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Everything Dinosaur’s New School Website Is Launched

Dinosaur Workshops In School

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

Dinosaurs for Schools

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

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

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

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

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

A spokesperson for Everything Dinosaur commented:

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

Remembering Samuel Husbands Beckles (1814-1890)

Samuel H. Beckles and Iguanodonts plus Becklespinax

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

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

The Fossil Material and Original Drawing (Becklespinax)

The three articulated dorsal vertebrae that represent Becklespinax.

The three articulated dorsal vertebrae that represent Becklespinax.

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

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

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

Becklespinax - an English dinosaur

Becklespinax – an English dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

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

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

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

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

Plans to Provide a Trail to Utah’s Dinosaur Tracks

Bureau of Land Management Plans to Provide a Trail to Dinosaur Trackway Site

Residents of the town of Moab in Utah are hoping that in the very near future, visitors are going to get much better access to a number of the preserved dinosaur footprints and tracks that have been found in the area.  This part of Grand County (Eastern Utah), is famous for its extensive trace fossils of dinosaurs and other Mesozoic creatures, earlier this year, Everything Dinosaur reported on the theft of a three-toed dinosaur footprint.  Such thefts are an all too common occurrence these days and news that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is planning a properly organised dinosaur footprint trail is most welcome.

To read about the dinosaur footprint theft: Man Charged over Fossil Footprint Theft

Last month, Utah resident Jared Ehlers, who had originally denied any involvement in the theft, admitted stealing and disposing of a dinosaur footprint fossil.  By pleading guilty at a pre-trial hearing, Mr Ehlers was able to have the charges of theft, destruction of evidence and depredation of government property dropped.  Under the terms of a plea deal, he was fined $15,000 USD (£9,000 GBP) and ordered to serve a year’s probation, including six months of home confinement.

The tracks that the BLM intend to create a trail for were discovered by a hiker in 2009.  Scientists from the University of Colorado in conjunction with the BLM had began excavations last year, over the last few weeks a team of volunteers have been clearing away the last of the surface material in preparation for the first public tours.  Up until now the actual location was kept under wraps, this has helped the palaeontologists and ichnologists (specialists who study trace fossils), to map the fossil site and to prevent any potential thefts.

One of the Three-toed Dinosaur Footprints at the Site

A Three-toed dinosaur footprint (Moab).

A Three-toed dinosaur footprint (Moab).

Picture Credit: John Hollenhorst, Deseret News

Over two hundred individual tracks have been uncovered to date and in at least one area an extensive trackway left by a single dinosaur has been discovered.  This trackway consists of seventeen consecutive prints.  Scientists estimate that at least ten different genera may be represented by the trace fossil material.

For Bureau of Land Management palaeontologist, Rebecca Hunt-Foster, the opportunity to help create a tourist trail leading to a greater understanding of the importance of this area for fossils, may help deter thefts in the future.  It is all part of helping to educate and inform local residents and visitors to the area.

Commenting on the significance of the location, the palaeontologist stated:

“It helps kind of to fill in the gaps about these animals that we don’t know much about.  We know they were here, but we just don’t find their bones.”

Such is the excellent state of preservation that even the tail drag from a prehistoric crocodile has been identified.

A Picture Showing the Preserved Tail Drag Fossil

Preserved in the stone a tail drag mark left by a Cretaceous crocodile.

Preserved in the stone a tail drag mark left by a Cretaceous crocodile.

Picture Credit: John Hollenhorst, Deseret News

It is hoped that once the site has been cleared, BLM staff will finish formally mapping and plotting the extensive trackway using three-dimensional photography (photogrammetry).  The fossils were found in strata that make up part of the Ruby Ranch Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation.  The fossils are believed to be around 125 million years of age (Late Barremian faunal stage to Early Aptian faunal stage of the Cretaceous).  As such, these trace fossils are slightly younger than the majority of the dinosaur footprints and other trace fossils preserved in the exposed Wessex Formation of the Isle of Wight.

As the BLM’s regional palaeontologist, Rebecca admits that providing greater access to these sites whilst maintaining their security is a delicate balancing act.  For example, a number of the prints were made by a three-toed Theropod, these tracks are very similar to the one stolen and subsequently lost earlier this year.

Once the volunteers have finished clearing the site and the mapping is completed, then the scientific value of these trace fossils will have some measure of protection.  For having mapped and plotted the tracks very accurately the prints can be replicated, should the fossils be eroded away, damaged or even stolen the data recorded will still permit palaeontologists to study them.

Rebecca explained the importance of the systematic recording of the footprints and other trace fossils by stating:

“We will be able to replicate any of the tracks, should they ever be damaged or destroyed.  And, also people will be able to study them without doing damage to the actual surface.”

The Bureau of Land Management is currently fund raising to build a trail to the dinosaur tracks.  The agency hopes to have the site open to the public in about six weeks time.

Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur” Dismantled and Reimagined

Pixar’s Animated Dinosaur Adventure – “Dismantled and Reimagined” According to John Lithgow

Dinosaurs and cinema block busters seem made for each other.  No time travelling film/exploration of a lost world is complete without at least one or two of the Dinosauria showing up somewhere along the way.  For example, in the latest reincarnation of the BBC’s favourite Time Lord,  due to hit our television screens this weekend, “The Doctor” is going to encounter dinosaurs in one of the forthcoming episodes.  So whilst we were waiting for further news of Jurassic Park IV (Jurassic World) and learning all about “Dinosaur 13″ via a wonderful documentary directed by Todd Douglas Miller, press releases about Pixar’s animated dinosaur film came to our attention.

Team members at Everything Dinosaur first mentioned that Pixar was going to make an animated feature entitled “The Good Dinosaur” back in the spring of 2012, since then there have been a number of delays and setbacks. The premier being postponed by eighteen months or so and rescheduled for November 2015.

Big Changes for “The Good Dinosaur” (Pixar)

The film is "evolving"

The film is “evolving”

The delay of eighteen months before release came about following the departure of the film’s director.  It now turns out that this production has been undergoing a number of significant changes as alluded to by one of the voice over actors – John Lithgow.

The original storyline for the film imagined what would life on Earth be like if that huge extraterrestrial object that stuck our planet and assisted the demise of the dinosaurs had missed.  In essence, in Pixar’s view of the world, the dinosaurs survived and lived alongside early humans.  John Lithgow had been contracted to play “Poppa” one of the dinosaur characters featured in the film.  In a recent interview, the actor was asked to provide an update on production and he stated that after the director’s departure the entire film was “dismantled” and “completely reimagined.”

There have been lots of rumours surrounding “The Good Dinosaur”.  A number of media reports had cited serious issues behind the decision to change directors and expressed concerns over the quality of the story.  It seems that John Lithgow’s comments may have given some of these reports credence.  From Pixar’s point of view, they want to add to their stable of excellent, award-winning animations, so it is essential that the very best possible film is delivered.

It must be a bit like putting together dinosaur bones for an exhibit, these things take time, the process cannot be rushed and the final result is paramount.  At the time of the change in director, Pixar’s President Ed Catmull told the Los Angeles Times:

“Nobody, ever remembers the fact that you slipped a film, but they will remember a bad film.  Our conclusion was that we were going to give the film some more time.”

More time certainly, but reading between the actor’s lines it suggests that Pixar may have begun the project all over again.  John Lithgow had recorded his entire role for the voice of “Poppa” one of the daddy dinosaurs in the movie.  However, with the changes that are being implemented, John is going to have to re-record his role all over again.  The actor went onto explain that the film was coming out and it was going to be better than he ever imagined.   All sounds good to us.

As far as team members at Everything Dinosaur know, the release date is still scheduled for November 2015, no further delays have been announced.  We look forward to seeing the film when it does hit our screens and of course we can’t wait to meet John Lithgow’s character.

“Great Eggspectations” Team Members Await News from the Royal Tyrrell Museum

Scientists Hope to Find More Dinosaur Eggs and Dinosaur Babies in Alberta

Palaeontologists from the Royal Tyrrell Museum (Drumheller, Alberta), one of our favourite parts of the world, have a busy few hours ahead of them.  Starting about now field staff from the museum led by the curator of dinosaur palaeoecologyy Dr. François Therrien, will begin excavating an area which could potentially contain a nest of dinosaur eggs and fossilised embryos.  If an intact or near complete nest of dinosaur eggs is found, it will be the first of its kind ever to be discovered in Canada.

The Royal Tyrrell team will be exploring two locations within the Devil’s Coulee Dinosaur Egg Site, which is in the small town of Warner, about three hours drive or so from the Museum.  Seventy-five million years ago or thereabouts, this part of southern Alberta was a duck-billed dinosaur nesting ground with at least two genera of Hadrosaurs known to have nested in the area.  The media has been invited in so that they can witness and report upon the progress of the excavation.

A Hypacrosaurus egg was discovered eroding out of a hill earlier this summer and a second site identified which contained a substantial amount of fossilised eggshells which were once part of a Maisaura’s nest.  Hypacrosaurus was a member of the Lambeosaurine clade of duck-billed dinosaurs.  It had a dome-shaped crest on its head.  Fossils of this large, herbivorous dinosaur have been found in Alberta and over the border in Montana (United States).

A Picture of Two Duck-Billed Dinosaurs (Hypacrosaurus)

Hoping to find a nest of dinosaur eggs.

Hoping to find a nest of dinosaur eggs.

Picture Credit: Ohio State University

Maiasaura was a Saurolophini clade member of the duck-billed dinosaur.  The name means “Good Mother Lizard” and this dinosaur is most famous for being sent into space (another blog article) and for providing scientists with extensive evidence of dinosaur nesting sites.  A nesting colony, nick-named “Egg Mountain” because of the wealth of fossil material, was discovered in Montana.  Dr. Therrien and the rest of the field team will be hoping to find intact eggshells and the preserved remains of dinosaur embryos or possibly dinosaur babies.

An Illustration of a Maiasaura and Her Nest

"Good Mother Lizard"

“Good Mother Lizard”

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Devil’s Coulee site was discovered in 1987 when a local teenager found dinosaur eggshell fragments.  Since then it has been one of the best known locations in the world for dinosaur nests and embryo fossils, however, no new evidence of a dinosaur nest has been found for over six years.  The Royal Tyrrell team are hoping to rectify this and add to the research on the four Hypacrosaurus nests that have been found at this location.

Good luck to everyone involved.  Hope you have smashing time (not literally of course).

Oh yes, that reference to Maiasaura in space, for an explanation: Dinosaurs in Space

Like Mother Like Son – Mammoth Tusks Found 22 Years Apart

Son Finds Mammoth Tusk at Same Location as Mother

Sometimes there can be strange coincidences surrounding fossil finds.  On this blog we have reported the discovery of an Iguanodont dinosaur bone in Sunderland, the discovery of more dinosaur fossils in a Frenchman’s garden and how a stone ornament turned out to be the remains of a prehistoric fish.  However, this week, a story about the finding of a Woolly Mammoth tusk in Alaska caught our attention.  The discovery of the four-metre long tusk is no great surprise, after all, for hundreds of thousands of years, these ancient elephants roamed North America, but in this instance the finder’s mum had found another tusk at the same location twenty-two years earlier.

Andrew Poses with His Lucky Find

History repeats itself, son finds Mammoth tusk in same location as mum.

History repeats itself, son finds Mammoth tusk in same location as mum.

Picture Credit: Andrew Harrelson

Andrew Harrelson was having no luck fishing for Salmon on the Fish River, close to his home in the village of White Mountain about fifty miles east of the settlement called Nome.  He decided to wander along the bank to see what the river had washed out of the bank and whether there were any fossils to be found.  At a bend in the river, near to the spot where his mother had found a thirty-six kilogramme mammoth tusk back in 1992, he spotted a large Mammoth tusk eroding out of the sediment.  Andrew was only three when his mother found the tusk, he barely recalls the incident, but he did pose for a picture with the fossil, although at the time he had no idea what the strange object was.

Andrew recalled:

“This big, old log-looking thing.  I had no clue what it was until they told me.”

The square and blocky teeth (cheek teeth) of Mammoths have also been found at this location, in a bid to explain why this particular area holds a number of Mammoth remains, Mr Harrelson’s father Daniel stated:

“I think at one point, thousands of years ago, it must have been a mud hole or something that animals got stuck in and then died in it.  Everything froze in there and then slowly, over time, thaws out a little bit year by year.”

When first spotted, only the base of the tusk was exposed, Andrew returned to the spot a little while later and with the help of a relative they were able to prise the four-metre long tusk out of the riverbank.

Having weighed their fossil find on the bathroom scales the Alaskan family are now the proud owners of seventy-three kilogrammes of Mammoth ivory.  Dale Guthrie, a retired palaeontologist from the University of Alaska Fairbanks explained that the Mammoth remains could be anything from 400,000 to just 12,000 years old.  He stated that the last glacial period in Alaska occurred around 18,000 years ago with the Mammoths becoming extinct around 12,000 years ago.  Radiometric dating was the only technique that could provide a method of determining the fossil’s true age.

The 1992 Picture of Mum with Her Fossil Find

3 year old Andrew poses in front of the 1992 find.

3 year old Andrew poses in front of the 1992 find.

Picture Credit: Andrew Harrelson

Andrew hopes to sell his lucky find, a question of history repeating itself just twenty-two years after his mum found a Mammoth tusk.  He wants to raise funds so that he can use the money raised as a down payment on a family home.  Although it is illegal to trade elephant ivory, Mammoth ivory can be sold under certain circumstances, we at Everything Dinosaur believe.  Most of Alaska is public land and it is against the law to remove Mammoth fossils from federal or state property without a Bureau of Land Management permit, however, the area surrounding the Fish River is privately held and so long as permission is granted  fossils can be collected.  As with all these cases, we would urge those involved to check with the authorities with regards to the legal implications for such a sale.

New Species of Flying Reptile Identified from “Pterosaur Graveyard”

New Flying Reptile with a Crest Shaped Like a Butterfly’s Wing

Scientists have announced the discovery of a new species of flying reptile (Pterosaur) that very probably lived in colonies and had a bizarre head crest shaped like the wing of a butterfly.  The fossils were found in south-eastern Brazil, near to Cruzeiro do Oeste in Paraná State, about 300 miles west of the city of São Paulo.  The actual fossil site discovery was made in 1971, but a formal study of the extensive fossil material has only just been completed. The scientists who carried out the research were drawn together from various Brazilian museums and research institutes as this discovery represents the first time an extensive bone-bed of Pterosaur fossils has ever been found.  The fossilised remains of at least forty-seven flying reptiles have been described to date, although the strata may have preserved the remains of hundreds of individual animals.

This new species has been named Caiuajara dobruskii (pronounced Kay-you-ah-jar-rah doe-brusk-key)  and the fossils represent  mainly young animals although the remains of at least two fully grown adults have been identified.  The smallest Pterosaurs preserved had wingspans of around sixty-five centimetres, whilst the adults had wingspans in excess of 2.3 metres, making a fully grown Caiuajara about the size of Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos).

An Artist’s Impression of the New Species of Flying Reptile

The fossilised bones of at least 47 individuals have been found.

The fossilised bones of at least 47 individuals have been found.

Picture Credit: Maurilio Oliveira/Museu Nacional-UFRJ

So far, about 130 different genera of Pterosaur have been identified worldwide.  However, most of these are known from just a few fragmentary bones.  In this instance, the palaeontologists have hundreds of bones to study and they can map the growth and development of these creatures.  It seems that the bizarre “butterfly-wing shaped crest”, got bigger and more elaborate as this reptile grew and matured.  The Brazilian researchers were able to plot how the crest changed as these animals got older.  Palaeontologists think that a number of types of flying reptile sported elaborate crests.  It seems that the males of many species used their crests to display and attract a mate, as the one definite fossil of a female Pterosaur known did not have a substantial crest.

Crest Shape and Size Changed as these Pterosaurs Grew

Reconstructing the shape of adult and juvenile Caiuajara skulls.

Reconstructing the shape of adult and juvenile Caiuajara skulls.

Picture Credit: PLOS One/Everything Dinosaur

The picture on the left shows various bone fragments representing different stages of growth, from very young animals (top left) through to mature adults (bottom right).  The crest images indicate the suggested changes in the skulls of these Pterosaurs as these animals grew and matured  from a juvenile skull (light colour) to an adult (dark colour).

The fossils were found at three levels of sandstone that form part of the Caiuá Group of the Goio-Erê Formation.  A fourth layer, representing a younger geological deposit was also excavated but this only yielded a few very fragmentary remains.  The strata represents deposition in a palaeodesert environment associated with a water source, very probably a lake.  The research team have suggested that Caiuajara dobruskii lived in large colonies around an oasis which was surrounded by desert.  Since no egg shell material has been recovered it seems unlikely that this was a nesting site.  However, study of the very youngest specimens suggest that these animals were precocial (able to fend for themselves almost immediately after hatching), and that they could fly at a very young age,  although an extensive period of parental care is not ruled out by the researchers.

As the fossils were found in defined layers, the scientists have concluded that this region was home to Pterosaur populations for an extended period of time, thousands of years.  Dramatic events such as violent storms could have hit the colony from time to time carrying any bones into the lake where they would eventually be preserved.  An alternative hypothesis, not favoured by the researchers, who have published their data in the latest edition of the on line scientific journal “PLOS One”, is that this region represented a staging post and Caiuajara was migratory.

Demonstrating the Density of the Fossil Material that Accumulated

Dense fossil deposit.

Dense fossil deposit.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The picture above shows one of the blocks of sandstone containing a large number of disarticulated Pterosaur fossil bones, at least fourteen partial skulls have been identified in this individual stone block.  Scale bar = 20 centimetres, mandible (jaw bones) = man and cranium (skull bones) = cra.

This is an important fossil discovery because:

  • This is the first time Pterosaur fossils have been found in south-eastern Brazil.  Brazil has produced some amazing Pterosaur fossils in the past but these have been located in the north-east of the country.
  • The quantity of fossils has permitted scientists to plot how the anatomy of these flying reptiles changed as the animals grew.
  • The finding of so many fossils of the same species together indicates that these animals may have lived in colonies, it suggests that Pterosaurs may have been highly social animals.
  • Caiaujara dobruskii fossil material is associated with an inland environment, most Pterosaur fossils have been found in marine sediments.
  • These fossils may represent the youngest (in terms of geological age) of this type of Pterosaur found anywhere in the world.

If Pterosaurs like C. dobruskii were indeed gregarious and highly social animals then this might help explain the evolution of those bizarre crests.  Bigger and more elaborate crests being selected for as females over generations showed a preference for larger crests in potential mates.

This new species has been assigned to the Tapejarinae sub-family of Tapejaridae Pterosaurs.  The genus name is a combination of Caiuá after the formation in which the fossils were found and the Pterosaur family name (although coincidently, there is a small town called Tapejara close to where the fossils were discovered as well).  The trivial name honours Alexandre Dobruski, who with his son, João Dobruski, found the fossil site back in 1971.

An Illustration of a Typical Pterosaur from the Tapejaridae Family

A model of Tapejara imperator (Safari Ltd)

A model of Tapejara imperator (Safari Ltd)

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd /Everything Dinosaur

The Goio-Erê Formation has proved extremely difficult to date.  It is estimated that the sandstones that make up this formation were laid down sometime in the Upper Cretaceous from around 93 million years ago to 75 million years ago.  Other Tapejaridae fossils found in north-eastern Brazil, Europe and China date from the Lower Cretaceous, making Caiaujara dobruskii potentially the youngest known member of the Tapejaridae family in terms of geological deposition.

A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Although the head crest makes this flying reptile look quite fierce it actually had no teeth in its jaws.  It is not known what this Pterosaur may have eaten but like other members of the Tapejara family it possessed a relatively short but robust beak.  It could have specialised in eating fruits and seeds from the flourishing flowering plants (angiosperms).  Imagine that!  Pterosaurs playing a role in seed dispersal for flowering plants.”

Dinosaur Footprints Damaged

Welsh Dinosaur Footprints Vandalised

They might be as much as 200 million years old but the thoughtless actions of fossil hunters have damaged a number of dinosaur footprints preserved at a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) in Wales.  A number of prints have been damaged including one that was filled with plaster of paris in a bid to make a cast and then an attempt was made to hammer the cast out of the rock.  The fossilised footprints form part of an important palaeontological site in the Vale of Glamorgan.  The prints can be found on a stretch of exposed coastline between the towns of Barry and Sully on the northern coast of the Bristol Channel, the trace fossils are the oldest known dinosaur tracks to found anywhere in the British Isles.

One of the Vandalised Fossilised Dinosaur Footprints

Three-toed dinosaur footprint with marks showing attempt to remove print from site.

Three-toed dinosaur footprint with marks showing attempt to remove print from site.

Picture Credit: Media Wales Ltd

The picture above shows one of the three-toed (tridactyl) prints with marks around it where an attempt was made to cut out the fossil from the surrounding rock.

The fossils, which are located in strata that form the Mercia Mudstone Group have been subjected to vandalism before.  Sadly, authorities and conservation bodies face a dilemma, do they permit free access to the site so that walkers can view the fossilised footprints and tracks in situ or should the trace fossils be removed and stored in a secure facility to prevent vandalism and fossil thefts?

Back in August 2012, Everything Dinosaur team members reported on the theft of footprint fossils from the same area, fortunately the fossils were recovered a few weeks later.

To read about the earlier fossil theft: Dinosaur Footprints Stolen from the Vale of Glamorgan

This new damage was discovered by South Wales archaeologist Karl-James Langford whilst he was conducting students around the SSSI.

Mr Langford, the founder of Archaeology Cymru (Archaeology Wales) stated:

“I took a group of ten students to give them the tour of the dinosaur footprints.  I could not hide my horror at the damage which had been deliberately caused.   We examined one print that had been filled with plaster of paris.  On a visit to inspect the damage with another group later that same day, somebody had deliberately tried to smash it out with a breeze block, damaging the 200 million year old print in the process.”

It has also been reported that fires had been lit around the site and rubbish left, calls were made last night to provide this extremely important fossil site with greater protection.

What’s so Special About this Location?

The mudstones exposed on this stretch of the coast running along the northern edge of the Bristol Channel were laid down towards the end of the Triassic Period (Upper Triassic – Norian to Rhaetian faunal stage), dinosaur footprint fossils from this time in Earth’s history are extremely rare and the site is one of the world’s most important in terms of recording the activities of Late Triassic dinosaurs.  This was an area of mud flats and silts leading towards the edge of a shallow tropical sea to the south-west.  Many different types of ancient reptile crossed these mud flats and their footprints and tracks were preserved.  Hundreds of individual prints have been recorded and something like sixty trackways have been mapped.  Most of the dinosaur tracks represent a small, three-toed, Theropod which has been given the ichnogenus Grallator.  An ichnogenus is a name given to an organism that has left trace fossils, usually tracks, prints or burrows.  Other types of dinosaur footprints have been recorded, including tracks representing a large meat-eater (Theropod) and a series of trails left by plant-eating Prosauropods.

Field Photograph Showing Preserved Trace Fossils at Barry (Vale of Glamorgan)

Dinosaur Tracks from the Late Triassic.

Dinosaur Tracks from the Late Triassic.

Picture Credit: Tom Sharpe (Dinosaurs of the British Isles)

The photograph above shows a number of rounded footprints and tracks.  The rounded prints are believed to have been made by a Prosauropod dinosaur.  Many of the tracks are quite difficult to spot, the best time to see them is in the evening when the low sun casts shadows on those tracks which represent natural casts.  In addition, if there has been recent rain, or a high tide many of the trackway depressions will be filled with water and this makes observing the prints much easier.

Team members at Everything Dinosaur would like to echo the comments made by a number of other organisations with regards to this damage.  It is essential that sites such as this are protected and safeguarded and we urge all readers to remember that this is a SSSI and as such it is an offence for any person or persons to intentionally or recklessly damage or destroy any of the features of special interest of an SSSI!

If any visitor to this location sees suspicious activity, such as damage to footprints, attempts to make casts or actions that could lead to the theft of a print, please alert the Countryside Council for Wales, the Geology Department of the National Museum of Wales or the Geologists’ Association South Wales Group.

Useful Contacts

For the Geology Department of the National Museum of Wales telephone +44 (0)29 2057 3213

Email: the Geologists’ Association of South Wales Group: webmaster@swga.org.uk

For the Countryside Council for Wales, try Natural Resources Wales (Mon-Fri) on 0300 065 3000

“Mega-Trove” of Dinosaur Footprints from Burgos Province (Spain)

Spanish Site – Provides Palaeontologists with the Opportunity to Follow in the Footsteps of Dinosaurs

A site some twenty kilometres south-east of the town of Burgos in northern Spain has provided a team of palaeontologists with an opportunity to study an exceptionally well-preserved collection of fossilised dinosaur footprints.  The site, known as Las Sereas part of the Quitanilla de las Viñas trace fossil beds is believed to date from the Early Cretaceous and the location, which covers some five kilometres, preserves the trace fossils from a number of different types of dinosaur – Stegosaurs, Sauropods and a variety of Theropods.  In a media briefing, the scientific director of the Las Sereas site, Fidel Torcida, heralded the huge number of footprints and regarded it as a “mega-trove” of ichnites (the term used to describe a fossil footprint).

Research Director Dr. Torcida Discusses the Fossilised Footprints

Important trace fossil site from northern Spain.

Important trace fossil site from northern Spain.

Dr. Torcida, who is also the research director at the nearby Dinosaur Museum (Salas de los Infantes), commented that some of the fossilised prints show Sauropod prints with four toes on the front feet and not five.  He stated that the four toes are not curved, unlike all the others that have been documented around the world.  In 2011, Dr. Torcida was a member of a team of researchers who described a new species of long-necked dinosaur Demandasaurus darwini.  Demandasaurus (named from the Sierra de la Demanda mountains).  It was classified as a Diplodocoid and as such it was the first to be formally described from the Iberian peninsula of Spain.

D.darwini is known from a fragmentary skeleton, including elements of the skull, jaws and vertebrae.  It has been placed in the Rebbachisauridae family of Sauropods, a bizarre family, only established in 1997 but the family now contains more than a dozen genera including species from Africa and South America.  Demandasaurus is believed to have measured around ten metres in length and perhaps weighed more than five tonnes.

An Illustration of a Rebbachisaurid (Nigersaurus taqueti)

The "Lawn Mower" Sauropod

The “Lawn Mower” Sauropod

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The site has been studied for several years, but the full extent of the trace fossil material is only beginning to be realised.  Last year, a large footprint from a Sauropod was discovered, but recent excavations revealed a trail some seventeen metres long , consisting of forty-five Sauropod prints.  Many of the individual prints are over fifty-five centimetres long and record a time some 144 million years ago when a large Sauropod made its may across a mud flat.  In total, something like eight hundred individual footprints had been identified so far, but it was reported that there was probably more than a thousand or so trace fossils in total.  The tracks of at least three different sized Theropod (meat-eating) dinosaurs had also been identified.

Over the last decade, there have been some remarkable dinosaur discoveries made in Spain.  Back in 2007, Everything Dinosaur reported on the discovery of an extensive bone bed containing the preserved remains of several Late Cretaceous dinosaurs from a site near to the city of Cuenca in western Spain.

To read more about this discovery: Dinosaur Bone bed from Spain

Laquintasaura – What Does it all Mean?

Notes on the Newly Described Dinosaur – Laquintasaura

Over the last day or so, the popular science media has carried a vast array of articles detailing the discovery of a new type of dinosaur from the continent of South America.  There have been radio interviews with some of the scientists behind the academic paper, news reports and of course, a number of video news stories too.   The great majority of the press outpourings have been excellent.  The naming of a new dinosaur is a big story, the general public seems to have an ever-lasting fascination with these ancient animals.  Palaeontologists and science editors far cleverer than ourselves have provided a comprehensive overview of Laquintasaura venezuelae, so rather than dwell on describing this animal, we at Everything Dinosaur will try to place this dinosaur discovery in context and cover some of the issues raised in the scientific paper that were not necessarily picked up by the general media.

The Illustration of the Newly Named Dinosaur L. venezuelae

Small, Early Jurassic, bird-hipped dinosaur

Small, Early Jurassic, bird-hipped dinosaur

Picture Credit: Mark Witton/Natural History Museum

Why Saura and Not Saurus?

First of all, let’s deal with the name Laquintasaura venezuelae.  The fossil material (and there is lots of it), comes from a single bone bed located at a dig site which is effectively a road cutting between the two small towns of Seboruco and La Grita in  Táchira State, western Venezuela, just a few miles from the border with Columbia.   The horizon from which the fossils were excavated form part of the La Quinta Formation, which outcrops in western Venezuela and eastern Columbia.  So the  name is pronounced La-quin-tah-sore-rah  ven-ee-zway-lay and it translates as “Venezuela’s lizard from the La Quinta”, but note the ending of the genus, it is “saura” and not the much more common “saurus”, what’s going on here?

Saura is the female form of the Greek word saurus, it still means lizard and a number of dinosaurs have been given genus names which take the female form of saurus, examples are the likes of Maiasaura (means “good mother lizard”), or the small Cretaceous Ornithopod Leallynasaura which was named after the daughter of the discoverer.  There is nothing particularly feminine about Laquintasaura, it is very likely that the bone bed represents the remains of both males and females, in this case, we think the name has come about as the rock formation “La Quinta” has a female root.

Early Jurassic – So What?

The majority of the rocks that make up the La Quinta Formation are sandstones, accurately dating these rocks is made all the more difficult due to the lack of marine deposits and the more abundant zonal fossils that help to date them.  However, the scientists involved in this study have been able to date the age of the fossils with a very high degree of confidence.  Zircon crystals found very close to the fossilised bones permitted highly accurate radiometric dating techniques to be applied.  Essentially, these crystals are abraded by acids, cooked at very high temperatures and then the proportion of uranium isotopes is measured.  Radioactive elements such as uranium begin to decay from the moment they are formed.  They decay and form “daughter” isotopes by shedding electrons at a consistent, regular rate.  By measuring the proportion of isotopes in these minute zircon crystals the rock formation can be accurately dated.  The fossils of Laquintasaura are 200.91 million years old, plus or minus half a million years or so.

Very few dinosaur fossils have been found that can be dated so accurately to this period in Earth’s history.  The vast majority of the dinosaur fossils that have been dated to around 200 million years or so, are lizard-hipped dinosaurs (Saurischians), Laquintasaura is a member of that other group of dinosaurs, the bird-hipped dinosaurs (Ornithischia).

Photographs of Some of the Fossil Material and Outline Body Shape

Abundant fossil finds.

Abundant fossil finds.

Picture Credit: Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

What’s so Special about Laquintasaura?

The picture above shows an outline of the body shape of Laquintasaura.  It was estimated to be about a metre long, but half of its body length was made up of the tail.  It was lightly built and probably a fast runner, roughly the size of a common Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes).  The drawing also indicates the sort of fossil material that has been found.  Most of the fossils are isolated teeth, or represent bones from the hip area or fragments of rib.  However, other fossils representing parts of the skull, the limb bones and vertebrae have also been found but these elements are much rarer.  The fossils represent the remains of at least four individuals, but probably many more.

Key to the Picture

  • (a) Triangular cheek tooth
  • (b) Neck bones
  • (c) Dorsal vertebrae
  • (d) Left shoulder blade
  • (e) Part of the ankle bone
  • (f) Left ischium (bone from the hip)
  • (g and h) Views of the femur

This is the first early Ornithischian bone bed containing the bones of a number of individual dinosaurs found anywhere in the world.  Studies of the bones suggest that the fossils represent a group of animals that ranged from about three years to twelve years of age.

Although the bones are jumbled up, they do not show any obvious signs of having been transported a long distance perhaps by a river in spate.  Palaeontologists interpreting this fossil deposit have suggested that this bone bed was not formed over a long period, where single dinosaur carcases were deposited in the same location as a result of seasonal, violent floods.   The fossils seem to have been transported and deposited in a low-energy water environment, perhaps a slow moving river and it has been suggested that this group of dinosaurs died in a single catastrophe.  It is unclear whether they all died as a result of becoming stuck in the water, or whether the water transport occurred after death.   This suggests that this was a social group, a small herd or a flock if you prefer.

Most palaeontologists are confident that later Ornithischians, the likes of the Iguanodonts, duck-billed dinosaurs and the horned dinosaurs lived in herds.  If Laquintasaura is a social, bird-hipped dinosaur, then these fossils have provided the earliest known evidence for the evolution of complex social groups in the Ornithischia.  This social behaviour in Ornithischian dinosaurs is being seen around fifty million years earlier than previously thought.

Weird Teeth

The teeth are unlike any other teeth associated with Ornithischian dinosaurs.  They are quite prominent, and although triangular in shape, the edges are curved and slightly concave in appearance.  The edges of the crown (the tooth that sticks out of the gum) are coarsely serrated.  This suggests that this little dinosaur was most probably a herbivore eating tough ferns and horsetails.  It probably also grabbed at passing insects or small reptiles from time to time, hence the bug eating Laquintasaura depicted in Mark Witton’s excellent illustration (see above).

A Close up of One of the Teeth of Laquintasaura (various views)

Strange teeth indicate herbivorous habit.

Strange teeth indicate herbivorous habit.

Picture Credit: Barrett et al, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Venezuela’s First Dinosaur – Dinosaurs Thrived Around the Equator

Much has been made of the fact that this is the first dinosaur ever to be discovered in Venezuela.  Indeed, this is the first dinosaur to be named and described from the northern portion of South America.  Two hundred million years ago, Venezuela formed part of the central portion of the giant super-continent Pangaea.  Laquintasaura seems to have thrived in a habitat close to the equator in the centre of this huge land mass.  Very few dinosaur fossils have been found in what is termed the palaeoequatorial region.  It had been thought that much of this part of the world in the Late Triassic/Early Jurassic was too hot and dry to support extensive, complex ecosystems.  Much of this area was thought to have been covered by vast, inhospitable deserts.  However, the finding of the fossils of Laquintasaura suggests that dinosaurs and most likely other types of vertebrate did live in these regions.

The Location of the Laquintasaura Fossils (Palaeoequatorial Environment)

Spatial distribution of early bird-hipped dinosaurs.

Spatial distribution of early bird-hipped dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The diagram (b) shows the location of dinosaur fossil finds mapped onto a picture of the world from the Late Triassic.  The yellow line indicates the position of the equator.  Diagram (c) shows the position of dinosaur fossil finds known from the very Early Jurassic.  Arrows indicate Ornithischian dinosaur finds.  Note the scarcity of palaeoequatorial dinosaur finds and the very limited palaeobiogeographical distribution of Ornithischians in the Late Triassic and their subsequent spread in the Early Jurassic.  The red dot in diagram (c) indicates the site of the Laquintasaura fossils.  As these dinosaurs were small, around one metre in length, it is highly unlikely that these dinosaurs could have migrated long distances, this and the fact that the fossil bones show little sign of long distance transport indicates that Laquintasaura lived close to the equator.

The discovery of Laquintasaura suggests that there were Ornithischian dinosaurs living close to the equator around 200 million years ago.  Their presence (and the discovery of two Theropod teeth at the same site), indicates that western Venezuela supported a diverse and flourishing ecosystem.

What Does it Mean for Dinosaur Evolution?

The fossils of Laquintasaura come from just a few hundred thousand years after the end Triassic extinction event.  The period of deep time marked by the end of the Triassic experienced a mass extinction event.  The type and diversity of terrestrial vertebrates altered dramatically with many kinds of reptile and amphibian becoming extinct.

Palaeontologist Dr. Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum (London) and one of the lead authors of the scientific paper commented:

“Laquintasaura lived very soon after the major extinction at the end of the Triassic Period, 201 million years ago, showing dinosaurs bounced back quickly after this event.  It is fascinating and unexpected to see they lived in herds, something we have little evidence of so far in dinosaurs from this time.”

Either the dinosaurs did recover quickly after this extinction event or they were not too badly affected when compared to other vertebrates.

In addition, scientists are aware that by the Middle Jurassic, the bird-hipped dinosaurs had begun to diversify into a range of body types.  There were the likes of the ancestors of the Camptosaurs, heterodontids and the first of the armoured dinosaurs.

This research carried out by the University of Zurich and the Natural History Museum is helping to piece together the origins and the subsequent diversification of this group of the Dinosauria that led them to become the dominant terrestrial herbivores of the Mesozoic.

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