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/Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

Fossil finds, new dinosaur discoveries, news and views from the world of palaeontology and other Earth sciences.

10 05, 2017

Amazing Ammonite “Tool Mark” Fossil

By | May 10th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Ammonite Fossil Captures Brief Moment in Deep Time

Every once in a while, a fossil is found that provides a remarkable insight into life in the past.  An example of this is an Ammonite fossil that dates from the Late Jurassic.  The shell of the dead Ammonite was rolled along the floor of a shallow lagoon, before it finally came to rest on the finely grained sediment.  An event that lasted for perhaps just a few seconds has been preserved within the fossil record, it has persisted for over 150 million years.

An Artist’s Illustration of the Ammonite Shell Drag

Ammonite shell drag.

Capturing a moment in the Late Jurassic (Cephalopod shell trackway).

Picture Credit: Manchester University

The Solnhofen Plattenkalk (Solnhofen limestone)

Located in the southern German State of Bavaria, the world-famous limestone beds that form the Solnhofen Lagerstätte, preserve, in exquisite detail, a remarkable fossil record of animals and plants including soft-bodied creatures such as jelly fish and delicate insects such as dragonflies.  Many vertebrate fossils have also been excavated, perhaps the most famous of which are the fossils of the Theropod Archaeopteryx, referred to as “Urvogel”, German for “first bird”.

The international team of scientists, which includes palaeontologist Dean Lomax (Manchester University), have been studying the 8.5-metre-long trackway a fossil of an Ammonite shell as it was rolled along the soft, carbonate mud by the lagoonal currents.  At the end of the track, the cricket ball-sized Ammonite (Subplanites rueppellianus) came to rest.

The Team of Scientists Mapped the Progress of the Ammonite Shell Across the Bed of the Lagoon

Ammonite body and trace fossil.

Mapping the path of the Ammonite shell across the floor of the lagoon.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

The picture above shows the track of the Ammonite (left to right), with line drawings of each element of the highlighted “tool mark” fossil shown below.  The Ammonite itself can be found at the end of the track (extreme right).  The Ammonite, a specimen of S. rueppellianus was already dead when the track was made, although fossils such as this have been found before, it is an extremely rare find.  Technically, although the shell left a drag mark in the sediment and the body fossil is preserved, the track itself can’t really be regarded as a trace fossil.  Trace fossils such as trails, footprints, burrows and borings preserve evidence of the activity of animals.  As the Ammonite was dead when the track was created, it should not really be referred to as a trace fossil.  A more accurate term might be “tool mark” to describe the fossilised movement of the shell across the lagoon floor.

Dean, lead author of the scientific paper published in the on-line academic journal PLOS One, commented:

“With fossils, we usually find body fossils, such as bones, teeth or shells, or trace fossils, such as tracks and burrows.  However, the drag mark has not been made by the Ammonite in life and does not reflect behaviour.  Instead, the drag mark was created by the lake’s current moving the Ammonite shell.  It is easy to understand why such fossils have been misinterpreted as the traces of living organisms.”

A Spectacular Record of a Late Jurassic Ecosystem

During the Late Jurassic, much of western Europe was covered by a warm, tropical sea.  There were islands and these were home to an array of dinosaurs and other exotic creatures.  The landscape included stagnant lagoons that had limited access to the open sea.  These shallow bodies of water were extremely saline and very few organisms could tolerate the harsh conditions.  As a result, if animal or plant remains were washed into the lagoon from the land, or if, in this case, an Ammonite was washed into the lagoon from the sea, there were very few scavengers or micro-organisms around to ingest the organic material.  The still waters, devoid of life, helped the preservation of these animal and plant remains. Slowly, they would have become buried in the soft, finely grained mud at the bottom of the lagoon, or in this case a rare current had disturbed the rotting Ammonite and rolled the shell along the lagoonal floor, before the shell finally fell over and came to rest.

Subplanites rueppellianus Fossil Preserved at the End of the Trackway

Subplanites rueppellianus fossil.

Subplanites rueppellianus preserved at the end of the track.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

How exactly did the fossil move after it had already died?  Ammonites had gas chambers, which they used to control their buoyancy and movement, similar to a submarine.  However, the shell of the Ammonite was probably empty and the authors of the study speculate that some of the gas remained present in the shell.  This meant the Ammonite did not sink straight to the bottom and fall over.  Instead, the S. rueppellianus shell was dragged along the bottom of the tropical lagoon by what must have been a calm and steady current.

Dean Lomax Provides a Scale for the 8.5-metre-long Fossil Drag Mark

Examining the Ammonite trace fossil.

Dean Lomax (University of Manchester) examines the drag mark fossil.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

The start of the drag mark is not preserved, so the shell may have been rolling for much longer.  The mark was created by contact of the Ammonites’ ribs (ridges on the shell), with the lagoon floor.  The mark begins with just two lines, suggesting only two of the Ammonite’s ribs were in contact with the bottom of the lagoon.  The number of ribs increases along the drag marks length.

Dean Lomax added:

“Fossils such as this are super rare and provide a snapshot of an unusual moment in deep time.”

Revolutionising the Way Palaeontologists Can Showcase Fossil Material

Intricate digital photogrammetry and three-dimensional modelling was used by the research team to create a detailed video of the fossil, showing the progression of the Ammonite until its final resting place.

Dean Lomax Carefully Maps the Final Movements of the Ammonite Shell

Mapping an Ammonite trace fossil.

Analysing the final movements of the Ammonite shell.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

Palaeontologist Peter Falkingham, (Liverpool John Moores University) and one of the co-authors of the study explained:

“We created a virtual model of the fossil by compiling over 600 photographs of the specimen.  We then created a video, which shows the drag mark and the preserved Ammonite.  Such modern techniques, like the photogrammetry method we used, have really revolutionised the way palaeontologists can study fossils.”

To see a remarkable video of this shell drag and body fossil: PLOS ONE Ammonite Drag Fossil

Video Credit: PLOS ONE

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the University of Manchester Press Team for their help in the compilation of this article.

5 05, 2017

Whipping Up Interest in Whiplash Dinosaurs

By | May 5th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

New Species of Diplodocid Dinosaur – Galeamopus pabsti

Writing in the academic journal “Peer J”, palaeontologists Emanuel Tschopp and Octávio Mateus (Universidade Nova de Lisboa), have identified a new species of diplodocid dinosaur within the Galeamopus genus.  The fossils, which come from the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation, specifically the Howe-Scott Quarry in the northern Bighorn Basin in Wyoming, (USA), further demonstrate the diversity of Sauropods associated with the Late Jurassic fauna of western North America.

A New Species of Diplodocid Dinosaur

Galeamopus pabsti illustrated.

A life reconstruction of G. pabsti.

Picture Credit: Davide Bonadonna with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

Excavation began in 1995, by a Swiss field team led by palaeontologists Dr Hans-Jakob ‘Kirby’ Siber and Dr Ben Pabst (The Dinosaur Museum (Sauriermuseum) in Aathal, Switzerland).  The trivial name, honours Dr Pabst in recognition of his contribution to dinosaur fossil preparation and exhibition mounting.  This is the second member of the Galeamopus genus to be identified, the first species G. hayi, was erected in 2015, when Emanuel Tschopp and Octávio Mateus, along with colleagues from Oxford University and the Raymond M. Alf, Museum of Palaeontology, (Claremont, California, USA), published a paper that resurrected the genus Brontosaurus following an extensive review of the Diplodocidae.

For an article on the 2015 paper: The Return of Brontosaurus

Nearly Complete Fossil Specimen Just Missing the Tail

Importantly, much of the skull, although broken apart, was collected along with around the majority of the anterior portion of the skeleton.  The presence of fossilised wood and freshwater bivalves indicated that this individual had come to rest in a stream channel.  The skull has helped to assign a new species within the Galeamopus genus and the robust limb bones, such as the very sturdy upper arm bone (humerus), helps to distinguish the Galeamopus genus from the more gracile and slender Diplodocus.

Dr Emanuel Tschopp, who holds a number of academic posts including a position at the University of Turin, commented that the bones represent a young adult and that this dinosaur could have reached lengths in excess of twenty-seven metres.  Bite marks on the ribs and shed Theropod teeth found in association with the bones suggest that the dinosaur’s carcase was scavenged before it was finally buried.

A Late Jurassic Scene – Galeamopus pabsti Scavenged by Theropods

Scavenging the carcase of Galeamopus.

The carcase of Galeamopus is scavenged by an Allosaurus whilst two smaller Ceratosaurus approach warily.

Picture Credit: Davide Bonadonna

Dr Tschopp stated:

“Diplodocids are among the best-known Sauropod dinosaurs.  Numerous specimens of currently fifteen accepted species belonging to ten genera have been reported from the Late Jurassic to Early Cretaceous of North and South America, Europe, and Africa.  However, the highest diversity is known from the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation of the western United States, a recent review [the 2015 paper] recognised twelve valid, named species, and possibly three additional, yet unnamed ones.”

A View of the Reconstructed Skull of Galeamopus pabsti

Diplodocid skull (G. pabsti).

A right lateral view of the reconstructed skull of G. pabsti.

Picture Credit: Emanuel Tschopp and Octávio Mateus

Although, the tail bones are missing, the scientists are confident that like all the other diplodocids, Galeamopus pabsti had a long tail, which in this case, represents more than half of the animal’s total body length.  This long whip-like tail may have been used to help herd members keep in contact with each other or perhaps it had a role in defence.  If attacked these dinosaurs might have lashed out with their tails, or perhaps moved them so quickly that they would have made a sonic boom (breaking the sound barrier).

3 05, 2017

The Last Dinosaur from Africa

By | May 3rd, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Chenanisaurus barbaricus – Substantial Abelisaurid from Late Cretaceous Morocco

One of the last types of dinosaur to have existed in north Africa has been described in a new scientific paper published in the journal “Cretaceous Research”.  A fragment of jaw bone (dentary) and isolated teeth discovered in a phosphate mine at Sidi Chennane in the Oulad Abdoun Basin, (Morocco), has enabled scientists to identify a new species of abelisaurid.  The dinosaur, named Chenanisaurus barbaricus may belong to an as-yet undescribed family of Abelisaurs unique to Africa.

An Illustration of the Late Cretaceous Abelisaurid Chenanisaurus barbaricus

Chenanisaurus barbaricus illustration.

An illustration of Chenanisaurus barbaricus.

Picture Credit: University of Bath with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

A Blunt Snout with an Unusually Short and Robust Jaw

Analysis of the fragment of dentary, along with the associated teeth, indicates that the jaw of this dinosaur was very short, even for an abelisaurid.  The morphology of the jaw is described as being even more extreme than that seen in other abelisaurids such as Carnotaurus.  Extensive wear on the teeth suggests hypercarnivory (diet consisting of more than 70 percent meat), Chenanisaurus was around 7-8 metres in length and it may have been an apex predator within the Late Cretaceous ecosystem.

A Photograph Showing Two Views of the Jaw Fragment

Jaw fragment fossil C. barbaricus.

Jaw fragment fossil (labial and buccal view).

Picture Credit: University of Bath

Marine Deposits from a Phosphate Mine

Lead author of the scientific paper, Dr Nick Longrich (Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath), along with colleagues from Morocco, France, and Spain studied the jaw fossil and teeth that had been found in 66 million-year-old strata in a phosphate mine located in northern Morocco.  Dinosaur fossils from the end of the Cretaceous (Maastrichtian faunal stage) are exceptionally rare in north Africa.  Rising sea levels had isolated Africa as the super-continent of Gondwana continued to break up and from about 95 million years onwards, much of the former terrestrial habitat of the Dinosauria in north Africa was lost to the sea.

Commenting on the rarity of the fossil find, Dr Longrich stated:

“This find was unusual because it’s a dinosaur from marine rocks – it’s a bit like hunting for fossil whales, and finding a fossil lion.  It’s an incredibly rare find – almost like winning the lottery.  But the phosphate mines are so rich, it’s like buying a million lottery tickets, so we actually have a chance to find rare dinosaurs like this one.”

Confirming a Distinct African Terrestrial Fauna

Not only was Chenanisaurus barbaricus one of the last dinosaurs to roam our planet, its discovery supports the idea of a distinct north African terrestrial fauna towards the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.  During the Maastrichtian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous, horned dinosaurs and hadrosaurids were the most common and specious large, plant-eating dinosaurs in North America and Asia, whereas a different group of dinosaurs dominated terrestrial ecosystems in South America, India and Madagascar (Titanosauriformes and abelisaurids).  In North America and Asia, the dominant, apex predators were Tyrannosaurs.

In 2004, a paper published in the “Journal of African Earth Studies”, provided details of a right hindlimb (femur, tibia and fibula), that had been found in phosphate deposits near the town of Khouribga (central Morocco).  Just like Chenanisaurus, these fossils date from approximately 66 million years ago and were also found in marine rocks.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur are not aware of a new genus having been established as a result of the discovery of the leg bones, but their presence in the rocks does indicate that titanosaurids survived in north Africa until the very end of the Cretaceous.  These fossils along with the Chenanisaurus material suggests the persistence of a classic Gondwanan abelisaurid/titanosaurid fauna in mainland Africa right up to end- Cretaceous extinction event.

Tyrannosaurid versus Abelisaurid Distribution

Abelisaurid versus tyrannosaurid distribution.

Tyrannosaurid versus abelisaurid distribution.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Key

Tyrannosaurids = green

Abelisaurids = brown

The picture above shows a general distribution of apex predatory dinosaurs in the Late Cretaceous, with the exception of southern Europe, tyrannosaurids dominated the apex predator positions in Laurasia, whilst the abelisaurids dominated in the regions that made up Gondwana.

Phylogenetic analysis undertaken by the research team suggests that Chenanisaurus may represent a lineage of abelisaurids that is distinct from those previously described from the latest Cretaceous of South America, Indo-Madagascar, and Europe, consistent with the hypothesis that the fragmentation of Gondwana led to the evolution of endemic dinosaur faunas during the Late Cretaceous.

Dr Longrich added:

“We have virtually no dinosaur fossils from this time period in Morocco, it may even be the first dinosaur named from the end-Cretaceous of Africa.  It’s also one of the last dinosaurs in Africa before the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs.  It is an exciting find because it shows just how different the fauna was in the southern hemisphere at this time.”

2 05, 2017

Basal Brachiosaurids – Vouivria damparisensis

By | May 2nd, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

French Revolution for the Brachiosauridae

This week there have been a number of papers published announcing newly described dinosaurs.  In time, we will get around to writing about several of them, but first, let’s take a look at the basal brachiosaurid Vouivria damparisensis, which has been described from fossil material representing a single animal that was first discovered back in 1934.

Earliest Relative of Brachiosaurus from north-eastern France

Vouivria damparisensis (brachiosaurid).

A newly described basal brachiosaurid Vouivria damparisensis.

Picture Credit: Imperial College London

Writing in the journal “Peer J”, lead author Dr Philip Mannion (Dept. of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College, London) and his co-workers Ronan Allain (Natural History Museum, Paris) and Oliver Moine (Laboratory of Physical Geography, CNRS / University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne), propose that these fossils represent the earliest known brachiosaurid, a family of dinosaurs that include such well-known animals as Brachiosaurus and Giraffatitan.  However, despite the high profile (no pun intended), of “arm lizard” in particular, surprisingly, very little is known about the evolution of these Sauropods, Vouivria helps to fill in some significant gaps.

A Photograph of a Dorsal Vertebra from Vouivria damparisensis

A back bone of Vouivria.

A dorsal vertebra of Vouivria.

Picture Credit: Peer J

The picture above shows a bone from the spine of V. damparisensis.  The bone comes from the front part of the dorsal vertebrae, (A) left lateral view, (B) right lateral view, (C) anterior view; (D) ventral view. Scale bar equals five centimetres.

Middle/Late Oxfordian Sauropod

The Brachiosauridae seem to have had their heyday in the Late Jurassic, Vouivria is important as relatively few Sauropods are known from rocks of this age.  Most Sauropod fossils from the Jurassic are associated with rocks that were laid down in the latter stages of this geological period, namely during the Kimmeridgian–Tithonian faunal stages.  Vouivria damparisensis comes from strata that is several million years older, having lived around 160 – 158 million years ago.  In addition, it is known from relatively complete remains. Contrast this with the UK’s Late Jurassic Sauropod fossil material, in particular the likes of Duriatitan (D. humerocristatus), which like Vouivria, has been assigned to the Titanosauriformes, the clade of long-necked dinosaurs to which the Brachiosauridae family belongs.  Duriatitan is known from a single fossil bone (left femur) and this fossil, which comes from Dorset, was found in rocks that are believed to be about four million years younger than the rocks in which Vouivria was discovered.

At an estimated 15 tonnes and some 15 metres in length, Vouivria was a sizeable beast.  It is likely that this dinosaur fed on the upper storeys of pine trees and Araucaria, using its long neck to reach parts of trees that other herbivorous dinosaurs could not reach.

An Illustration of a Typical Brachiosaurid

Brachiosaurus dinosaur model.

A colourful Brachiosaurus dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Revolutionising the Brachiosauridae Family Tree

The researchers were able to conduct an analysis of the Brachiosauridae family tree and an assessment of the evolutionary relationships indicates that by the Early Cretaceous, brachiosaurids were restricted to Africa and the United States.  They were probably extinct in Europe.

Furthermore, the team were able to postulate that fossils that most likely represent brachiosaurids are only known from the USA, Africa and western Europe.  Previously, studies examining the fossils of another long-necked dinosaur, Padillasaurus (P. leivaensis), from Lower Cretaceous rocks of Columbia, had suggested that Padillasaurus was a brachiosaurid.  The detailed description of Vouivria casts doubt on this suggesting that Padillasaurus was not a member of the Brachiosauridae and that as a result brachiosaurids remain unknown from South America.  Padillasaurus is placed within the Somphospondyli, another clade of Titanosauriformes, related to the brachiosaurids, but one with a much more global distribution.

A Modified Map Showing the Original Location of the Fossil Bones at the Dig Site

The layout of the bones of Vouivria.

A map showing the position of the bones at the original dig site.

Peer J modified from Dorlodot (1934)

Building upon the original 1934 description (Dorlodot) and the subsequent reassessment of the fossil material Lapparent (1943), before the fossil material was confined to storage, the researchers have provided a valuable insight into the radiation and geographical spread of brachiosaurids.  The current fossil evidence suggests that this type of Sauropod spanned the Late Jurassic (Oxfordian) through to the Late Albian/Early Cenomanian of the Cretaceous.  The last of the brachiosaurids lived in what is now known as the United States and it is likely that by the earliest Late Cretaceous (approximately 98 million years ago), the Brachiosauridae were extinct.

A Better Understanding of the Palaeoenvironment 

The scientific paper provides a better understanding of how the remains of the dinosaur were preserved.  During this period of Earth’s history, much of what we now know as western Europe consisted of a series of low-lying tropical islands.  The earlier studies had concluded that as the rocks in which this dinosaur was found originally come from a coastal environment, then the corpse of Vouivria was probably washed out to sea.  More detailed analysis of the surround rocks and sediments tell a different story.  The researchers conclude that Vouivria died in a lagoon, a habitat that existed during a brief decline in sea levels.  When sea levels rose again, the carcase was buried.

Commenting on the importance of these fossils, lead author of the study Dr Philip Mannion (Imperial College London), stated:

“We don’t know what this creature died from, but millions of years later it is providing important evidence to help us understand in more detail the evolution of brachiosaurid Sauropods and a much bigger group of dinosaurs that they belonged to, called Titanosauriformes.”

30 04, 2017

DNA from Ancient Hominins Discovered in Cave Sediments

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

DNA from Cave Sediments Reveals Ancient Human Occupants

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

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

Searching for evidence of ancient hominin DNA.

Excavations at the site of El Sidrón, Spain.

Picture Credit: El Sidrón research team

The Secrets of Cave Soils and Sediments

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

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

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

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

Entrance to the Archaeological Site of Vindija Cave, Croatia

Searching for traces of ancient human DNA.

Entrance to the archaeological site of Vindija Cave, Croatia.

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

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

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

DNA analysis identifies cave inhabitants.

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

Picture Credit: Journal Science

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

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

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

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

A New, Important Tool for Palaeoanthropology

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

A Sample Ready for Testing

Testing cave sediments for ancient human DNA.

A cave sediment sample is prepared for DNA testing.

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

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

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

29 04, 2017

Japan’s Most Complete Dinosaur Discovery

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

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

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

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

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

Digging up the dinosaur bones (Hokkaido, Japan).

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

Picture Credit: Hobetsu Museum

Found in Marine Deposits

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

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

Part-way through the Japanese dinosaur excavation.

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

Picture Credit: Hobetsu Museum

Incredibly Rare Find

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

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

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

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

Japanese hadrosaurid fossils.

Remains of a Late Cretaceous herbivorous dinosaur found in Japan.

Picture Credit: Avalon Red

The Hadrosaurid Fossils Probably Represent a New Species

Japanese hadrosaurid fossils.

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

Picture Credit: Avalon Red

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

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

Dinosaur corpse washed out to sea.

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

Picture Credit: Masato Hattori

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

Other Japanese dinosaur discoveries:

Schoolboy finds dinosaur bone: Japanese Schoolboy Finds Dinosaur Toe Bone

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

28 04, 2017

Fossil with “Can-opener” Claws – Tokummia katalepsis

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

The Origins of the Mandibulate Body Plan

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

A Computer-Generated Image of Tokummia katalepsis

Tokummia katalepsis computer generated image.

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

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

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

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

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

One of the T. katalepsis Fossils Used in the Study

Tokummia fossil material.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tokummia katalepsis - computer generated image.

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

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

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

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

Numerous Fossil Specimens Studied

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

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

Fossils Providing an Insight into the Evolution of the Mandibulata

Tokummia katalepsis fossil.

Dorsal/ventral view of Tokummia katalepsis fossil material.

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

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

He went onto state:

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

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

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

26 04, 2017

Headless Duck-Billed Dinosaur Reunited with Skull

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

Corythosaurus Fossil Gets its Head Back

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

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

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

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

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

Corythosaurus fossil skull.

The Corythosaurus skull collected by George Sternberg in 1920.

Picture Credit: The University of Alberta

Trophy Hunting When It Came to Dinosaur Fossils

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

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

A Close-Up View of a Corythosaurus Dinosaur Model

CollectA Corythosaurus dinosaur model.

A close-up of the head of Corythosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Lower Jaw (Dentary) Found

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

Katherine Bramble explained:

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

Matching Disparate Fossils to Individual Dinosaurs

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

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

25 04, 2017

Fossil Fungus Discovery Rocks Geology and Biology

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

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

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

Thin Sections of the Ongeluk Basalt Showing Evidence of Mycelium

Ancient fungi in ancient marine rocks.

Views of treated micro-slides showing potential mycelium.

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

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

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

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

The Impact on Eukaryotes

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

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

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

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

He went onto state:

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

The Impact on the Hunt for Extraterrestrial Life

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

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

Saturn's icy moon Enceladus.

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

Picture Credit: NASA

24 04, 2017

Lucky Dinosaur Fossil Egg Find in China

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

Five Dinosaur Fossil Eggs Found by Chance

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

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

Dinosaur eggs from Guangdong Province.

Plant-eating dinosaur fossil eggs from China.

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

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

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

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

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