Category: Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

Record Breaking Apatosaurus Thigh Bone

Apatosaurus Femur Fossil – Biggest Apatosaurus Fossil Femur Found to Date

Reports received from Colorado state that a six foot seven inch long Sauropod femur has been safely removed from the Mygatt-Moore Quarry, a famous, highly fossiliferous site which has provided museums in the western United States with hundreds of Upper Jurassic dinosaur fossils.  The quarry has been excavated for many years but this new fossil extraction is something special.  The femur, believed to come from a species of Apatosaurus represents the largest thigh bone associated with the long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur to have been found to date.

An Illustration of Apatosaurus

Apatosaurus dinosaur model.

Apatosaurus dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A number of Apatosaurus species have been described.  It was a member of the diplodocid clade of Sauropods and up until now the largest individuals of this species were around twenty-five metres in length.  However, this enormous femur (it measures 200.66 cm approximately), indicates that this genus could have reached lengths in excess of twenty-five metres.  Apatosaurus is one of the most popular of all the dinosaurs and it is often, still, referred to as Brontosaurus (Thunder Lizard).

For an explanation as to why the term Brontosaurus is no longer used to describe this dinosaur: Why Brontosaurus is no more

Volunteers and Scientists at the Fossil Dig Site

Giant dinosaur bone ready for lifting from fossil quarry.

Giant dinosaur bone ready for lifting from fossil quarry.

Picture Credit: Robert Gay (Museum of Western Colorado)

The excavation and extraction work was supervised by palaeontologists from the Museum of Western Colorado’s Dinosaur Journey Museum.   The fossil had been spotted back in 2010, but it has taken a number of summer expeditions to prepare the fossil for its removal.  Museum volunteers Kay Fredette and Dorothy Stewart originally spotted the fossilised thigh bone, slowly eroding out of the surrounding rock, at first, all that was exposed was a “pancake-sized” chunk of rock.

After the burlap and plaster fossil was lifted by crane onto awaiting transport, Kay Fredette commented:

“We’ve got to clean the bottom side of it and there’s so much other bone around it.  It is going to take a couple of years to finish this.”

In total, the fossil including the remaining matrix and its cradle weighed more than 1,270 kilogrammes, a spokes person from Everything Dinosaur explained that the plaster and burlap protected fossil would be transported to a laboratory and once installed inside, a team of preparators would begin the long process of cleaning the fossilised bone and extracting it from the surrounding rock.

Volunteer Kay Fredette (foreground) Next to Another Dinosaur Bone

Helping to dig up dinosaurs.

Helping to dig up dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Robert Gay (Museum of Western Colorado)

The Everything Dinosaur spokes person stated:

“To give readers an idea of the weight of the object, the fossil bones, its matrix and surrounding cradle that had to be lifted weighed about as much as a Ford Focus motor car”.

The Mygatt-Moore Quarry is located in the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area and the scientists at the Museum of Western Colorado hope to learn more about the potential maximum size of this iconic dinosaur.

Dr. Julia McHugh, who helped supervise the fossil extraction stated:

“So after the remaining matrix is removed and the bone is repaired it is going to be used to verify its taxonomic identity.  That means what animal it belongs to as well as whether it was a fully grown, mature adult.”

New Type of “Four Winged” Flying Dinosaur – A Liaoning Surprise?

Changyuraptor yangi – Let’s Not Get into Too Much of a Flap

And so on the 15th July, the paper on a new type of airborne dinosaur was published in the journal “Nature Communications”.  The world was officially introduced to Changyuraptor yangi or to interpret the genus name, “long feathered raptor”.  At about the size of a European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), this newest member of the microraptorines, is the largest Theropod dinosaur discovered to date with long pennaceous feathers attached to the hind limbs.  At an estimated weight of around three to four kilogrammes, it is three times heavier than the largest species of Microraptor – M. zhaoianus (if indeed the fossils discovered to date do indeed represent three different species and not a single species but with extensive intra-specific variation), and four times heavier than that extant gull we mentioned earlier.  Changyuraptor has other claims to fame.  For example, its tail feathers are extremely long, measuring nearly thirty centimetres in length.  The longest tail feather is around 30% the length of the entire skeleton.

However, for us at Everything Dinosaur, the announcement of this fossil find comes as no real surprise.  The fossil material is from north-eastern China and it forms part of the amazing Jehol Biota which represents an Early Cretaceous ecosystem which has been preserved in strata that date from around 133 million years ago to 121 million years ago or thereabouts.  All the Microraptorine fossil material comes from this part of the world and the fossilised fauna and flora portray a habitat that had distinct seasons with a temperate forest habitat interspersed with large bodies of freshwater and swamps.  The area teemed with life and with the finding of one predatory Dromaeosaurid dinosaur with aerodynamic abilities (Microraptor), finding other examples of dinosaurs filling this ecological niche was always likely.

These hunters may not have caught their prey on the wing, but they probably spent a great deal of their lives high up in the tree canopy living an arboreal existence and stomach content analysis from Microraptor specimens indicate that these dinosaurs, closely related to the likes of Velociraptor, ate small mammals, lizards and even primitive birds.  One poor unfortunate perching bird seems to have been swallowed whole.

An Illustration of Changyuraptor yangi (Silhouette of Person shows Scale)

“Four winged” terror

Picture Credit: S. Abramowicz

The international team of scientists behind the scientific paper, such as Luis M. Chiappe (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County), Michael Habib (University of Southern California), Gang Han, Shu-An Ji, Xueling Liu and Lizhuo Han (Bohai University, Liaoning Province), in collaboration with colleagues based in New York and South Africa have described the beautifully preserved fossil material and then analysed this animal’s flight characteristics. Why, for example, did this “four-winged terror” have such long feathers on its tail?

The Holotype Fossil Material (C. yangi)

The slab (a) and the counter slab (b) of the Holotype

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

At 1.32 metres in length and weighing close to four kilogrammes, taking to the air may not have been too much of a problem for our feathered friend here.  Especially if this dinosaur launched itself from the branches of trees and glided around.  However, controlling itself in flight and coming into land may have been somewhat more difficult for such a heavy, large-bodied animal.  The international research team examined the aerial competency of Changyuraptor and concluded that the tail may have acted as a pitch control structure, reducing air speed and helping to ensure a safe landing.  Those hind limbs with their feathers too, would have assisted with gliding and with the legs rotated down and underneath the body as it descended, then the feathers could have made effective air brakes, in a similar way to the “trousers” on Archaeopteryx.

To read an article on the feathered legs of Archaeopteryx: Feathers Evolved Before Flight – Archaeopteryx Had Feathered Trousers

Dr. Michael Habib (University of Southern California) stated:

“It makes sense that the largest microraptorines had especially large tail feathers, they would have needed the additional control.”

Dr. Alan Turner of Stony Brook University (New York), a co-author of the paper added:

“Numerous features that we have long associated with birds in fact evolved in dinosaurs long before the first birds arrived on the scene.  This includes things such as hollow bones, nesting behaviour, feathers…and possibly flight.” 

Bone structure analysis undertaken concluded that this was a fully grown, mature animal that rivalled the largest Pterosaurs known from Liaoning Province in size as it glided in the sky above this ancient Chinese landscape.  The holotype material was found back in 2012 and since its discovery the notion that flight preceded the origin of Aves has been consolidated.  Birds inherited flight characteristics from their near relatives the Dinosauria.  For the time being we shall give the last word to Luis Chiappe:

“This new fossil documents that dinosaur flight was not limited to very small animals but to dinosaurs of a more substantial size.  Clearly far more evidence is needed to understand the nuances of dinosaur flight but Changyuraptor is a major leap in the right direction.”

Ancient Creepy-Crawlies Resurrected

410 Million Year Old Arachnid Walks Again

A team of international researchers have used fossils of ancient Arthropods from the London Natural History Museum to recreate the movements of some of the world’s first terrestrial predators.  Researchers from the Museum für Naturkunde (Berlin) and Manchester University have used an open source computer programme called Blender to model the walking motion of a 41o million year old ancient Arachnid.  The video shows the most likely gait that this tiny prehistoric predator could achieve as it stalked across the Devonian landscape.  The paper, which details this research has been published in a special edition of the academic publication the “Journal of Palaeontology”.

The scientists took minute slices of the fossils of these early Arachnids and once the limb segments and their joints had been identified they worked out the range of limb motion possible.  From these measurements and using comparisons with extant Arachnids, the researchers modelled the walking action using the Blender software programme.  In this way, a creature dead for over 410 million years could once again walk.

Dr. Russell Garwood, (palaeontologist at Manchester University), stated:

“When it comes to early life on land, land before our ancestors came out of the sea, these early Arachnids were top dog of the food chain.  They are now extinct, but from about 300 to 400 million years ago, they seem to have been more widespread than spiders.  Now we can use the tools of computer graphics to better understand and recreate how they might have moved – all from thin slivers of rock, showing the joints in their legs.”

Supplemental Data Video 2 – Palaeocharinus Locomotion

Video Credit: University of Manchester Press Room

The video shows the ancient Arthropod (Palaeocharinus genus) walking.  Although a formidable looking animal, this early creepy-crawly was less than half a centimetre in length.  The fossils used in this study came from the famous Lower Devonian strata at Rhynie (Aberdeenshire, Scotland).  The Rhynie chert deposit contains evidence of one of the earliest terrestrial ecosystems known to science.  More than twenty primitive plant species have been identified along with Arthropods such as mites and trigonotarbids such as Palaeocharinus that hunted amongst the miniature forest made up of Rhyniophytes (primitive plants).

Co-author of the scientific paper, Jason Dunlop (Museum für Naturkunde), added:

“These fossils,  from a rock called Rhynie chert, are unusually well-preserved.  During my PhD I could build up a pretty good idea of their appearance in life.  This new study has gone further and shows us how they probably walked.  For me, what’s really exciting is that scientists can make these animations now, without needing the technical wizardry and immense costs of a Jurassic Park-style film.”

Although not true spiders, trigonotarbids are related to modern spiders but they lack certain spider features such as silk producing spinnerets.  As a group, they first appear in the fossil record in the Late Silurian.  The oldest trigonotarbid specimen, that we at Everything Dinosaur know about, comes from the Upper Silurian deposits of Ludow , Shropshire (Ludlow epoch around 420 million years ago).  It was Jason Dunlop who was responsible for describing this discovery (1996).

A Highly Magnified Image of a trigonotarbid (Palaeocharinus)

The highly magnified section shows leg segments clearly.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The scale bar in the picture represents 2 mm.

Dr. Dunlop stated:

“When I started working on fossil Arachnids we were happy if we could manage a sketch of what they used to look like, now we can view them running across our computer screens.”

The development of sophisticated computer programmes is permitting scientists to re-create three-dimensional images of spectacular fossils.  In addition, new generation programming technology is now capable of bringing long extinct creatures back to life, at least in cyberspace.  The predatory Palaeocharinus might be quite frightening, but at half a centimetre long it would probably not even had got a second glance if you spotted on in the garden.  However, other specimens from Upper Devonian strata, as yet not fully described fossils, indicate that there were much larger creatures at home amongst the primitive plants such as the Rhyniophytes and Lycopsids (clubmosses), some fossils indicate Arthropods nearly an inch in length.  These creatures may not be trigonotarbids but perhaps represent an entirely new family of Arthropoda.

Dr. Garwood concluded:

“Using open source software means that this is something anyone could do at home, while allowing us to understand these early land animals better than ever before.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the Faculty of Engineering and Sciences (University of Manchester) in the compilation of this article.

A Neanderthal-like Inner Ear in Ancient Chinese Skull

Let’s Hear it for the Neanderthals

A team of international scientists including palaeoanthropologists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, have been puzzling over the distinctive shape of the structures that make up part of the inner ear preserved in an ancient skull.  The 100,000 year old human skull has a similar inner ear structure to that thought to have only occurred in our near relatives the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis).  CT scans have revealed to the researchers, something of a mystery, none of the other prehistoric human skulls dated to around 100,000 years ago and found in China show this inner ear formation.  This discovery opens up the debate between H. sapiens and Neanderthal interaction and blurs the line between these two hominin species.

The extremely detailed three-dimensional images revealed by the study, has raised important questions regarding the nature of late archaic human variation across Europe and Asia.  It also suggests, that the inner ear shape once ascribed as being diagnostic of Neanderthal skull material may be present in other types of ancient human.  This characteristic may not be a distinctive Neanderthal feature.

Researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP – Chinese Academy of Sciences), in collaboration with Washington University (St Louis) and Bordeaux University (France), discovered the controversial evidence after a meticulous CT scan of a skull found in the Nihewan Basin of northern China.  The skull, found in the late 1970′s along with other bone fragments and human teeth is known as Xujiayao 15, it was named after the archaeological dig site where it was discovered.  The skull morphology indicates that it comes from an early non-Neanderthal form of late archaic human.  It is probably the skull of a male.

Over the last two decades or so, the evolution of our own species and our relationship with other hominins has become somewhat blurred.  For example, it was thought until very recently that Europe around 250,000 years ago was inhabited by just two species of humans, ourselves and the Neanderthals.  New fossil discoveries and research on museum specimens has revealed that there may have been four different types of human in Eurasia at this time.  As well as H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis, evidence for the presence of Homo erectus and the enigmatic Denisovans has also been found.

To read an article that suggests the Denisovan hominins and the Neanderthals were closely related: Denisovan Cave Material Hints at Mystery Human Species

The inner ear, also known as the labyrinth is located within the skull’s temporal bone.  It contains the cochlea, which converts sound waves into electrical impulses that are transmitted by nerves to the brain.  The inner ear also contains the semicircular canals, these chambers help us to balance and to co-ordinate our actions.  These structures although small, have been found preserved in a number of mammal skulls including prehistoric human fossils.  Research published almost two decades ago, which relied on less powerful CT scans and computer technology, established the presence of a particular pattern of the semicircular canals in the temporal labyrinth as being diagnostic of Neanderthal skull material.  The same pattern of the semicircular canals is found in all known Neanderthal labyrinths.  As a result, the labyrinth has been used extensively as a marker to distinguish Neanderthal skull fossil from other hominins.

The Fossil Location with an Overlay of the Temporal Bone and CT Scan showing the Inner Ear Structure

Temporal bone found at the Xujiayao site and inner ear structure

Picture Credit: Wu Xiujie (Chinese Academy of Sciences)

The academic paper that details the international team’s research has just been published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”.   The shape of the skull and structures such as the arrangements seen in the semicircular canals could be used to help resolve the evolutionary relationships between a number of closely related human species.

Dr. Erik Trinkaus (Washington University), one of the lead authors of the scientific paper, suggests that whilst it may be tempting to speculate on potential cross-breeding between the lineage that would lead to modern humans and Neanderthals, this may be over simplifying what is in effect a very complex relationship between different populations of prehistoric humans.  The finding of a Neanderthal-shaped labyrinth in an otherwise distinctly “non-Neanderthal” sample should not be regarded as evidence of population contact (gene flow) between central and western Eurasian Neanderthals and eastern archaic humans in China.  Dr. Trinkaus and his colleagues state that the broader implications of the Xujiayao skull CT research remain unclear.

Neanderthal-like Ear Structures Found in a Non Neanderthal Skull

Determining the shape of the inner ear structures.

Picture Credit: Wu Xiujie (Chinese Academy of Sciences)

The picture above shows the temporal bone of the Xujiayao specimen (brown) and CT scans (green) with the shape and position of the temporal labyrinth outlined in purple.

Dr. Trinkaus commented:

“The study of human evolution has always been messy, and these findings just make it all the messier.  It shows that human populations in the real world don’t act in nice simple patterns.  This study shows that you can’t rely on one anatomical feature or one piece of DNA as the basis for sweeping assumptions about the migrations of hominid species from one place to another.”

It looks like the human “family tree” has a more twisting branches than previously thought.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the compilation of this article.

World’s Largest-Ever Flying Bird – Pelagornis sandersi

A Seagull on Steroids - Pelagornis sandersi

A team of scientists from the Bruce Museum (Greenwich, Connecticut, USA), have published a paper on a new species of giant bird, believed to be the largest flying bird known to science, eclipsing the giant, prehistoric condor Argentavis magnificens.  With a wingspan estimated to be between 6.1 and 7.4 metres, this is more than twice the size of the wingspan of the largest living flying bird today, the Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora) and places P. sandersi alongside the biggest members of the Pterosaur family the Pteranodontia in terms of size.  Its wingspan is only exceeded by a handful of flying reptiles, most of which belong to the Azhdarchidae Pterosaur family.

In simple terms, the wingspan of this newly described Oligocene bird was easily longer than the height of the tallest giraffes living today.

A Line Drawing Showing the Size and Scale of Pelagornis sandersi

Line drawing of World’s Largest-Ever Flying Bird, Pelagornis sandersi, showing comparative wingspan. Shown left, a California Condor, shown right, a Royal Albatross.

Line drawing of World’s Largest-Ever Flying Bird, Pelagornis sandersi, showing comparative wingspan. Shown left, a California Condor, shown right, a Royal Albatross.

Image Credit: Liz Bradford

The line drawing in the picture above also reveals how much of the fossil skeleton has been found (marked in white).

The fossil material was discovered by James Malcolm, a volunteer from Charleston Museum (South Carolina), when a fossiliferous bone bed representing a marine environment was exposed during the building of a new terminal at Charleston International Airport in 1983.  The strata forms a component of the Chandler Bridge Formation dated to the Late Oligocene epoch (Chattian faunal stage).  A number of fossils of other marine birds were identified including fragmentary and badly distorted fossil elements from a smaller pelagornithid, but it is not clear whether these fossils represent a juvenile P. sandersi or a new species.

The pelagornithids were a group of strange, “pseudo-toothed” birds, whose fossils have been found in a number of Cenozoic aged fossil sites which represent marine environments.  It is likely that these creatures evolved in the Late Palaeogene and survived up until the end of the Pliocene epoch, going extinct around three million years ago.  Although, a number of species had large wingspans, these birds were very lightly built with paper thin bones, as a result of which, their fossils are extremely rare.  They were great aeronauts and were geographically very widespread with a number of specimens known from places as far apart as Chile and Australia.

To read an article about the discovery of a giant pelagornithid from South America: Giant Seabird from Chile

Article about the discovery of fossils found in South Australia: Giant Toothed Birds once Soared over Australia

The “teeth” of these birds have no enamel.  They are in effect bony projections from the jawbones, they may not be true teeth but they were sharp and would have proved very effective in grabbing the prey of this large, ocean-going flyer.  It is likely that Pelagornis sandersi caught fish and squid at the sea surface.  Scientists remain uncertain as to whether this creature was capable of diving to catch prey.

Dr. Daniel Ksepka Examines the Skull of P. sandersi

Dr. Daniel Ksepka studies the skull of Pelagornis sandersi, World’s Largest-Ever Flying Bird.

Dr. Daniel Ksepka studies the skull of Pelagornis sandersi, World’s Largest-Ever Flying Bird.

Picture Credit: Bruce Museum

Dr. Daniel Ksepka is the author of an academic paper which appears this week in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”.  This paper explores the flight capabilities of Pelagornis sandersi.  Although very large, the delicate bones suggest that this bird was very light.  Body weight estimates vary between 21 and 40 kilogrammes and the weight plus wingspan parameters have influenced the calculations of this creature’s ability to glide.  There is no doubt that this bird was an accomplished flyer, capable of travelling long distances, but the glide speed has been difficult to estimate because of the fragmentary fossil evidence.  A range of glide speeds have been stated, by Dr. Ksepka (lead author), from an impressive 10.6 metres per second to more than 17 metres per second.  To place this into context, Usain Bolt’s one hundred metres World Record of 9.58 seconds suggests an average speed over the race of around 10.4 metres per second, P. sandersi could effortlessly glide faster than Usain Bolt can sprint.  When the upper estimates are considered, Pelagornis sandersi could travel at speeds in excess of 38 miles per hour.

An Artist’s Reconstruction of the Giant Seabird Pelagornis sandersi

Giant pseudo-toothed sea bird.

Giant pseudo-toothed sea bird.

Picture Credit: Liz Bradford

Commenting on his study, Dr. Ksepka stated:

“Pelagornithids were like creatures out of a fantasy novel, there is nothing like them living today.”

It is very likely that this family of birds adapted to a long-range, marine soaring strategy just like extant albatrosses, the bigger the pelagornithid the greater distances it was able to travel.  The highly modified wing bones would have given this bird very long, slender wings, ideal for gliding.

Dr. Ksepka added:

“Pelagornis sandersi could have travelled for extreme distances whilst crossing ocean waters in search of prey”.

As well as the exceptionally well-preserved skull, bones from the right hind limb have been found.  These bones indicate that this bird would have been relatively clumsy on land.  It probably could not take off simply by leaping into the air and flapping its great wings, it probably needed to run down hill or jump off a cliff edge in order to take to the air.  Although it is difficult to ascertain the length of the primary feathers, it has been suggested that the primary feathers (the longest feathers found on the wing tips), would perhaps have measured more than a metre in length.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“This is a truly astonishing fossil.  Such delicate and fragile bones are rarely preserved in the fossil record and thanks to the work of Dr. Ksepka and his colleagues we are beginning to get a detailed insight into how these extraordinary birds lived.  The flight capabilities of this marine bird are simply astonishing.  For example, even at the lower end of the estimates for gliding speed, Pelagornis sandersi would have been capable of amazing feats of flight.  It would have been able to cross the entire Gulf of Mexico in less than a day!”

The species name honours retired Charleston Museum Curator Albert Sanders, who originally collected the fossil material.

Feathers Evolved Before Flight? Archaeopteryx had Feathered Trousers

Archaeopteryx Fossil Suggests Origins of Flight Complex

Adorning the front cover of the latest edition of the academic publication “Nature” is a beautiful colour photograph of the eleventh specimen of Archaeopteryx found.  The fossil might be in the hands of a private collector, but here is an example of wonderful co-operation between an individual and an academic institution.  For permission has been granted for this fossil, discovered in southern Germany in 2011, to be extensively researched and the first studies into this remarkable fossil have just been published.  We have a car manufacturer too, to thank for this research.

The Eleventh Archaeopteryx Specimen

Excellent feather preservation

Excellent feather preservation

Picture Credit: Helmut Tischlinger

The picture above shows the Archaeopteryx fossil that has been the subject of this research.  Although, like the majority of Archaeopteryx specimens the fossil has been crushed, the impressions of feathers on the wings, the tail and most significantly on the hind limbs can be clearly made out.  Everything Dinosaur has added labels to help readers to understand what this fossil shows.

The plumage is extremely well preserved and even under normal light, impressions of feathers can be clearly made out.  This has permitted a research team from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU) to study the feathers of this iconic creature and to compare them with feathered dinosaurs and bird fossils from China.

Palaeontologist Dr Oliver Rauhut of the Dept. of Earth and Environmental Sciences (LMU) and at the Bavarian State Collection for Palaeontology and Geology (Munich) and a co-author of the study commented:

“For the first time, it has become possible to examine the detailed structure of the feathers on the body, the tail and, above all, on the legs.”

Previous studies of this transitional fossil showed that Archaeopteryx possessed pennaceous feathers, the same sort of feathers associated with extant birds that can fly.  The feathers were asymmetrical and helped maintain an aerodynamic shape in the air of this “dino-bird”.  The presence of such pennaceous feathers on the hind legs had puzzled scientists.  Flight feathers on the hind limbs had led some palaeontologists to consider whether Archaeopteryx used its back legs in flight, it was, in effect, a four-winged glider.  Or did the feathers on the hind limbs serve another purpose, perhaps for display or for insulation, helping to keep this warm-blooded (very likely), little Theropod warm.

Specimen number eleven shows for the first time an imprint of virtually all of the plumage of Archaeopteryx including the tail feathers that measure up to 11.4 centimetres in length and those controversial feathers on the hind limbs that range in length from 4 to 4.5 centimetres.  Analysis of the feathers on the hind legs show that they were symmetrical on either side of the stem (rachis), unlike aerodynamic feathers that have one long side and one narrower side (like an asymmetrical aircraft’s wing).  It seems that the feathers on the hind limbs described as “feathered trousers” did not have a role in flight.

This finding contradicts the theory that the flapping flight of modern Aves was preceded by an intermediary stage involving four-winged gliding.

A Close up of the Feathers on the Hind Leg

Feather impression in the rock clearly visible.

Feather impression in the rock clearly visible.

Picture Credit: Helmut Tischlinger

The tail feathers, which were more than half the length of the caudal vertebrae (tail bones), were asymmetrical indicating that the tail could have been involved in flight, perhaps helping to provide lift and control.  Co-author of the study Dr. Christian Foth (LMU) along with De. Rauhut and photographer Helmut Tischlinger examined a number of feathered bird and dinosaur fossils.  They discovered that these specimens showed a great deal of variation in feathers.  Many of the feathered creatures in the study would have been incapable of flight as their arms were too short, other fossils had feathers in impractical places to permit a flight function.

The research team outline a new hypothesis that after feathers evolved, they became adapted for a range of different purposes, for display, for camouflage, to help keep animals warm and when the Dinosauria et al began to take to a more arboreal or aerial existence they evolved further to become more useful in flight and more aerodynamic in their shape.   This theory suggests that there was not one single origin of bird flight, but that it may have evolved in a number of species over a significant time period – an example of convergent evolution.

 A Model of an Archaeopteryx (Papo Archaeopteryx)

New from Papo for 2014 a model of Archaeopteryx.

New from Papo for 2014 a model of Archaeopteryx.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Papo Archaeopteryx model introduced in 2014, depicts Archaeopteryx with “feathered trousers”.  The feathers although unlikely to have a role in powered flight, may have helped keep the legs warm or offered protection from bites from any of the prey of this carnivorous creature.  Perhaps these feathers acted like air brakes helping to increase wind resistance as the animal came into land, thus slowing Archaeopteryx down and assisting with landing.

The German based researchers conclude that their study of the pennaceous feathers on Archaeopteryx, advanced Maniraptoran dinosaurs and primitive birds indicates that these structures evolved in a functional context and not specifically for flight.  Such feathers were slowly adapted for a role in the flight function, several lineages may have followed similar evolutionary developments leading to the aerodynamic, asymmetrical flight feathers occurring in a number of species.  If this is the case, then the origin of powered flight might be a whole lot more complex than previously thought.

We have the German car manufacturer Volkswagen to thank for this research.   The detailed analysis of the fossil was made possible by financial support from the Volkswagen Foundation.

A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“The few fossils we have of Archaeopteryx may even represent sub-species or separate species.  We could imagine a scenario whereby on the relatively isolated islands of the Solnhofen archipelago, different types of feathered, Archaeopteryx evolved.  They may have once shared a common, mainland ancestor, but as populations became separated onto different islands, these weak-flyers evolved specific forms for each island habitat, a sort of Darwin’s finches as found on the Galapagos today but in this case, evolutionary dynamics driven by flight capabilities and not beak shape or size related to food resources.”

How Triceratops Got its Horns and Beak

Insights into the Evolution of Triceratops

It might sound like a Rudyard Kipling “Just So” story but scientists from Montana State University have been working out how Triceratops got its beak and horns.  The team of researchers had spent the past fifteen summers mapping and excavating Triceratops skull material from the Badlands of eastern Montana, from the world famous Hell Creek Formation.  University PhD candidate John Scannella and his three co-authors have published a paper in the “Proceedings of the  National Academy of Sciences”, that reports on the study of more than fifty Triceratops specimens and plots how this dinosaur gradually changed over two million years.

The team recorded the precise stratigraphic location for each Triceratops fossil.  The shape and characteristics of any skull material was then carefully analysed and this permitted the researchers to see evolutionary trends in the Triceratops genus through the Late Maastrichtian faunal stage.

The team noted that over one to two million years, the Triceratops skull specimens slowly changed.  They went from having a small nose horn and a long beak to having a longer nose horn and a shorter beak.  The two recognised species of Triceratops can be distinguished from each other by the shape and size of the beak and the shape and size of the nose horn.  Triceratops horridus has a small nose horn and a long beak, whereas, the second species in the genus Triceratops prorsus has a longer nose horn and a shorter beak.  Triceratops horridus fossils were confined to the older strata, the lower portions of the Hell Creek Formation, whilst fossils of T. prorsus were found in younger rocks at the top of the Hell Creek Formation.  Skulls found in the middle portions of the Formation displayed characteristics of both Triceratops species.

New Study Plots the Evolution of the Triceratops Genus

New study charts the evolution of Triceratops.

New study charts the evolution of Triceratops.

Picture Credit: Montana State University

The picture above shows that at rock layers dated to around 67.5 million years ago, fossils of Triceratops horridus with its large beak and short nose horn can be found.  In the Middle Hell Creek Formation, Triceratops skulls display a mix of T. horridus and T. prorsus traits.  In the youngest, top sediment layers, it is the T. prorsus skull morphology that dominates.

Commenting on this research, student John Scannella stated:

“This study provides a detailed look at shifts in the morphology of a single dinosaur genus over time.”

The Triceratops research, identifying that specimens of T. horridus and T. prorsus are found at different horizons, specifically Triceratops prorsus is confined to the upper third portion of the Hell Creek Formation.  The fact that these fossils are restricted to different stratigraphic levels confirms that there are indeed at least two species of Triceratops present.  A number of hypotheses had been proposed previously to help explain the different skull morphology, for example it had been suggested that the skull morphologies were a result of differences between males and females or due to ontogenetic (growth) variations between individuals of a single species.

 The Triceratops Family Tree is Explained

A colourful "Three-horned Face" Replica

A colourful “Three-horned Face” Replica (big beak, small nose horn = T. horridus)

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd

A number of academic institutions have been working together to map and record the flora and fauna preserved in the Hell Creek Formation.  The Hell Creek project involved Montana State University, The University of California plus the universities of North Dakota and North Carolina with the support of a number of academic and professional bodies.  The strata covers Montana, North and South Dakota and Wyoming in the Western United States and it represents a series of freshwater and brackish deposits laid down on the edge of the Western Interior Seaway.  The geology records the very end of the Cretaceous with the very youngest rocks ascribed to the Danian faunal stage (Palaeocene) , the first faunal stage after the Cretaceous mass extinction event.  The project examined both vertebrates, invertebrates and plants in a bid to learn about the changing ecosystems in that part of the world from the latter stages of the Cretaceous and into the Age of Mammals (Cenozoic).  Over the course of the project, the team discovered that the Triceratops species were the most common dinosaur in the Hell Creek Formation.  Although, it is very difficult to give an accurate figure, something like forty percent of all the dinosaur fossil material recovered from the Hell Creek Cretaceous layers represent the Triceratops genus.

Discussing the relative abundance of Triceratops fossil material, Scannella explained:

“Most dinosaurs are only known from one or a handful of specimens.  Some dinosaurs are known from a large number of specimens, but they’re often found all in one place – on a single stratigraphic horizon.  The great thing about Triceratops is that there are a lot of them and they were found at different levels of the Hell Creek Formation.”

The importance of the relatively large sample size (in excess of fifty specimens), was emphasized when he added:

“So we can compare Triceratops found at different [stratigraphic] levels.  When you have a larger sample size, you can learn much more about variation, growth and evolution.”

Evidence of a Genus Transformation in the Late Maastrichtian

Triceratops changed over time.

Triceratops changed over time.

Picture Credit: Holly Woodward

Other authors of the research paper that appears in the latest edition of the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, include Regents Professor of Palaeontology Jack Horner, Montana State University graduate student Denver Fowler and palaeontologist Mark Goodwin (University of California).

In July 2010, Everything Dinosaur team members reported on a paper produced by Scannella and John “Jack” Horner that proposed that Triceratops underwent such dramatic changes in its skull shape as it grew and matured that the dinosaur known as Torosaurus (T. latus), was not a separate genus at all, but the fossils of elderly Triceratops specimens.

To read more about this research: Torosaurus Extinction Second Time Around

PhD student Scannella added:

“The new study finds evidence that not only did Triceratops change shape over the lifetime of an individual, but that the genus transformed over the course of the end of the age of dinosaurs.”

This study represents one of the most thorough and detailed examinations yet on Ceratopsian head shields, their skulls and growth patterns.  Many of the specimens recovered from the Hell Creek Formation did not show signs of distortion or crushing, factors that could have skewed any analysis into skull shape and morphology, although a number of specimens were fragmentary and many others shattered into numerous pieces.  The project team are to be congratulated for the painstaking work carried out as scientists attempt to learn more about the evolution of one of the most famous dinosaurs of all “three horned face”.

It is fitting that the last word on Triceratops evolution (for now) should go to John Scannella.  He stated:

“The study emphasized how important it is to know exactly where dinosaur fossils are collected from.  A beautiful Triceratops without detailed stratigraphic data cannot answer as many questions as a fragmentary specimen with stratigraphic data.”

Russian Scientists Excavate Psittacosaurus Fossils

New Specimen of Psittacosaurus sibiricus Discovered

If there were prizes given out to the Dinosauria for being the most successful in terms of species known and geographical distribution, then the primitive horned dinosaur Psittacosaurus would very likely be up for an award.  To date, something like ten species or so have been named and fossils of these early Ceratopsians have been found over a vast area of Asia, from north-eastern China through to central Russia.  Our knowledge of Psittacosaurs is likely to be increased thanks to the discovery of what is believed to be an almost complete specimen, excavated from Cretaceous aged sediments near to the village of Shestakovo (Chebulinsky district).

In a press release from Russian news agencies and the Kemerovo Regional Museum, Olga Feofanova (Director of the Kemerovo Regional Museum), explained that the dinosaur fossil specimen had been discovered at a well-researched and studied fossil dig site that has yielded a number of vertebrate specimens in the past, including a several examples of rare Cretaceous mammal fossils.  This particular Psittacosaurus was discovered after three weeks of careful excavation.  The fossil material is still entombed in the surrounding rock.  The block of stone was carefully removed and will be stored at the Kemerovo Museum and made ready for display.  A spokesperson for the Museum commented that it might take up to six months to extract the fossilised material from the surrounding matrix.

An Image of a Typical Psittacosaurus

A typical psittacosaurid.

A typical psittacosaurid.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Russian scientists are confident that their specimen represents a Psittacosaurus sibiricus, a species of Psittacosaurus which is known from a complete skull and the majority of the skeleton, found in 120 million year old rocks at locations in central Russia and Siberia.  This new fossil discovery may prove to be the most complete P. sibiricus fossil found to date.

Olga Feofanova added that the finding of this new fossil, believed to represent an individual dinosaur that was more than two metres long, will make it possible to conduct a comparative analysis with other Psittacosaurus sibiricus fossils to help palaeontologists learn more about how these dinosaurs grew (ontogeny).  A number of museums and universities have been examining how Psittacosaurs changed as they grew and matured.  For example, last year, Everything Dinosaur reported on research conducted by the University of Bristol, the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (Beijing) and Bonn University which examined how the stance and locomotion of Psittacosaurs changed as they got older.

To read more: Psittacosaurs Moving from Four Legs to Two

An Illustration of P. sibiricus

An illustration of the skull of P.sibiricus.

An illustration of the head of P. sibiricus.

Picture Credit: Paul/Everything Dinosaur

This psittacosaurid had a broad, deep snout and size estimates vary between 1.5 metres and 2.5 metres in length.

With fossil finds all over Asia, these relatively small and lightweight dinosaurs were extremely successful.  A number of remarkable fossil finds have been made over the years, back in September 2007, Everything Dinosaur team members reported on a Psittacosaurus fossil discovery that suggested that these dinosaurs looked after their young in collective nurseries.

To read more about this fossil discovery: Dinosaur Nursery Unearthed in China

It is good to hear about a dinosaur whose fossilised remains will most likely be going on display in a museum quite close to where the fossils were found.

Two Hundred Years of Ichthyosaurs

200th Anniversary of the First Ichthyosaur Scientific Paper

This week saw the 200th anniversary of the first scientific description of an animal that was later named as an Ichthyosaur.  On June 23rd 1814, Sir Everard Home published the first account of the Lyme Regis Ichthyosaur that had been found a few years earlier by the Anning family (Mary and her brother Joseph).  The paper was published by the Royal Society of London, it had the catchy title of “Some Account of the Fossil Remains of an Animal More Nearly Allied to Fishes than any Other Classes of Animals”.

In the account, Sir Everard Home, an anatomist who held the distinguished position of Surgeon to the King, attempted to classify the fossilised remains of what we now know as a “Fish Lizard”.  Reading the paper today, one can’t help but get a sense of utter confusion in the mind of the author.  Sir Everard, had one or two secrets and although two hundred years later, it is difficult to place in context what was behind the paper, after all, at the height of the Napoleonic war there was intense rivalry between the French and English scientific establishments, an assessment of this work in 2014 does little to enhance Sir Everard’s academic reputation.

A Model of an Ichthyosaur and One of the Plate Illustrations from the Scientific Paper

The illustration from the paper and a model interpretation of a "Fish Lizard"

The illustration from the paper and a model interpretation of a “Fish Lizard”

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd top and the Royal Society (William Clift) bottom

Back to those secrets.  Whilst notable figures in the history of palaeontology such as the Reverend William Buckland was corresponding with Georges Cuvier, the French anatomist and widely regarded as “the founder of modern comparative anatomy”, against a back drop of war between Britain and France, in a bid to understand the strange petrified remains found on England’s Dorset coast, Sir Everard raced into print, to be the first to describe this creature.  Just like today, if you are the first to do something than fame and fortune can await.  Trouble is, Sir Everard, by a number of accounts, was relatively incompetent.  He was also a cheat!

In 1771, when the young Everard was a teenager, his sister married John Hunter, an extremely talented surgeon and anatomist who had already built a reputation for himself as being one of the most brilliant scientists of his day.  He was able to learn a great deal from his brother-in-law and this coupled with his wealthy background soon propelled the ambitious Everard to the forefront of London society.  However, the much older John Hunter died suddenly from a heart attack in 1793 and it has been said that Everard used his brother-in-laws untimely death to his distinct advantage.

Having removed  ”a cartload” of John Hunter’s unpublished manuscripts from the Royal College of Surgeons in London, Everard began publishing them but under his own name.  This alleged plagiarism enhanced the young surgeon’s reputation and led to his steady rise in scientific circles, permitting Everard to gain the fame and good standing amongst his peers that he so craved.  Such was his desire to keep his plagiarism a secret, that it is believed that he burnt Hunter’s original texts once they had been copied out.  So enthusiastic was he to get rid of the evidence that on one occasion he set fire to his own house.

And so to the published account of the Ichthyosaur.  Sir Everard explained his willingness to examine the fossilised remains by writing:

“To examine such fossil bones, and to determine the class to which the animals belonged comes within the sphere of enquiry of the anatomist.”

In the paper, Sir Everard describes the fossil remains in some detail, although his descriptions lack the academic rigour found in other papers later published by Cuvier, Mantell and Owen.  The author states that the fossil material was found in the Blue Lias of the Dorset coast between Charmouth and Lyme Regis, the fossil discovery having been made after a cliff fall.  The paper claims that the skull was found in 1812 with other fossils relating to this specimen found the following year.  The role played by the Annings in this discovery is not mentioned by Home.  This assertion itself, may be inaccurate.  Many accounts suggest it was Joseph Anning who found the four foot long skull in 1811, as to whether Mary was present at the time, we at Everything Dinosaur remain uncertain.  Although Mary and Joseph together are credited by many sources for finding other fossil bones related to this specimen in 1812.

The potential mix up in dates, pales when the rest of Sir Everard’s paper is reviewed.  At first, the idea that these bones represent some form of ancient crocodile is favoured.  Embryonic teeth ready to replace already emerged teeth were noticed.  However, to test this theory one of the conical fossil teeth was split open.  He mistook evidence for an embryonic tooth ready to replace a broken tooth in the jaw as an accumulation of calcite and hence, Everard wrongly concluded that this creature was not a reptile.  The sclerotic ring of bone around the eye reminded the anatomist of the eye of a fish, but when the plates were counted that make up this ring of bone (13), he commented that the fossil may have affinities with the bird family as this number of bones is found only in eyes of birds.

The position of the nostrils and the shape of the lower jaw is considered to be very like those seen in fish.  The freshwater Pike is mentioned, although there are other parts of the skeleton that seem to confuse Sir Everard still further.  The shoulder blades both in their shape and size are reported as being similar to those found in crocodiles, part of the fossil material is even compared to the bones of a turtle.

One of the Illustrative Plates from the Original Paper

One of the illustrations by William Clift.

One of the illustrations by William Clift.

Paper Credit: Royal Society (William Clift)

The paper concludes by stating:

“These particulars, in which the bones of this animal differ from those of fishes, are sufficient to show that although the mode of its progressive motion has induced me to place it in that class, I by no means consider it wholly a fish, when compared with other fishes, but rather view it in a similar light to those animals met with in New South Wales, which appear to be so many deviations from ordinary structure, for the purpose of making intermediate connecting links, to unite in the closest manner the classes of which the great chain of animated beings is composed.”

Our baffled author had described a few years early the Duck-billed Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) after specimens were brought back from eastern Australia.  Sir Everard is referring to the Platypus when he writes of “those animals met with in New South Wales”.

Much of the French scientific establishment (and a significant number of British scientists) pilloried this paper.  The difference being, the French who were at war could do it openly, however, in Britain, such was the power and influence of Sir Everard Home, no one dared challenge his assumptions openly.

It was perhaps because of Sir Everard’s influence and strong standing within the Royal Society, that the Reverend William Buckland along with the Reverend Coneybeare supported by up and coming geologists such as Henry de la Beche published a rival scientific paper on the Annings’s discovery in the journals of the Geological Society.  This paper correctly identified that the fossils were reptilian.

Sir Everard, although ridiculed by other academics continued to work on the puzzling Ichthyosaur specimens.  Five years after his 1814 paper, he thought he had finally solved the mystery as to this strange creature’s anatomical classification.  A new vertebrate to science, referred to as a “Proteus” had been described by a Viennese doctor some years earlier.  This was a blind, amphibian of the salamander family (Proteus anguinus) that lived in freshwater streams and lakes deep in caves.  Sir Everard mistakenly concluded that the Lyme Regis fossils were a link between the strange Proteus and modern lizards.  From then on he referred to the 1814 specimen as a “Proteosaurus”.  However, this name never was accepted by scientific circles as the moniker Ichthyosaurus (Fish Lizard) had been erected a year earlier by Charles Konig of the British Museum where the Ichthyosaur specimen resided.

Ironically, as our knowledge of the Ichthyosaur Order has grown over the years, so the Lyme Regis specimen has been renamed.  It is no longer regarded as an Ichthyosaurus, as the fossils indicate a creature more than five metres in length, much larger than those animals that make up the Ichthyosaurus genus today.  In the late 1880′s it was renamed Temnodontosaurus (cutting tooth lizard).  The Lyme Regis specimen, studied all those years earlier by Sir Everard Home, was named the type specimen with the species name Temnodontosaurus platyodon.

A Close up of the Head of a Typical Ichthyosaur

An Icththyosaurus with an Ammonite that it has caught.

An Ichthyosaurus with an Ammonite that it has caught.

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd

The 1814 paper might say more about the petty rivalries and snobbery that dogged British scientific circles than it adds to our knowledge of the Ichthyosauria.  However, there is one final point to be made.  Accompanying the notes were brilliant illustrations of the fossil material, carefully and skilfully prepared by the naturalist William Clift.  The child of a poor family from Devon, William had shown a talent for art from a young age.  His illustrative skills were noticed by one of the local gentry, a Colonel whose wife happened to know Anne Home, the sister of Everard who had married John Hunter.  When John Hunter was looking for an apprentice to help classify and catalogue his growing collection of specimens at the Royal College of Surgeons, Clift was recommended.  He quickly rose to prominence and despite being hampered by the removal of many of John Hunter’s manuscripts by Everard, Clift’s reputation grew and grew.  His daughter, Caroline Ameila Clift married Professor Richard Owen (later Sir Richard Owen), the anatomist who is credited with the naming of the dinosaur Order and the establishment of the Natural History Museum in London.

Neanderthals Ate Plenty of Plants

The Diet of Spanish Neanderthals – Plenty of Vegetables

Amongst the many theories put forward for the extinction of our closest relative the Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis), is one hypothesis focused on their diet.  The theory suggests that as these humans had a much more meat-based diet than our ancestors, once their prey animals went into terminal decline, the Neanderthals themselves were doomed.  The Neanderthals over reliance on big game to hunt has been put forward as one of the reasons why they became extinct, whereas, we, more adaptable humans (H. sapiens) did not.

A number of studies have been conducted.  Micro-fossils extracted from the teeth and jaws of Neanderthals have indicated that in some communities the diet was much more varied with evidence of a number of wild plant species being consumed or even used as medicines.  In addition, analysis of cave floor sediments has supported this idea that the Neanderthals, at least in some parts of the world, had a much more varied diet.

To read an article from 2010 on the diet of Neanderthals: Neanderthals Ate Their Greens

Now a new study, conducted by Spanish scientists and involving sophisticated gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, undertaken at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology supports the theory that for Neanderthals living in Spain, 50,000 years ago, plants contributed significantly to their food intake.

Research into omnivorous Neanderthals involved a study of faecal matter (poo) found at a Middle Palaeolithic Neanderthal camp site, located at El Salt, close to Alicante on Spain’s Mediterranean coast.

The El Salt Site During Excavation

The site of the Neanderthal study.

The site of the Neanderthal study.

Picture Credit: Ms Ainara Sistiaga (University of La Laguna, Tenerife)

Lead author of this scatologically based study, Ms Ainara Sistiaga, a PhD student at the University of La Laguna stated:

“Poo is the perfect evidence, because you’re sure it was consumed.”

Ms Sistiaga and her co-workers collected a number of samples from a layer of sediment associated with camp fires at the El Salt dig site.  These samples were taken to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and analysed at the molecular level using the technique of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.  Faecal matter studied provided evidence of plant material intake as well as meat.  The fossilised faecal material was identified as several of the samples had high concentrations of an ester called coprostanol, presence of this ester is diagnostic of human faeces.  The Neanderthal faecal matter represents the oldest hominin faeces known to science.  The 50,000 year old poo came from the very top layer of an area which had evidence of camp fires.  Although the faecal remains showed signs of having been slightly burnt, the research team are confident that the deposits were left behind after the fire was extinguished.  Perhaps, this “dumping ground” was used later as a camp fire site, or perhaps the “deposit” took place near to the periphery of another camp fire.

A Photograph Identifying the Position of the Faecal Matter

Field photograph of sediment block (El Salt).

Field photograph of sediment block (El Salt).

Picture Credit: Ms Ainara Sistiaga (University of La Laguna, Tenerife)

The picture above shows the faecal layer surrounded by darker layers which indicate the ash residues from camp fires.  Sediment analysis also led to the identification of more substantial amounts of Neanderthal poo.  The fossil poo (coprolite) had a high phosphate content, typical of human excrement.  When studied under blue light, small slices of the coprolite glowed, indicating the presence of phosphates in the sample.

Images of the Faecal Matter Used in the Study

Microphotographs of a slightly burned coprolite of putative human origin identified in El Salt (Neanderthal camp site).

Microphotographs of a slightly burned coprolite of putative human origin identified in El Salt (Neanderthal camp site).

Picture Credit: Ms Ainara Sistiaga (University of La Laguna, Tenerife)

The two images (top) show the samples when viewed under standard lighting conditions.  These pictures show the pale brown colour of the coprolite as well as the common presence of inclusions, which could represent the eggs of parasitic nematodes.  When viewed under blue light fluorescence, the phosphate glows.  The images on the right are highly magnified sections.  Analysis of soil sediments from 5 locations across the dig site, each one representing different ages of occupation by Neanderthals suggest that meat was extremely important in the diet of the Neanderthals, but the faecal evidence also indicates that a substantial quantity of plant matter was also consumed.

This study suggests that the Neanderthal extinction theory based on a reliance on game to hunt may be an oversimplification.  Neanderthals probably had a varied diet taking advantage of seasonal food resources and exploiting them as efficiently as Homo sapiens.

Intriguingly, many of the earlier Neanderthal dietary studies were based on Neanderthal remains found at northern latitudes and at different stratigraphic levels.  The Neanderthals thrived in Europe for over 300,000 years, it is very likely that across their extensive range, dietary differences did occur.  Recently, studies of stone tools have suggested distinct technologies as being the basis for different Neanderthal cultures.  In addition, just as we see today in nomadic human populations, it is likely that northerly populations relied  more heavily on meat in the diet than southerly populations which were able to exploit the flora of more temperate, milder climates.

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