At the time, existing analytical techniques determined combined signals of salinity and temperature fluctuations over geological time but the salt-water effect could not be isolated providing temperature increases/decreases as a single determinant factor.  Clumped isotope palaeothermometery allows the effect of temperature changes to be isolated.

Assistant Professor Dutton explained:

“Now, years later, everyone is using this new tool called clumped isotope palaeothermometery, which is a bit different than the traditional method.  This technique is only a function of temperature.  Salinity has nothing to do with it.  We’re looking at the clumping of oxygen isotopes rather than the relative amount of oxygen isotopes in the shell, and this is helping us re-interpret the data.”

Two Significant Temperature Spikes Coinciding with Catastrophic Events

Clumped Carbonate Isotope Analysis Reveals Extinctions.

Sea shells provide clues to Cretaceous extinction event.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

The data show two significant temperature spikes. The first corresponds to the eruption of the Deccan traps flood basalts. The other lines up exactly with the proposed date for the extraterrestrial impact.  Just to make matters worse for life on Earth at the time, the Chicxulub event may have led to a renewed phase of volcanism on the Indian sub-continent.  Both events are directly linked with extinction events recorded in the fossil record of Seymour Island (decrease in faunal biota).

To read a recently published article on a study of the marine fossils of Seymour Island and the consequences with regards to the mass extinction event: Global Catastrophe Caused End Cretaceous Extinction

The Cretaceous/Palaeogene (K-Pg) Boundary

There is a physical boundary preserved in the geological record of our planet known as the Cretaceous/Palaeogene boundary (K-Pg), the “K” represents the Cretaceous, it comes from the German word for chalk “kreide”, “Pg” is the traditional abbreviation for the Palaeogene Period.  It is represented by a thin band of iridium rich rock.  Iridium is a rare Earth element associated with asteroids, meteorites and comets, this suggests an extraterrestrial impact event contributed to the Cretaceous extinction event.

The Cretaceous/Palaeogene Boundary (K-Pg)

The K-Pg boundary

Marking the end of the Cretaceous.

Picture Credit: Open University/Everything Dinosaur

K-T boundary = Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary also referred to as the K-Pg boundary.

Andrea Dutton added:

“We have evidence on this site on Seymour Island in Antarctica that climate change is linked to both of these extinction events, right before the boundary and right at the boundary.  If you look at what types of species that went extinct during the first extinction pulse, they’re different than the types that went extinct during the second pulse.  That indicates that it may have been a different kill mechanism for those two different extinction pulses.  It’s quite likely both the volcanism and the asteroid were to blame for the ultimate mass extinction.  The Deccan Traps weakened the ecosystems before the asteroid slammed into the Earth.  It’s consistent with an idea called the press-pulse hypothesis: a ‘one-two punch’ that proved devastating for life on Earth.”

The published paper also refers to variability in shell composition that indicate a potential reduction in seasonality after the Deccan eruptions commenced, continuing through to the Chicxulub event.  Species extinction recorded at Seymour Island occurred in two pulses, these coincide with two observed global warming events, directly linking the end Cretaceous extinction at high latitudes to both the Deccan Traps and the extraterrestrial impact.

To read an article the suggests the dinosaurs were in decline some fifty million years before they finally became extinct: The Fifty-Million Year Decline of the Dinosaurs

An Explanation of Polarity Reversals with Earth’s Magnetic Field

Assisting the dating of the geological timescale is the science of magnetostratigraphy.  Periodically, the polarity of Earth’s magnetic field is reversed.  Iron rich minerals within strata align themselves with the prevailing magnetic field during formation.  By combining the polarity of these minerals with radiometric dating methods, geologists have produced a timescale of these magnetic reversals – the polarity chron.

The Polarity Chron Helps Chart Geological Deep Time

Plotting deep time using the Earth's polarity.

Magnetostratigraphy helps to chart deep time.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications with additional notation by Everything Dinosaur

The polarity chron (sometimes simply referred to as the chron), is the time interval between polarity shifts in the Earth’s magnetic field.  The switching of polarity is highly variable, on average they seem to occur every 200,000 years or so, but the last one took place more than three-quarters of a million years ago.  Why they occur has not been fully explained, but it is believed that the molten nickel and iron core at the centre of the Earth occasionally produces vortexes that persist long enough for a polarity reversal to take place as a result of the electromagnetic fields that they generate.  Polarity chrons are numbered in order starting from today and increasing retrospectively as we go further back in time.  Each number has two phases “N” for normal field and “R” to represent the reversal of that field, hence in the diagram above the ringed area labelled 31R through to 29N.

Back to School with Everything Dinosaur

Fantastic Dinosaur Themed Back to School Items from Everything Dinosaur

No sooner do the schools break up then our thoughts are turning to the Autumn Term.  The teaching team at Everything Dinosaur are already booked up quite a lot for both next term and into the Spring but there are still some dates available for our dinosaur workshops in school.  However, just as teachers commence preparations for their scheme of work to be delivered next term, so parents too are planning ahead.  Mums and dads, grandparents and guardians will be turning their thoughts to kitting out their charges ready for when the children go back to school.  For budding young palaeontologists Everything Dinosaur has a huge range of prehistoric animal themed school items, from pencils through to lunchboxes and backpacks, Everything Dinosaur has getting ready for school covered.

Some of the Dinosaur Themed Back to School Items Available from Everything Dinosaur

Back to school items available from Everything Dinosaur

Back to school stationery available from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Whether you are looking for notepads with a dinosaur motif, or pens and pencils so that young dinosaur fans can jot down their discoveries, Everything Dinosaur is the place to go to find back to school prehistoric animal themed school sets and stationery.

Back to School stock in stock at Everything Dinosaur: Back to School

There are school kits, dinosaur stationery sets, soft and cuddly back packs, pencil cases, notebooks, notepads and a whole range of other items, a list as long as a the neck of a Tanystropheus – there is plenty of choice, enough to make even the most reluctant school child roar in approval like an angry Tyrannosaurus rex.

Back to School with Everything Dinosaur

Dinosaur pens available from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Notes for Teachers

As for our popular dinosaur and fossil themed workshops in schools, our team members are booked up well into the Spring term.  However, there are some dates still available and for further information about Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools, simply visit the link below for further information.

Contact Everything Dinosaur to enquire about dinosaur themed workshops in school: Contact Everything Dinosaur, request a quotation

Everything Dinosaur Reviews Prehistoric Times Issue 118

A Review of Prehistoric Times (Summer 2016)

It might seem quite odd to have the front cover of the latest edition of Prehistoric Times magazine depicting a confrontation between two Smilodon and a Woolly Mammoth, especially since it is the summer issue, but as Californian-based editor Mike Fredericks points out, on the west coast of the United States it is currently baking hot.  A snowy, Pleistocene scene might help readers in hotter parts of the world forget the heat, oh, if only we in the United Kingdom had such worries.  Two days with temperatures above thirty degrees Celsius has been our lot so far this summer.  Never mind we can always browse through the latest edition of Prehistoric Times, to take our minds off the incessant rain.

The Front Cover of Prehistoric Times (issue 118)

Prehistoric Times magazine (issue 118)

The front cover of Prehistoric Times magazine (Summer 2016)

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks

The front cover artwork was created by Franco Tempesta and editor Mike conducts an in-depth interview with the talented Italian palaeoartist.  This very informative and well-written piece is complimented by a number of Franco’s fantastic illustrations, look out in particular for the beautiful Confuciusornis images.  Talking of flying prehistoric creatures, check out the fabulous article on the Pterosaurs of Brazil contributed by Sergio Luis Fica Biston.  This article too, features some brilliant artwork.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Entelodonts

Phil Hore conducts a tour of the “killer pigs”, the Entelodonts, enormous omnivores that roamed much of the northern latitudes until around 19 million years ago.  In addition, Phil discusses the exceptionally rare “dinosaur mummies” and accompanying his article is a photograph of a mummified Hadrosaur from the American Museum of Natural History plus illustrations from the likes of Chris Srnka, Betty Reid Martin and Julius Csotonyi.  Regular contributor Tracy Lee Ford continues the “mummified dinosaur” theme by demonstrating how to draw dinosaur skin, scales and mummies in a comprehensive overview.  Amongst the regular features such as the palaeonews, classifieds, collector’s corner and Mesozoic media, look out for the “speaking dinosaur” section, part 1 of a glossary and pronunciation guide by Carl Masthay and Robert Telleria – what a great idea for an article!

Check out the Amazing CollectA Daeodon Figure Drawing Commissioned by Everything Dinosaur that Features in Prehistoric Times (summer 2016)

One of the "ugly ones".

One of the “ugly ones” – Daeodon by Mike Fredericks.

Subscribe to Prehistoric Times Magazine

For further information on Prehistoric Times magazine and to subscribe: Prehistoric Times Magazine

Information for Prehistoric Animal Model Collectors

Fans of Marx figures and Marx dinosaur play-sets get an update on the changing characteristic of these iconic models from their 1960’s origins up into the 1970’s.  Pat Schaefer takes readers through the finer points of Marx collectables and in between editing the magazine, Mike Fredericks takes time out to let readers know about new model kits and figures that are available, the majority of which are now in stock at Everything Dinosaur Everything Dinosaur.

Mike Howgate provides the second part of his review of the prehistoric plaster models made by Vernon Edwards in the 1920’s.  In this piece, his focus is on the models used to illustrate a series of cigarette cards.  If you want to see a Corythosaurus advertising tobacco then this is the article for you.

All in all, this magazine is a jam-packed edition, there is certainly enough in the summer issue of Prehistoric Times to take your mind off the weather, no matter how hot (or wet) it gets!

Max and His Drawing of the Cambrian

Max and his Anomalocaris Drawing

Our thanks to Max and his mum for sending us a wonderful thank you letter after we furnished him with twenty-two prehistoric animal fact sheets to add to his dinosaur database.  Max very kindly provided us with a drawing of a scene from the Cambrian, a geological period that lasted some fifty-four million years or so (542 to 488 million years ago).  The Cambrian marks the appearance of sophisticated marine ecosystems and a rapid radiation and diversification of marine life-forms.  It is the first geological period of the Phanerozoic Eon, an Eon that continues today (visible life).  We really appreciate Max’s illustration, it’s a super drawing of a Cambrian scene.

The Cambrian Scene Sent to Everything Dinosaur by Young Max

Life in the Cambrian by Max.

A drawing of Cambrian marine life by young Max.

Picture Credit: Max

At Everything Dinosaur we get sent lots of pictures of dinosaurs, some amazing drawings as well as snapshots of fossil finds.  We don’t get too many drawings illustrating life in the shallow seas of the world some 510 million years ago.  A special thank you to Max and his mum for sending this into us.

Featuring  Anomalocaris

The animal featured in the centre of Max’s drawing looks like an Anomalocaris.  Although, it was probably not the fastest swimmer, Anomalocaris was probably the apex predator in the shallow sea fauna represented by the fossils from the Burgess Shale of British Columbia.  At more than a seventy centimetres in length, Anomalocaris was probably the largest member of the Burgess Shale biota.

The Drawing by Max Compared to a Scientific Illustration of Anomalocaris

Anomalocaris comparison.

A comparison between a child’s drawing and a scientific illustration of Anomalocaris.

Picture Credit: Max and Everything Dinosaur

We can certainly see a resemblance between the two drawings.  It had been thought that the anomalocarids had become extinct at the end of the Cambrian, but a study of Ordovician fossils from Morocco provided a surprise for palaeontologists.   It seems these types of marine creatures, which might be the ancestors of today’s velvet worms, lived for at least thirty million years longer, and what is more, some kinds actually grew even bigger than their Cambrian counterparts.

To read more about this: Anomalocarids into the Ordovician

Everything Dinosaur enjoys receiving drawings such as the one Max sent into us, especially ones that illustrate scenes from very dramatic times in the evolution of life on our planet, such as the Cambrian.  Our thanks to Max once again for sending in his picture.

Reconstructing the Brains of Ancient Lungfish

Comparing the Brains of Extant Lungfish to their Ancient Relatives

The lungfish might be regarded by some as a “living fossil”, a term that we at Everything Dinosaur prefer not to use, as it implies that a species has remained present in the fossil record for a very long time.  However, the six species of lungfish alive today, do represent an extremely long lineage of fishes, that have remained relatively unaltered since they first evolved back in the Devonian.  How similar extant lungfish are to their ancient counterparts has been determined by a team of researchers from South Australia (Flinders University) and Sweden (Uppsala University) who have used a combination of computerised tomography and computer modelling to map and compare the brains of living lungfish species with fossils dating back some 365 million years.

A Very Ancient Lineage of Fishes – Lungfish

A lungfish from Australia.

A living Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri).

Picture Credit: Getty Images/Tom McHugh

Ancient Vertebrates

Lungfish belong to the Class Sarcopterygii part of the huge bony fish group of vertebrates, that is most closely related to Tetrapods and that includes our own species H. sapiens.  Today’s lungfish, all six species, are becoming increasingly rare and scientists still do not know a great deal about them, their behaviours and how they are able to survive in extreme environments.  One thing we do know, is that for a fish, they are relatively big brained.  Of course, brain size does not necessarily reflect cognitive function, but lungfish brains tend to occupy about 80 percent of their cranial cavity.  Compare this to the somewhat more sedentary and a close relative of lungfish, the Coelacanth (Latimeria).  Studies of Latimeria have shown that less than 5% of their cranial cavity is occupied by their brains.

Using Technology to “Brain-warp” Lungfish Fossils

Having a cranial cavity which is mostly filled by brain tissue is a trait more associated with mammals than with fish.  Knowing this, scientists can use the endocast of lungfish fossils that have been preserved in three-dimensions to map the brains of these ancient creatures.  That is exactly what the Swedish and Australian researchers did and their paper has been published on line in the open source directory of the Royal Society.

The fossilised remains of a Late Devonian lungfish (Rhinodipterus) excavated from the Gogo Formation of western Australia have been subjected to high resolution computerised tomography and the data has been used to “brain-warp” cranial soft tissues so the brains of long extinct creatures can be constructed.

A Three-dimensional Skull Fossil of the Sarcopterygian Rhinodipterus from the Gogo Formation

A Skull of the Lungfish Rhinodipterus.

A three-dimensional Rhinodipterus skull from the Gogo Formation.

Picture Credit: ABC

The picture above shows a right lateral view of the skull of Rhinodipterus excavated from the famous Gogo Formation .  The three-dimensional preservation of fossils has permitted the cranial research to take place.

Flinders University evolutionary biologist and lead author of the scientific paper, Alice Clement commented:

“These fishy cousins of ours offer a great insight into our ancient ancestors who first crawled out of water and onto land some 370 million years ago.”

The research team used the endocast from a fossil lungfish to form a three-dimensional diagram of the brain and surrounding tissue.  From this, the scientists could develop ideas regarding brain function and phylogeny of the lungfish family as a whole.  An ancient lungfish brain reconstructed in virtual reality is one thing, built in conjunction with the team’s own sophisticated and novel distance mapping software, but it is hoped these techniques can be applied elsewhere in the fossil record.

Mapping the Brains of Lungfish

Brain mapping in Lungfish.

The Queensland Lungfish brain compared to an ancient relative (Rhinodipterus).

Picture Credit: The Royal Society

The picture above shows brain comparisons between an extant Queensland lungfish (Neoceratodus) and the extinct lungfish Rhinodipterus of the Late Devonian.   Colour coded distance map (a) for the relationship between brain and cranial cavity in Neoceratodus, (b) a three-dimensional endocast of Rhinodipterus.  The reconstructed brain of Rhinodipterus (c) presented as a colour coded brain endocast distance map and (d), a spatial overlap of the reconstructed Rhinodipterus brain (grey) with the endocast (pale red).  The reconstructed brain of Rhinodipterus viewed from the top (dorsal view) is diagram (e).

Brains are Difficult Things to Study

The new “brain-warp” method is important because when it comes to ancient anatomy, brains are extremely difficult to study.  Soft tissue such as brains is highly unlikely to fossilise, although brain shape and structure can be inferred if the bones that surround the brain are preserved.  By examining the hollow, a lot of information about brain morphology can be obtained.

Palaeontologist John Long, an expert on the fossils of the Gogo Formation and co-author of the scientific paper commented:

“Animals’ soft tissue usually breaks down, so discovery of a fossilised brain is very rare.”

The Strategic Professor of Palaeontology at Flinders University went onto explain that lungfishes have a very long evolutionary history, first evolving some 410 million years ago and having a peak diversity of about a hundred species during the latter part of the Silurian and through to the Devonian.

Weird Facts about Lungfishes

  • Molecular studies using living lungfishes and the Latimeria genus of Coelacanth have shown that lungfishes are more closely related to Tetrapods than Coelacanths.
  • Six species of lungfish are know, the Queensland lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri) from Australia, four species from Africa and one species from South America.
  • The South American lungfish (Lepidosiren paradoxa) when first scientifically studied in the mid 1830’s was thought to be a reptile due to its close affinity with Tetrapods.
  • The West African lungfish (Protopterus annectans) can go without food for more than three years.  When this lungfish was scientifically described by Sir Richard Owen, it was placed at first with the Class Amphibia (amphibians).

Did Humans Evolve Independently in Asia?

Asia’s Role in Human Evolution May Be More Significant

Scientists from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) have challenged conventional theory by claiming that humans may have evolved independently in Asia as well as Africa.  Asia’s role in our own evolution may be underestimated, that is the verdict given by Research Fellow Zhao Lingxia (IVPP) who led a field team exploring the limestone caves of Bijie, in south-west China’s Guizhou Province.  Three hominin teeth the team found in one of the caves were discovered in sediments that have been dated to 178,000 years to 112,000 years ago, some 70,000 years or so earlier than when the first modern humans (H. sapiens) are believed to have entered western Europe.  The study has been published in the Chinese academic journal Acta Anthropologica Sinica.

Scientists Study Caves Around the World to Gain a Better Understanding of Human Evolution

Inside Imanai Cave (Urals)

Scientists carefully examining in situ evidence.

Picture Credit:  Pavel Kosintsev

Tentative Dates

Before anthropologists re-write human history, more work needs to be done to establish the true age of the ancient teeth.  Re-distribution of the sediments and geological upheaval may have skewed the estimated dates.  However, other recent fossil finds (October 2015), by Zhao’s colleagues, Liu Wu and Wu Xiujie, from Hunan Province (central China), indicate an age of perhaps as old as 120,000 years.  The forty-seven teeth found in Daoxian county (Hunan Province) remain the oldest fossils of modern hominins to have been found in eastern Asia.

Commenting on the significance of these ancient human remains, Liu Wu stated:

“There is overwhelming evidence from the fossil record that China was populated with humans before the arrival of African settlers.”

Homo erectus in China

According to a number of Chinese media agencies, the fossilised skull of a Homo erectus was found in Dongzhi county in Anhui Province (eastern China).  The skull has been tentatively dated to 150,000 to 412,000 years ago.  A number of H. erectus sites are known from China (Shaanxi Province, Jiangsu Province as well as Anhui Province) and a spokesperson for the IVPP stated that over the last decade our understanding of human evolution in eastern Asia had been revolutionised.  Human fossils have been discovered across much of southern China, many of which date back 100,000 years or more, but which share similar anatomical features with modern Chinese people.

Homo erectus Skull found in China

Homo erectus skull fossil.

The skull of a H. erectus found in China.

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Stone tools found in association with a number fossilised bones indicate that there was a thriving stone tool manufacturing culture in this part of the world, but it was distinct from what has been identified from African migrants into the Near and Middle East and into Europe.

The stone tool cultures and the large amount of ancient hominin fossils uncovered in China suggested a “seamless evolution” toward the present-day Chinese people.  Even if the arrival of African migrants might have introduced certain new genes, no replacement or mass extinction had happened.  There is a growing consensus that the evolutionary story in Asia is much more interesting than previously considered.

A Forgotten Continent

Renowned palaeoanthropologist Chris Stringer (Natural History Museum – London),  stated that Asia has been a forgotten continent.

Professor Stringer said:

“Its role in human evolution may have been largely under-appreciated.”

A Selection of Homo erectus Fossils from China

H. erectus fossils from China.

Homo erectus fossil material including teeth.

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Homo floresiensis

A discovery made in 2003 in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores led to the establishment of a new type of early human species – Homo floresiensis.  Their diminutive size led this hominin species to be nicknamed “Hobbits”.  The discovery of H. floresiensis demonstrates that our evolutionary history may yet reveal some intriguing surprises.

Homo floresiensis (female based on skeletal remains LB1)

Homo floresiensis female

Homo floresiensis female based on skeletal remains LB1.

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

To read an article suggesting that modern humans may have driven H. floresiensis to extinction: Did H. sapiens’s arrival make H. floresiensis extinct?

Getting Our Claws into the Megaraptora

The Consequences of the Leggy Murusraptor

With the publication of the scientific paper announcing the discovery of Murusraptor (M. barrosaensis) in the on line access journal PLOS ONE, palaeontologists might be one step nearer to identifying where in the Theropoda the Megaraptora clade fits.  One thing is for certain, the Megraptoridae family and those dinosaurs closely related to them, are not closely related to the dromaeosaurids – the likes of Velociraptor.

An Illustration of the Newly Described Murusraptor barrosaensis

Roaming Patagonia 80 million years ago

A leggy, Late Cretaceous carnivore (Murusraptor).

Picture Credit: Jan Sovak (University of Alberta)

Before we discuss the phylogeny of Murusraptor and how it relates to other types of meat-eating dinosaur, lets quickly provide an outline of this newly described dinosaur.

Large Claws and Pneumatised Bones

The fossilised remains of a large, meat-eating dinosaur were spotted eroding out of a steep sandstone cliff that makes up a part of the Upper Cretaceous Sierra Barrosa Formation of Neuquén Province, southern Argentina.  The permineralised, white bones were clearly identifiable against the sandy rock matrix, but extracting the specimen proved troublesome for palaeontologists Professor Phil Currie (University of Alberta) and co-author of the scientific paper, Dr. Rodolfo Coria (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Argentina).  The first fossils were discovered during fieldwork sixteen years ago, but it has taken time to extract the disassociated fossil material from the various layers that it was deposited in.  Having to work half-way up a remote canyon impeded the progress of the field team.  The discovery of a single, poorly preserved manual ungual, (claw from the third finger of the hand), would hardly make the layperson scream “Megaraptor”, however, at forty-two millimetres long it is comparable in size to the third-finger claw of Megaraptor (M. namunhuaiquii), fossils of which come from Patagonia too.  The real giveaway that these fossils represented a new member of the Megaraptoridae family were the air-filled (pneumatised) bones.  These light, air-filled bones are very reminiscent of modern bird and typical of the Megaraptora clade.

Biostratigraphic Diagram Showing Approximate Location of Patagonian Members of the Megaraptora Clade

Identifying members of the Megaraptora clade in a rock sequence.

Stratigraphic table and geologic section indicating the provenance of the megaraptorins recorded in the Neuquén group

Picture Credit: PLOS ONE

The diagram above shows some of the layers of rock that comprise the Neuquén Group of Upper Cretaceous strata that make up the Neuquén Basin of southern Argentina.  A  number of different types of meat-eating dinosaurs have been discovered in these rocks including Megaraptor (M. namunhuaiquii), the discovery of which led to the establishment of the Megaraptoridae, a new family of Theropods.  Megaraptor fossils come from the slightly older Portezuelo Formation of the Neuquén Group, the huge claw associated with Megaraptor was thought to have been a sickle-like toe claw, hence the initial description of a dromaeosaurid dinosaur.  However, this claw was later interpreted as actually being from the hand (first digit).  Another member of the Megaraptora clade, the nine metre long Aerosteon (A. riocoloradense ), is known from slightly younger rocks.  However, scientists remain uncertain as to where in the Order Theropoda these lightly built, large handed dinosaurs fit.

Where do the Megaraptoridae Fit In?

With the discovery of Murusraptor, palaeontologists hope to find out more about where within the Theropoda the Megraptoridae fits.  Once the remains of Murusraptor were in the preparation laboratory, the researchers, Currie and Coria, were able to establish some interesting facts about this particular dinosaur.  For example, they were able to conclude that the fossils represented a single animal, that it had come to rest lying on its right side and from the length of the tibia, it was a strong runner.

Two main theories have been put forward with regards to the Megaraptoridae and their phylogeny;

  1. Megaraptoridae family members and their close relatives making up the Megaraptora clade  are the last surviving members of the once ubiquitous Allosauria clade.  If, thanks to the discovery of Murusraptor, this is proved correct, then this would alter all the existing theories about the demise of the Allosauria.
  2. That Megaraptor, Murusraptor et al are members of the Coelurosauria clade and therefore related to modern birds, certainly studies of the breathing systems of similar dinosaurs Australovenator (Australovenator wintonensis) from Australia for example, indicate that these dinosaurs had respiratory systems very similar to extant Aves.  If this theory proves to be correct then the likes of Murusraptor would be related to the tyrannosaurids.

To complicate matters further, some of the anatomical traits found in the Megaraptora are similar to those of spinosaurids.  This hints at a possible link to a much older group of Theropod dinosaurs, the Megalosaurs.

Palaeontologists Phil Currie (red shirt) and  Rodolfo Coria Examine the Fossils 

Palaeontologists examine the matrix surrounding the fossils of a dinosaur.

Currie and Coria examine the fossils of Murusraptor in the canyon wall.

Picture Credit: University of Alberta

“Wall Thief”

As for the name, the genus comes the Latin word “murus” which means wall, a reference to the fossil being located halfway up the wall of a canyon (see photograph above).  The trivial name honours the location of the fossil find – Sierra Barrosa.  Southern Argentina has proved a happy hunting ground for vertebrate palaeontologists, especially those who specialise in studying the Dinosauria.  Rodolfo Coria was one of the scientists who helped describe two of the most iconic dinosaurs of recent times the enormous Argentinosaurus and one of the largest, terrestrial predators ever to walk the Earth – Giganotosaurus.  Last week, Everything Dinosaur reported on the describing of Gualicho shinyae, fossils of which come from the Huincul Formation, which underlies the strata from which Megaraptor and Murusraptor are known.  Researchers are suggesting that this meat-eater was as a member of the neovenatorids, a branch of the Allosaur family tree.

To read more about the tiny-armed Gualicho: Gualicho Sticks Two Fingers Up at T. rex

Dr. Coria hopes that by studying the fossils of Murusraptor the mystery of the Megaraptor phylogeny will be finally resolved.  He explained:

“Our current strategy includes two ways to get into this problem.  One way to get close to the solution of this controversy is to review all different species and build a whole new data set, avoiding biases and preconcepts.”

The Braincase

None of the bones associated with the front of the skull or the jaws were found, although some 31 teeth were recovered from the matrix.  The largest teeth are more than twelve centimetres long.  Bones from the back of the skull including those that make up the braincase were found.  This is the only known braincase material from a Megaraptor-like dinosaur.  A study of these braincase bones indicate that this specimen was a sub-adult, size estimates vary but this long-legged predator could have been between 6.5 and 8 metres long when fully grown.

Skeletal Drawing of M. barrosaensis

Murusraptor a South American dinosaur.

A drawing of the skull and body fossils associated with Murusraptor.  Scale bars 10 cm (A) and 1 metre (B).

Picture Credit: PLOS ONE

The picture above shows a close up of the skull bones (posterior part of the skull in right lateral view) and a skeletal drawing of the dinosaur (fossil bones in white).

Professor Currie commented:

“This is a super-cool specimen from a very enigmatic family of big dinosaurs.  Because we have most of the skeleton in a single entity, it really helps consolidate their relationships to other animals.” 

Professor Currie went onto state:

“A lot of people have been waiting for this paper.  When you have most of the skeleton, it takes a long time to do all the work on it.  It turns out this animal is related to Megaraptor, found only thirty kilometres away in a different rock formation.  The upshot was the more we looked, we could test whether Megaraptor was a Dromaeosaur, which it isn’t in the strict sense, and what was thought to be the foot claws—the big can-opener claw of a Dromaeosaur or raptor—were actually from the hands.  We discovered all sorts of things through the course of our research.”

“A New Megaraptoran Dinosaur (Dinosauria, Theropoda, Megaraptoridae) from the Late Cretaceous of Patagonia” was published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Note

Everything Dinosaur is switching to PLOS ONE from the previous nomenclature PLoS One.

The Turtle Shell Evolved to Help with Burrowing

Fossorial Origins of the Turtle Shell – Eunotosaurus africanus

Writing in the “Current Biology” a team of international scientists, led by Dr. Tyler Lyson (Denver Museum of Nature and Science), have concluded that the “shell” of turtles, terrapins and tortoises evolved not for protection but as an adaptation for burrowing and living underground.  As the feather did not evolve for flight, so then the carapace (top) and plastron (underneath) of the SuperOrder Chelonia, may not have evolved as shield.  Like flight feathers, the shell of a tortoise and its use in defence was a secondary outcome of an evolutionary process.

Fossils excavated from the famous Permian-aged deposits of the Karoo Basin (South Africa) suggest that the earliest evolutionary beginnings of the turtle’s shell resulted from adaptations to accommodate a burrowing or fossorial (digging) lifestyle.

Karoo Basin Fossils of the Proto-Turtle Eunotosaurus Indicate Fossorial Adaptations

Eunotosaurus adapted to a burrowing lifestyle.

The proto-turtle Eunotosaurus burrows into the banks of a dried up pond to survive in the harsh, arid South African environment about 260 million years ago. In the background, a herd of Bradysaurus, a type of reptile, crowds around some muddy water.

Picture Credit: Audrey Atuchin

A Widening of the Ribs

Dr. Lyson had the opportunity to learn more about Chelonian evolution when he, along with collaborators form the Smithsonian Institute studied the fossilised remains of a highly specialised parareptile, Eunotosaurus africanus, back in 2013.  These fossils, which also came from Late Permian aged deposits in South Africa, indicated that a widening of the ribs was the first stage in the evolution of the shell.

To read more about the origins of the shell in turtles: How the Turtle Got Its Shell

Tyler Lyson explained:  “We knew from both the fossil record and observing how the turtle shell develops in modern turtles that one of the first major changes toward a shell was the broadening of the ribs.”

However, for a quadruped, the widening of the ribs has a very serious effect on mobility.  Breathing is restricted and movement becomes more difficult.  Ribs are primarily used to support the torso during locomotion and they play a vital role in lung function.  Broader ribs, means a stiffer body which will lead to a shortening of stride length and less efficient breathing.  In the harsh and dangerous world of the Permian, these modifications would have seriously disadvantaged any Tetrapod.

Rib bones in vertebrates show hardly any variation, team members at Everything Dinosaur have recently been examining the rib bones of a prehistoric elephant, these ribs are very similar to the ribs of a large dinosaur such as a Stegosaurus.  The Chelonia are an exception, their ribs are highly modified as they form the majority of the shell.

Significant Fossil Discovery

The discovery of several, exceptionally well-preserved specimens of Eunotosaurus africanus allowed the team to examine shell evolution in much more detail than before.  A number of the fossils were found by the study’s co-authors, doctors Roger Smith and Bruce Rubidge (University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg).  However, the most important specimen used in this study was found by a young boy on his father’s farm in the Western Cape.  Eight-year old Kobus Snyman, took the fossil that he found to his local museum, the Fransie Pienaar Museum in Prince Albert (Western Cape).  The articulated fossil measures around fifteen centimetres in length, the body (and those all important ribs) are preserved along with the hands and feet but the skull is missing.

Dr. Lyson praised young Kobus for his observational skills and for taking his find to the local museum, he stated:

“I want to thank Kobus Snyman and shake his hand because without Kobus both finding the specimen and taking it to his local museum, this study would not have been possible.”

The Eunotosaurus Fossil Found by Kobus Snyman

Fossil of Eunotosaurous found by an 8-year-old.

The fossil of Eunotosaurus found by eight-year-old Kobus Snyman.

Picture Credit: Dr. Tyler Lyson

Extant turtles, terrapins and tortoises have shells that serve mainly as protective devices.  These armoured animals are notoriously slow.  However, in this new study, developmental evidence from embryos combined with these newly described Karoo Basin fossils suggest that one of the first steps towards the shelled body-plan was a widening of the ribs.  Eunotosaurus africanus is thought to be a basal member of the Chelonia and the broad ribs of this animal have been proposed as support and stabilising mechanisms to help support a powerful forelimb digging action.  The adaptations for a fossorial lifestyle would have facilitated the movement of stem turtles into aquatic environments early in the group’s evolutionary history.

In the scientific paper, entitled “Fossorial Origin of the Turtle Shell”, the researchers propose that adaptations related to digging provided the initial impetus for shell development and that the fosssorial lifestyle may explain why basal turtles survived the catastrophe that marked the end of the Palaeozoic (End Permian mass extinction event).

To read an article from Everything Dinosaur that suggest that turtles and their kind evolved from diapsid reptiles: Study Suggests Chelonia Evolved from Diapsids

An Illustration of Eunotosaurus africanus 

A drawing of Eunotosaurus.

An illustration of the stem turtle Eunotosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

An article on a Mid Jurassic turtle discovery: The Grandfather of All Tortoises and Turtles

Still Time to Enter “Edge of Extinction” Competition

Win “Edge of Extinction” –  A Dinosaur Adventure Book

There is still time to win the fabulous “Edge of Extinction” penned by the talented American author Laura Martin, thanks to Everything Dinosaur.  However, time is running out as the competition to win a copy of this new dinosaur adventure story ends on July 31st.

Ideal Reading for Young Dinosaur Fans

Edge of Extinction by Laura Martin

An exciting young person’s read. Dinosaurs meets Lara Croft!

Picture Credit: Harper Collins Children’s Books

“It’s Them or Us”

Mankind has made the mistake of cloning dinosaurs.  The fearsome prehistoric animals are bad enough, but their resurrection brought about a global pandemic that wiped out most of the human race.  Can twelve-year old Sky Mundy find her father and solve a mystery.

To celebrate the publishing of Laura’s first novel, Everything Dinosaur is having a special competition on the company’s Facebook page to win a copy of this exciting new dinosaur themed book.

Book Competition – Win with Everything Dinosaur

Simply “Like” Everything Dinosaur’s FACEBOOK page, then give a name for the big, meat-eating dinosaur that features on the front cover of this thrilling paperback!  It’s that easy to enter the competition, but remember the closing date of Sunday July 31st is fast approaching.

Everything Dinosaur on FACEBOOK: “LIKE” our Facebook page and enter the competition!

A random draw will take place to decide the lucky winner and the prehistoric animal name caption competition closes on Sunday 31st July.  “Bon chance” to all our entrants, just come up with a name for the big front cover dinosaur and “like” our Facebook page for an opportunity to win.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s fantastic range of dinosaur themed toys, models and games: Everything Dinosaur

You can find “Edge of Extinction”  by Laura Martin here: Search Here for “Edge of Extinction”

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“Like” our Facebook page to enter the competition.

A Great Summer Read for Teenagers and for Dinosaur Fans from Nine Years and Upwards

Described as a blend of “Jurassic Park” meets “Indiana Jones”, this debut novel by Laura has received many favourable reviews from young readers.  It makes ideal reading for the holidays.  Time to hit the beach with a dinosaur book to read.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“Competitions like this are a bit of fun, however, this is a great book to enthuse young readers and it is great to see a story all about dinosaurs written specifically for the children’s book market.”

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