Countdown to TetZooCon 2016

Countdown to TetZooCon 2016

The countdown has started, Tetrapods from all walks of life will be getting ready for the third annual TetZooCon gathering this Saturday (1st October).  The great and the good in the TetZoo-verse will be making their way to the London Wetland Centre (Barnes, London, SW13) to enjoy a series of presentations from illustrious speakers covering topics as wide ranging as British reptiles and amphibians, palaeoart, pterosaurs and sea monsters.  Highlights this year include John Hutchinson providing an insight into locomotion and biomechanics, specifically kneecaps, expect some jumbo sized explanations as pachyderms get placed up front and centre!  Look out also for Hannah O’Regan’s (University of Nottingham), talk on the Ursidae in the archaeological record could TetZooCon be turning into a teddy’s bear picnic?  Certainly, organisers Darren Naish, John Conway and friends have ensured that tea and coffee is included in the admission price of £50 and attendees can pick up lunch and other snacks at the London Wetland Centre in between the cornucopia of events, activities and speakers that have been assembled.

Countdown to TetZooCon 2016

TetZooCon 1st October 2016.

TetZooCon banner 2016.

Picture Credit: Darren Naish

For further information on this event and for last minute ticket information check out this link: TetZooCon 2016

Palaeoart, Plushies and Publications

TetZooCon gives fans of biology, zoology, palaeontology, cryptozoology, conservation and how animals (living and extinct) are portrayed in art, literature and fiction the opportunity to meet up once a year and to indulge their interest in all things related to the Tetrapoda and the contents of the world-famous blog Tetrapod Zoology (currently hosted by Scientific American and followed by Everything Dinosaur team members).  On the subject of blog writers followed by Everything Dinosaur, renowned flying reptile expert Mark Witton (he of Mark Witton’s blog), will be attending and conference delegates will be able to purchase signed prints of his artwork as well as copies of his new book “Recreating an Age of Reptiles”.  Over the course of the day visitors will be able to peruse and purchase a range of merchandise including spectacular illustrations and to get their hands on some of the very latest publications.  Rumour has it that the recently refurbished lecture theatre at the London Wetland Centre will see the unveiling of the new dinosaur book “Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved” by Darren Naish, only a limited number of copies of this highly anticipated new volume will be available, doors open promptly at 9am with the first presentation scheduled to start at 9.20am, best to get there early to avoid disappointment.

The TetZooCon Quiz

Just prior to the traditional end of event trip to the local hostelry and bringing down the curtain on the day-long activities there is the quiz and look out for some fantastic prehistoric animal scale replica prizes provided by Everything Dinosaur who are once again proud to be involved in such a worthwhile event.

Up for Grabs a “Winston” Rebor Replica and Other Prizes

Rebor Velociraptor "Winston"

Rebor 1:18 scale Velociraptor model

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We wish all the delegates and speakers a wonderful day!  Perhaps next year it will be a two day event, now that’s a thought!

Look Out for Everything Dinosaur at TetZooCon 2016

Everything Dinosaur at TetZooCon

All ready for the TetZooCon 2016

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Dinosaurs Roar with Jonah!

Jonah Class Explore Dinosaurs

It was a busy morning for the Reception class at Astbury St Mary’s Church of England Primary School.  Class Jonah have been learning all about dinosaurs and the enthusiastic teaching team had invited a member of the Everything Dinosaur staff into the school to explore dinosaurs and fossils.  The spacious hall was taken over and turned into a mini dinosaur museum and the budding young palaeontologists quickly learned that they had more fingers on their hands than a Tyrannosaurus rex.  Dinosaurs as a term topic was proving very popular amongst the children as they settled into full-time education, the girls were delighted to hear that a girl T. rex grew up to be bigger and stronger than a boy T. rex!  As far as we can tell, the female Tyrannosaurs were probably bigger than the males.

Lots of Creative Dinosaur Drawings on Display

FS2 children draw prehistoric landscapes.

Drawings of a prehistoric landscape by FS2 children.

Picture Credit: St Mary’s Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

The well-organised classroom already had lots of dinosaur themed drawings and models on display.  The children had made some pointy dinosaur teeth (probably a meat-eater) and the walls were decorated with some lovely prehistoric animal drawings.   The class teacher Miss Irwin, had challenged her class to imagine what a prehistoric landscape looked like, the children had certainly produced some very imaginative drawings.  The dinosaur food we brought with us helped support the children’s learning about herbivores and carnivores and we note that on the Jonah class blog there are some pictures of a dinosaur plant-eater/meat-eater sorting exercise that our expert suggested the children attempt to help reinforce their understanding about the diets of different dinosaurs.

Dinosaur Land with an Erupting Volcano

FS2 draw dinosaurs.

Reception draw a volcano.

Picture Credit: St Mary’s Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

Did Dinosaurs Have Phones?

Prior to our visit, the children under the supervision of Miss Irwin and with the support of Mrs Ainscough, had come up with some super questions about dinosaurs that they would like to explore.  The eager learners busy practising their phonics and getting to grips with reading wanted to learn lots of amazing facts about life in the past.

Questions About Dinosaurs from Jonah Class

Questions about dinosaurs from Reception.

Dinosaur questions from FS2

Picture Credit: St Mary’s Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

Sebastian asked why do dinosaurs have big teeth?  Toby enquired why dinosaurs have bones?  Brad questioned whether there were dinosaurs in the playground?  Some news for you Toby, perhaps some birds like Robins, Magpies and Blue Tits will visit your dinosaur museum outside.  Birds are so closely related to some types of dinosaur that, technically, birds are dinosaurs.  Jude asked did dinosaurs have phones?  That’s an interesting question!  With T. rex having such short arms and only two fingers on each hand, do the children think that this dinosaur could make a phone call?  If you happen to receive a text from a T. rex what would it say?

Did Dinosaurs Have Phones?

Did dinosaurs have phones?

Reception class consider whether dinosaurs had phones and how closely related birds are to dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Out of Africa – Earlier Than Thought?

DNA Analysis Hints at Earlier Exodus of Modern Humans from Africa

A number of scientific papers have been published this week, most notably in the journal “Nature”, which discuss the thorny issue of how our species spread across the world.  Studies of modern human genomes from populations around the globe hint that there may have been an earlier human migration out of Africa, however, the evidence for this earlier migration remains controversial.  Understanding how and when our species migrated out of Africa and spread around the planet, reaching far-flung destinations such as Australasia, is still some way off.  Rather than clarify and unify theories, genetic studies seem to have muddied the waters somewhat.

A Native of Papua New Guinea – New Research Indicates A Very Ancient Human Ancestry

A Papuan tribesman.

A native of Papua New Guinea.

Picture Credit: Eric Lafforgue

Out of Africa

For decades, palaeoanthropologists argued over the origins of our species.  Did Homo sapiens originate from Africa or did we evolve from hominins that had spread across Europe, the Middle East and Asia much earlier?  Whilst most scientist now agree that Africa was the “cradle of mankind”, skeletal remains from various locations and new research into ancient climates, particularly the prehistoric climate of the Arabian peninsula, hinted that modern humans may have migrated out of Africa earlier than 60,000 years ago.  Certainly, the migration of modern hominins (and we include Neanderthals and the enigmatic Denisovans within this group), seems to be much more complicated than previously thought.  Fluctuating global climates allowed a number of migrations to take place with different species of people occupying different areas and indeed mixing at various points in our short history.  Our family tree resembles a very gnarled and twisted sapling.

To read a related article that looks at how changing climates in the Arabian peninsula may have had an impact on human migration: Out of Africa and into Arabia

Five Hundred Human Genomes Analysed (Almost)

Most non-Africans can trace their heritage back to a group of humans that left Africa around 60,000 years ago.  However, the study of almost five hundred human genomes (483 to be precise, from 148 world-wide populations), undertaken by scientists at the Estonian Biocentre has found traces of a much earlier “Out of Africa” human migration.  Faint traces of an earlier human migration were recorded in the DNA of the people of Papua New Guinea, but this study suggests that these earlier human pioneers all but vanished, so it does not alter drastically the prevailing theories as to the ancestors of the majority of us.  The researchers suggest that a genetic signature representing around 2% of the genome in present-day Papuans originates from an earlier and largely extinct expansion of anatomically modern humans out of Africa.  This data, together with fossil evidence and a recently published paper indicating a genetic mixing of Neanderthals and modern humans predating the main Eurasian expansion* contributes to the growing evidence to support the presence of our species outside Africa earlier than 75,000 years ago.

The paper published in the journal “Nature” and available as a pdf: “Genomic Analyses inform on Migration Events during the Peopling of Eurasia”.

Attempting to Map Human Migration out of Africa – When Did this Take Place?  How Many Times?

Ancient hominin skull.

Many experts believe that the ancestors of people alive today evolved in Africa and then colonised the world, but when did this take place?

Doctor Luca Pagani, lead author of the paper stated:

“All the other Eurasians we had were very homogenous in their split times from Africans.  This suggests most Eurasians diverged from Africans in a single event… about 75,000 years ago, while the [Papua New Guinea] split was more ancient, about 90,000 years ago.  So we thought there must be something going on.”

Same Edition of “Nature” Different Conclusions

In another paper, also published in “Nature” a team of scientists including researchers from the Estonian Biocentre (such as an author of the first paper – Mait Metspalu), as well as scientists from the Harvard Medical School and the New York Genome Centre, along with colleagues from a number of other institutions, came to a slightly different conclusion.  In this study, 300 genomes from 142 different populations were analysed and evidence was found of early splits in the populations within Africa, along with a single migration event that gave rise to non-African humans.  However, in this paper, no substantial evidence of an early (pre-60,000 years ago), African exodus was identified in the genomes of Papuans and other related populations such as of those groups that make up the Aboriginal race of Australia.  This team of scientists conclude that if, the genetic legacy of a more ancient migration survives in these populations, it cannot comprise more than a tiny portion of the entire genome.

The paper: “The Simons Genome Diversity Project: 300 Genomes from 142 Diverse Populations”.

Early Humans Exploring a New Potential Home

A group of early humans exploring a new landscape.

Homo sapiens originated in Africa but spread throughout the world.

A Third Study – Similar Conclusion

Papers on human ancestry must be a bit like buses.  You wait a while and nothing and then three come along at once.  In a third paper, also published in “Nature”, a study of the genomes of the Aboriginal race of Australia by researchers from the Centre for GeoGenetics, the Denmark Natural History Museum affiliated to the University of Copenhagen, along with colleagues from a number of other institutions including the Max Planck Institute, University College London and (once again), Mait Metspalu of the Estonian Biocentre, a similar conclusion to paper two is reached.  That, if there was an earlier human migration, then it is represented by only a tiny portion of the genome of living people from Oceania and Australia.

The title of this paper: “A Genomic History of Aboriginal Australia”.

Professor David Reich (Harvard Medical School) and a member of the Simons Genome Diversity Project that published the second paper summarised the research as follows:

“In our paper, we exclude more than about 2% ancestry in Australians, Papuans, and New Guineans from an early dispersal population, and our best estimate is 0%.  I am a bit concerned that poorly modelled features of the methods used by Pagani and colleagues [“Genomic Analyses inform on Migration Events during the Peopling of Eurasia”] may have contributed to a false-positive signal of early dispersal ancestry in them.  However, an alternative possibility is that the truth is around 2%, and this might just be consistent with all three studies.”

Dr. Mait Metspalu, the scientist who figured in all three publications stated that although the other papers do not detect a definitive signature for an earlier African migration by anatomically modern humans, this idea is not rejected, so long as it just contributes to a tiny portion of the genome in people alive today.

We leave it to the esteemed Professor Chris Stringer from the London Natural History Museum for the final word (for the moment), on this aspect of human ancestry.

Professor Stringer explained that the analysis undertaken by the Simons Genome Diversity Project and those scientists who studied the genome of the indigenous Australians favour the theory of a single migration event out of Africa less than 80,000 years ago giving rise to all living non-Africans.  In contrast, the paper with Doctor Luca Pagani as lead author, supports the idea of an additional and earlier modern human migration out of Africa more than 100,000 years ago, genetic traces of this earlier exodus can be found in Papuans, et al.

Tying It All in with the Human Fossil Record

There is certainly fossil evidence to indicate that our species (H. sapiens) was living outside Africa in the Near East, the Middle East and indeed elsewhere more than 60,000 years ago.  However, the paucity of the human fossil record, coupled with problems over dating bones and teeth in conjunction with a rather confusing picture involving interbreeding between several species of humans (Neanderthals, Denisovans and potentially yet another species of early human or two), has led to a rather muddled picture.  All three papers, although drawing slightly different conclusions, are helping to contribute to a greater understanding with regards to our own ancestry and we expect this lively debate to continue.  The evidence is likely to ebb and flow between the different scientific viewpoints, ironically, in a very similar pattern of backwards and forwards that most probably occurred with hominin species as they migrated in and out of various regions in response to climate change and other pressures.  A view articulated in a letter entitled “Human migration: Climate and the Peopling of the World”, co-authored by Professor Chris Stringer and coincidently also published in the latest edition of “Nature”.

*For the related article published in February which suggests that modern humans and Neanderthals may have interbreed 100,000 years ago: Mapping the Ancient Gene Flow between Ourselves and Neanderthals

Article on human migration into parts of Asia: Laos Man Skull Suggests H. sapiens Spread Rapidly into South-eastern Asia

Bullyland Ancient Horse

Bullyland Ancient Horse Figure

The Everything Dinosaur warehouse is a real treasure trove of prehistoric animal models.  Team members are currently making room for more models to arrive in 2017, but that gives us time to reflect on some of the very special residents that we have had the privilege of stocking.  Take for example, the exceedingly rare Bullyland “Prehistoric World” range of prehistoric animal models.  We have been able to provide many collectors with these models over the years, even though as a series, apart from one specially commissioned manufacture, these replicas have been out of production for nearly a decade.

Bullyland Ancient Horse Figure

Bullyland Ancient Horse.

Bullyland 1:24 scale approx prehistoric horse model

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We still have a few of these very collectable models in our warehouse.  Whilst undertaking a stock take it is always a pleasure to see models such as these.  However, they will soon be sold out and the likes of the ancient horse replica from Bullyland will be extinct.  The Bullyland ancient horse model represents a primitive horse called Anchitherium, which evolved in the Miocene.  The fossil record indicates that this little horse stood about sixty centimetres high at the shoulder (about six hands) and it had three toes on each foot.  Fossil finds indicate that this genus migrated into Asia and Europe and it provides a tantalising clue in the evolution of the single hoof forms of the horse we see today.  The evolution of the horse from small cat-sized creatures such as Propalaeotherium that lived in the dense jungles and lush forests of the Eocene to the magnificent creatures we see around us, was first documented by the famous American palaeontologist Charles Othniel Marsh.  Marsh was a prolific writer and published a great deal many scientific papers, but few are as eloquent and as compelling in support of the argument in favour of evolutionary theory than his 1874 publication in which he plotted the evolution of the horse.

To read more about Charles Othniel Marsh: Celebrating the Anniversary of the Birth of Othniel Charles Marsh

To view the remaining figures available in the Bullyland “Prehistoric World” model series including the last of our ancient horses: Bullyland Models and Prehistoric Animal Replicas

Paleo-Creatures Range at Everything Dinosaur

Paleo-Creatures Models Available from Everything Dinosaur

The Paleo-Creatures range of hand-crafted, scale model prehistoric animals created by talented Spanish artist and designer Jesús Toledo is now available from Everything Dinosaur.  These unique, polyurethane scale replicas are all hand-painted with the finest quality acrylic paints and each one makes a fantastic piece for any model collector.

The Beautifully Crafted Paleo-Creatures Range of Prehistoric Animal Models

Paleo_Creatures prehistoric animal models.

The wide range of Paleo-Creatures replicas.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Paleo-Creatures

To view the range of Paleo-Creatures prehistoric animal replicas available from Everything Dinosaur: The Paleo-Creatures Range of Prehistoric Animal Replicas

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“We are delighted to introduce the Paleo-Creatures range to our customers.  Each carefully crafted replica is unique and we have admired the work of Jesús Toledo for a while now.  This range features amazing ancient creatures such as the awesome anomalocarid Aegirocassis and the spectacular Koolasuchus model, it is great to see an artist introducing scale replicas of some of the more unusual creatures that once roamed our planet.”

A Wide Range of Prehistoric Animal Models

The Paleo-Creatures range includes a number of models representing animals not covered in other mainstream product ranges, for example, there is a model of the bizarre Triassic marine reptile Atopodentatus and the incredible “Tully Monster” (Tullimonstrum gregarium), whose fossils are known from just one place in the world – the Mazon Creek fossil beds of Illinois, United States.

The “Tully Monster” – Tullimonstrum gregarium Paleo-Creatures Replica

The Paleo-Creatures "Tully Monster" model.

The Paleo-Creatures Tullimonstrum replica.

Picture Credit: Paleo-Creatures

Very little is known about the very strange “Tully Monster”, it was only recently that palaeontologists were able to classify this animal to a Phylum.  To read an article about the classification of Tullimonstrum: “Tully Monster” Riddle Solved.

 Eotyrannus, Concavenator, Kosmoceratops and Other Dinosaur Models

The Paleo-Creatures portfolio also includes a number of dinosaur models including the Theropods Concavenator and Eotyrannus.  Everything Dinosaur will be adding more dinosaurs shortly, new models as well as the likes of the beautiful Dilophosaurus dinosaur replica.  Look out for new Paleo-Creatures replicas coming into stock.

The Superb Torvosaurus Dinosaur Model Available From Everything Dinosaur

The Paleo-Creatures Torvosaurus dinosaur model.

The Paleo-Creatures Torvosaurus model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Paleo-Creatures

Spanish artist  Jesús Toledo is already working on a number of exciting additions to the Paleo-Creatures portfolio.  His skilfully crafted models and replicas have already built up a strong reputation amongst model fans and dinosaur enthusiasts and Everything Dinosaur team members look forward to posting up more pictures of some of the forthcoming attractions in this rapidly expanding model range.

The Food Chains of Messel

Fossil Preserves Snake ate Lizard, Lizard ate Beetle

Scientists from the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History have published a paper on a spectacular fossil from the famous Messel oil shales that shows evidence of a food chain preserved from the Eocene.  A fossil snake contains the preserved remains of its last meal, a lizard inside its stomach, astonishingly the exquisite fossil has also preserved evidence of the unfortunate lizard’s last supper too – a beetle.  The discovery of a tripartite fossil food chain is unique for this UNESCO World Heritage site and the only other tripartite food chain known in the fossil record dates from the Early Permian*, coincidentally, it also was found in Germany.

Who’s Eating Who?  Remarkable Three Party Trophic Chain (Food Web)

The Messel Tripartite Food Chain fossil.

The snake fossil which contains a lizard fossil which contains a fossilised beetle.

Picture Credit: Dr. Krister Smith (Senckenberg Museum of Natural History)

Scientists from the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History in collaboration with colleagues from Argentina were able to study this “Russian Doll” of a fossil, that dates from around 48 million years ago and gain new information about the diets of these ancient creatures.  For example, the twenty centimetre long lizard, identified as Geiseltaliellus maarius, is only known from the Messel shales.  Specimens found to date with preserved stomach contents, only had plant remains within the body cavity, this new research indicates that G. maarius was not entirely herbivorous, insects such as beetles were also on the menu.

Commenting on the study, published in the Museum’s scientific journal, Doctor Krister Smith, one of the authors of the paper stated:

“In the year 2009, we were able to recover a plate from the pit that shows an almost fully preserved snake. As if this was not enough, we discovered a fossilised lizard inside the snake, which in turn contained a fossilised beetle in its innards!”

A Magnified View of the Snake Gut with Line Drawings Indicating the Presence of Other Fossil Specimens

Tripartite food chain in Messel fossil.

The orange represents the lizard fossil, the blue the beetle remains.

Picture Credit: Dr. Krister Smith (Senckenberg Museum of Natural History)

The picture above shows the bones of the snake outlined with the lizard shown in orange (skull to the left of the picture), the blue shape in the lizard gut indicates the fossilised remains of the lizard’s last meal- a small beetle.  Unfortunately, the scientists were not able to identify the beetle genus.  The way in which the lizard remains were overlapped by the ribs of the snake prove that the body of the little reptile was definitely inside the snake when the snake, identified as a type of early constrictor (Palaeopython fischeri), met its own demise.

There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly…

This beautifully preserved fossil specimen reminds team members at Everything Dinosaur of the song “there was an old lady who swallowed a fly”.  For the scientists, the Palaeopython specimen provides a new insight into the feeding habits of these Eocene snakes.  The snake fossil measures around 89 centimetres in length, but adult Palaeopythons exceeded two metres in size and they were amongst the largest terrestrial predators known from the Messel shale biota.  Just like modern constrictors and pythons, the authors suggest that the diet of these snakes changed as the animals got bigger.  The juvenile Palaeopython represented here (specimen number SMF ME 11332), may have fed on small rodents and lizards, whilst the adult snakes may have taken larger vertebrates such as young Propalaeotherium (an ancestral horse).

Based on an assessment of the degree of preservation of the lizard’s remains when compared to digestive speeds in extant snakes, the researchers conclude that the snake died within 48 hours of consuming the lizard.  That’s a remarkable insight considering the age of the fossil itself (approximately 48 million-years-old).

The scientific paper: “Fossil Snake Preserving Three Trophic Levels and Evidence for an Ontogenetic Dietary Shift”.

Early Permian Trophic Chains

* The first direct evidence of a three-level vertebrate trophic chain was published in the “Proceedings of the Royal Society Biology” in January 2008.  The fossilised remains of a species of Xenacanthiformes freshwater shark (Triodus sessilis) contained the remains of two ancient amphibians (Archegosaurus decheni and Cheliderpeton latirostre) preserved within its gut.  The C. latirostre specimen contained the remains of a small fish, inside its digestive tract.  The small fish was identified as a juvenile Acanthodes bronni.

Xenacanthiform (T. sessilis) with Ingested Prey Items

Xenacanthiform ate amphibians which ate fish.

Three level trophic levels in Early Permian fossil.

Picture Credit: Proceedings of the Royal Society Biology

The picture above shows the siderite concretion that preserves the remains of the freshwater shark and evidence of a three-level food chain from the Early Permian of south-western Germany.  Below the fossil specimen photograph is a line drawing that highlights the material representing the shark as well as the fossils of two ingested Temnospondyl larvae.  One of the amphibian fossils contains the preserved remains of its last meal, a small fish (acanthodian).

Illustrating an Early Permian Food Chain

Fish east amphibians which ate fish.

Xenacanthiform eats amphibians which in turn consumed fish.

Picture Credit: Proceedings of the Royal Society Biology

The illustration above depicts the three level trophic food chain.  Its a question of fish eats amphibian which ate fish!

Early Humans and their Ancient Fish Hooks

World’s Oldest Fish Hooks Found on Okinawa

The largely volcanic island of Okinawa, south of the Japanese mainland has provided the earliest known evidence of early humans using fish hooks.  Ancient fish hooks, skilfully carved from snail shells are amongst the artefacts discovered in a limestone cave (Sakitari Cave).  Archaeologists have stated that these fish hooks and other finds demonstrate the importance of adapting to maritime ecosystems as it permitted the spread of our species across the Pacific.

Ancient Fish Hooks Provide Clues to Human Expansion in the Late Pleistocene

Ancient fish hooks.

Ancient fish hooks from a limestone cave on the island of Okinawa.

Picture Credit: M. Fujita et al (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

The island of Okinawa lies between the mainland of Japan and Taiwan, at roughly three times the size of the Isle of Wight, it might be thought that this location would have been a very suitable habitat for human habitation, but the researchers, writing in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”, suggest that this geographically isolated island may only have been occupied for part of the year, permitting early humans to exploit a seasonal food source.  In truth, Okinawa would have been a relatively inhospitable place for early settlers.  Fossil finds indicate that there were just a handful of kinds of large, terrestrial mammals on the island that could have acted as a source of meat.  There were two species of dwarf deer and wild boars.  Okinawa has virtually no raw materials that would have suited the technological demands of early humans, as a result, a number of researchers have hypothesised that the islands that make up this Japanese archipelago were too small for sustained occupation by Palaeolithic people.

The discoveries made by Japanese archaeologists including scientists from the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum, along with colleagues from the University of Tokyo, have helped to “fill in a gap”, plotting the migration of Late Pleistocene humans across the western Pacific.

Charting the Spread of Humanity in the Western Pacific

A map charting the movement of humans in the Pacific (Pleistocene).

Pleistocene migration of humans across the Pacific.

Picture Credit: M. Fujita et al (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

Sakitari Cave lies more than a mile from the present coastline of south Okinawa, however, when the fish hook makers visited the island, sea levels were lower and the cave would have been located more than two and a half miles from the sea.  The archaeologists were able to successfully carbon date layers in the cave which indicate successive human occupation extending back to 35,000 to 30,000 years ago.  It is thought that maritime adaptation was one of the essential factors that enabled modern humans to spread all over the world.  The lack of clear data provides only a patchy picture of how humans moved into new parts of the world during the Late Pleistocene Epoch.  This new study of the well-stratified layers in Sakitari Cave, lends support to the idea that early modern humans were more advanced in their maritime technology than previously thought.  The finished and unfinished fish hooks, which had been carved from snail shells, have been calculated to be between 22,380 and 22,770 years old (radiocarbon dating of the carbon from the charcoal layer in which the fish hooks were found).  Other finds include marine molluscs as well as an abundance of freshwater mollusc shells, a potential grind stone and stone flakes along with a tooth and fragmentary human remains including bones representing an infant.

Finds from Sakitari Cave

Finds including human fossils from Sakitari cave.

Artefacts from the cave on Okinawa.

Picture Credit: M. Fujita et al (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

Accounting for any margin of error within the dating assessment, these fish hooks are older than similar fishhooks found in East Timor (between 23,000 and 16,000 years old) and New Ireland in Papua New Guinea (20,000 to 18,000 years old).  The findings lend support to the idea that these early modern humans were more advanced with maritime technology than previously thought, and that they were capable of sustaining themselves on relatively small, geographically remote Pacific islands.

The persistent occupation on this relatively small, geographically isolated island, as well as the appearance of Palaeolithic sites on nearby islands by 30,000 years ago, suggest a wider distribution of successful maritime adaptations than previously recognised, spanning the lower to mid-latitude areas in the western Pacific coastal region.  It seems that fishing has been a part of human activity for a very, very long time.

The paper: “Advanced Maritime Adaptation in the Western Pacific Coastal Region extends back to 35,000 to 30,000 Years Before Present”.

To read an article about the East Timor artefacts including ancient fish hooks: Tuna Catching Prehistoric Fishermen (or women)

To read an article published in 2015 about research into human teeth found in Sri Lanka that suggests a highly adapted rainforest technology in Late Pleistocene humans: Those Highly Adaptable Ancestors

Dinosaur Drawing from India

Dinosaur Fan Sends in Dinosaur Drawing

Our thanks to Eashwar from India who sent into Everything Dinosaur’s offices another dinosaur drawing.  Eashwar emailed us a picture of Hypoendocrine rex, a mutant tyrannosaurid from the virtual reality prehistoric animal themed game “The Isle”.

Eashwar’s Mutant Tyrannosaur Drawing

Mutant tyrannosaurid.

Hypoendocrine T. rex drawing.

Picture Credit: M.V. Eashwar

The Isle Game

The Isle is a substantial, multi-player platform created by a group of veteran gaming developers (which we think are based in the United States).  Team members at Everything Dinosaur are not that familiar with this particular platform but the island is inhabited by a large number of mutant dinosaurs including a Hypoendocrine T. rex.

Our thanks to M. V. Eashwar for sending in his mutant tyrannosaurid drawing.

Calculating the Colour of Psittacosaurus

Colour, Camouflage and Countershading in Dinosaurs

It turns out that the little dinosaur Psittacosaurus (parrot lizard), was light underneath and darker on its back.  This colour pattern, known as countershading is a common form of camouflage in extant animals.  Scientists including researchers from Bristol University conclude this in a new study of a beautifully preserved Psittacosaurus specimen currently on public display at the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History in Germany.  The study has been published in the academic journal “Current Biology”.

Reconstructing the Colour of Psittacosaurus

Reconstructing countershading in Psittacosaurus.

Physical reconstruction of Psittacosaurus with original colour patterns.

Picture Credit: Jakob Vinther and Bob Nicholls

Knowing the potential colour of an animal gives clues to its probable habitat.  The research team postulate that this little herbivore lived in an environment with diffuse light, such as in a forest.  To test this idea, a three-dimensional model of this Early Cretaceous dinosaur was created, step forward the very talented Bob Nicholls who has made a number of prehistoric animal models before for various museums and exhibitions.

The specimen on display at the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History, most likely originates from the Yixian Formation of Liaoning Province, China.  The fossil was illegally exported from China, in violation of Chinese law, but was purchased by the German museum.

The Fossilised Skeleton of Psittacosaurus (Senckenberg Museum of Natural History)

Psittacosaurus dinosaur fossil.

Psittacosaurus, early Cretaceous (120 million years old), preserving skin with colour patterns, Senckenberg Museum, Frankfurt, Germany

Picture Credit: Jakob Vinther and Robert Nicholls

One of the authors of the new scientific paper, Dr. Jakob Vinther (School of Earth Sciences and Biological Sciences, Bristol University) stated:

“The fossil, preserves clear countershading, which has been shown to function by counter-illuminating shadows on a body, thus making an animal appear optically flat to the eye of the beholder.”

Behavioural ecologist and co-author of the study, Professor Innes Cuthill from the School of Biological Sciences, added:

“By reconstructing a life-size 3D model, we were able to not only see how the patterns of shading changed over the body, but also that it matched the sort of camouflage which would work best in a forested environment.”

Countershading  most likely served to protect Psittacosaurus, a facultative biped and a member of the bird-hipped dinosaur group (Ornithischians), against predators that use patterns of shadow on an object to determine shape, just as we humans do.

Dr Vinther realised that structures previously thought to be artefacts or dead bacteria in fossilised feathers were actually “melanosomes,” small structures that carry melanin pigments found in the feathers and skin of many animals.  In some well-preserved specimens, such as the Psittacosaurus the researchers worked on in the new study, it is possible to make out the patterns of preserved melanin without the aid of a microscope.
Professor Cuthill and colleagues at Bristol had also been exploring the distribution of countershading in modern animals.  But it was no easy matter to apply the same principles to an extinct animal that had been crushed flat and fossilised.  To explore this idea further they teamed up with local palaeoartist, Bob Nicholls in order to reconstruct the remarkable fossil in to a physical model which, they say, is the most scientifically accurate life-size model of a dinosaur with its real colour patterns.

Days of careful studies of the fossil, taking measurements of the bones, studying the preserved scales and the pigment patterns, with input on muscle structure from Bristol palaeontologists Professor Emily Rayfield and Dr Stephan Lautenschlager, led to months of careful modelling of the dinosaur.
Bob Nicholls explained:

“Our Psittacosaurus was reconstructed from the inside-out.  There are thousands of scales, all different shapes and sizes, and many of them are only partially pigmented.  It was a painstaking process but we now have the best suggestion as to what this dinosaur really looked like.”

In order to investigate what environment the psittacosaur had evolved to live in, Dr Vinther, Bob Nicholls and Professor Cuthill took another cast of the model and painted it all grey.  They then placed it in the Cretaceous plant section of Bristol Botanic Garden and photographed it under an open sky and underneath trees to see how the shadow was cast under those conditions.  By comparing the shadow to the pattern in the fossil they could then predict what environment the psittacosaur lived in.

Psittacosaurus in the Bristol Botanic Garden

Psittacosaurus model in the Bristol Botanic Garden.

Psittacosaurus photographed in the Bristol Botanic Garden.

Picture Credit: Jakob Vinther

Dr Vinther stated:

“We predicted that the psittacosaur must have lived in a forest.  This demonstrates that fossil colour patterns can provide not only a better picture of what extinct animals looked like, but they can also give new clues about extinct ecosystems and habitats.  We were amazed to see how well these colour patterns actually worked to camouflage this little dinosaur.”

Psittacosaurus, which Professor Cuthill describes as “both weird and cute, with horns on either side of its head and long bristles on its tail”, lived in the Early Cretaceous of China and has been found in the same rock strata where many feathered dinosaurs have been discovered.  A number of species have been assigned to the Psittacosaurus genus, more species assigned to this genus than in any other genus of the Dinosauria.

Everything Dinosaur congratulates the researchers for this most insightful study and also acknowledges the efforts of the design team at the model maker CollectA for producing such an accurate representation of Psittacosaurus in the company’s dinosaur model range.

The Accurate CollectA Psittacosaurus Dinosaur Model

A typical psittacosaurid.

A typical psittacosaurid.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The deposits that make up the Yixian Formation include evidence for a forest environment (based on wood and plant fossils).  The researchers say that they would now like to explore other types of camouflage in fossils and to use this evidence in understanding how predators could perceive the environment and to understand their role in shaping evolution and biodiversity.
The Scientific Paper: Vinther, J., Nicholls, R., Lautenschlager, S., Pittman, M., Kaye, T. G., Rayfield, E., Mayr, G. and Cuthill, I. C. 2016. 3D Camouflage in an Ornithischian Dinosaur. Current Biology.

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

The Next Edition of Prehistoric Times

Sneak Peek – Prehistoric Times (Issue 119)

Our thanks to Mike Fredericks (editor), who emailed over to Everything Dinosaur an image of the front cover of the next issue of Prehistoric Times, which is due out shortly.  It was a cheering sight amidst the dark clouds, torrential rain and thunder that we experienced yesterday evening.  It was definitely a night for staying indoors and perusing previous editions of this quarterly magazine for dinosaur fans and collectors of prehistoric animal models.

The Front Cover of the Next Prehistoric Times

The front cover of Prehistoric Times magazine (issue 119)

A very colourful and action packed front cover.

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks

The front cover artwork has been provided by the fabulously talented palaeoartist Fabio Pastori, what a spectacular pair of fighting tyrannosaurids!  If we recall correctly, the last time the artwork of Fabio graced the front cover was back in the winter of 2014 (issue 108), we look forward to seeing more of Fabio’s amazing illustrations in the autumn edition, which should be with us shortly.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s review of the winter 2014 issue of Prehistoric Times: A Review of Prehistoric Times (issue 108)

Zdeněk Burian

The autumn edition also contains a feature on the prehistoric landscapes of Zdeněk Burian, a Czech artist and book illustrator whose prehistoric animal illustrations played a pivotal role in the development of scientific drawings used by museums and book publishers.  This artist, whose work can be found in many natural history museums throughout the world, is regarded by many people as the doyen of palaeontological artwork.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur are also looking forward to the special features on Acrocanthosaurus and the “dawn horse” Eohippus, which will also be included in the forthcoming issue.

Prehistoric Times, is an excellent magazine for the serious dinosaur fan, to visit Prehistoric Times website, simply click the link below:

Visit Prehistoric Times: Prehistoric Times Magazine

Our thanks to Mike Fredericks for sending us a sneaky peek of the front cover.

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