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New School Curriculum With Rocks, Fossils and Dinosaurs

New Curriculum – New Challenges For Teaching Teams

This week sees the introduction of the new national curriculum for school children in England.  A more “rigorous” curriculum with English, Mathematics and Science as core subjects with pupils at Key Stage 1 (five to seven years old) being introduced to simple fractions and even computer programming.  The aim of this new curriculum which is being rolled out across all state-funded primary and secondary schools, is to improve standards.  However, academies, which now form the majority of secondary schools, will not be required to follow the new curriculum.  State funded schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are managed differently but current policies and practices are being reviewed in many parts of the British Isles.

Why the Changes?

The Department for Education, responsible for children’s’ services and education in England, cites falling academic standards when students in England are compared to students from other countries, particular countries such as Singapore, South Korea and China.  From Everything Dinosaur’s perspective, our teaching work aims to help promote the concept of working scientifically and we deal with classes ranging from EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) right up to Key Stage 4 (students from fourteen to sixteen years).  A number of comparative studies have been undertaken and just like schools themselves, the results vary.  For example, back in 2012 Everything Dinosaur team members reported on the biannual comparative study carried out by researchers at Boston College (USA), which covers the results from two very important international teaching studies, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and the trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).  Broadly, the United Kingdom had shown good progress when it came to mathematics but standards seemed to be slipping when it came to the sciences.

Teaching about Dinosaurs and Fossils in School – Working Scientifically

Lots of facts about dinosaurs.

Lots of facts about dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A topic all about dinosaurs, fossils and extinction helps to bring together core teaching subjects such as science, English and mathematics.

To read more about the study: Mixed Results for Science and Maths in English Schools

 Where does Everything Dinosaur Come In?

With the emphasis on scientific knowledge, conceptual understanding and learning about scientific methods, dinosaurs as a term topic or part of a special science themed teaching week is a great way to engage young minds at Key Stage 1 and earlier.  As children tend to have a fascination with prehistoric animals, our dinosaur workshops help to introduce and reinforce learning objectives as outlined by the new curriculum.  Lower Key Stage 2 have to learn about fossils, how they are formed and what they tell us about the once living things that they represent.   As one of our colleagues declared “Mary Anning is on the curriculum” – great to see a female role model in science.

Older students  in Key Stage 3 and heading up to Key Stage 4 are being given the opportunity to study genetics, evolution and the work of such notable scientists as Darwin and Wallace.

Teachers and their support providers have been working hard to get to grips with this new “rigorous” curriculum.  We are aware that some of the teaching resources related to dinosaurs and fossils used in the past are in some cases out of date, or worse still inaccurate. Everything Dinosaur offers lots of free, downloadable prehistoric animal themed teaching resources from its bespoke teaching website, as well as helpful articles, tips, advice and the opportunity to invite our dinosaur experts into school.

To visit Everything Dinosaur’s teaching website: Everything Dinosaur’s Website For Schools

A Teaching Exercise – Our Hands versus the Hands of a Dinosaur

Examining Dinosaur Hands (Key Stage 2/3)

Examining Dinosaur Hands (Key Stage 2/3)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In terms of teaching resources, Everything Dinosaur team members have been advising learning support providers about all sorts of prehistoric animal related merchandise – from finger puppets to science kits.  All the resources we supply have been tested and reviewed by our own teaching team, there’s even free dinosaur fact sheets included as well.

Resources for schools: Teaching Resources for Schools

Here’s to that dedicated group of professionals who serve our school children so well and we wish all the students starting the new curriculum every success with their studies.

Palaeontologist versus Paleontologist

Palaeontologist v Paleontologist – What’s the Difference?

During our school visits to carry out dinosaur and fossil themed workshops we often get asked to help with various aspects of the teaching scheme of work.  Everything Dinosaur’s team members are happy to provide advice and to assist where they can.  We even send out lots of free teaching resources, lesson plans, activity ideas and learning aids related to fossils and prehistoric animals.  However, we do see a lot of other teaching resources, many of which have been downloaded from education company websites, that are inaccurate.  Some of these resources have cost money, thus depleting an already stretched teaching budget.  We try to do what we can to help out.

Everything Dinosaur Provides a Lot of Teaching Resources to Schools

So many events, so many activities, so many photographs.

So many events, so many activities, so many photographs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Today we will deal with a very simple point, the difference between “palaeontology” and “paleontology”.  We know that a number of the resources used by teachers and learning support providers (home educators too for that matter), are sourced from other countries, such as America.  Herein lies the confusion.   The word palaeontology is often seen in these resources (and elsewhere) with an “a” missing.  We have the term “palaeontologist” and also “paleontologist”.

So let’s start at the beginning – what is palaeontology or paleontology? 

Palaeontology or paleontology mean the same thing.  These words describe the branch of science that deals with the study of extinct animals and plants and their fossilised remains.  The word is derived from the Greek palaios which means “ancient”, a reference to prehistoric times.  Palaeontology (with an extra “a” added) is the term used in Britain and elsewhere in the world, whilst paleontology is the Americanised version of the word and it is customarily used in the USA.  Both words are interchangeable but most institutions tend to use one word rather than the other.  For example, Everything Dinosaur uses the term palaeontology, whilst the Chicago Field Museum (Illinois, USA) uses the word paleontology.  The dropping the “a” convention applies to all the sub-disciplines in this broad area of scientific study.

Common Terms in Palaeontology and Related Subjects

Palaeontology (UK) Paleontology (USA) - The study of extinct organisms and their fossils.
Palaeontologist (UK) Paleontologist (USA) - A person who studies extinct organisms and their fossils.
Vertebrate Palaeontologist (UK) Vertebrate Paleontologist (USA)  - The branch of palaeontology that studies animals with back bones.
Invertebrate Palaeontologist (UK) Invertebrate Paleontologist (USA) - The branch of palaeontology that studies animals without back bones.
Micropalaeontology (UK) Micropaleontology (USA) - The study of microscopic fossils (micro-fossils).
Palaeobotany (UK) Paleobotany (USA) - fossil plants; traditionally includes the study of fossil algae and fungi in addition to land plants.
Human Palaeontology (UK) Human Paleontology (USA) The study of prehistoric human and proto-human fossils.
Palaeoanthropology (UK) Paleoanthropology (USA) - As above (prehistoric human and proto-human fossils).
Palaeoecology (UK) Paleoecology (USA) - Ecology of extinct and prehistoric organisms.
Palaeoclimatology (UK) Paleoclimatology (USA) - The study of past climates.
Palaeogeography (UK) Paleogeography (USA) - Study of geographical features of the past.
Palaeomagnetism (UK) Paleomagnetism (USA) - Study of the magnetism remaining in rocks and related magnetic fields.

 Credit: Everything Dinosaur

So the terms palaeontology and paleontology are equally valid, but whilst working in schools and UK based museums we tend to use the terms with an extra “a”.

To learn more about Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools: Dinosaur and Fossil Workshops in Schools

Did Psittacosaurus Use Baby Sitters?

Palaeontologists Suggest Dinosaur Fossil Material Shows a “Creche” with Baby Sitter

A team of international researchers have re-examined a set of Psittacosaurus dinosaur fossils that come from the Lujiatun beds of the Yixian Formation in Liaoning, China.  The rock slab has preserved the fossilised remains of twenty-four young Psittacosaurs and one older individual.  It has been suggested that the fossil represents a group of hatchlings being looked after by an older animal.  Could this be evidence of a dinosaur “creche” with a “baby sitter”?

The paper on this new research has been published in the academic journal “Cretaceous Research”.  The international team included University of Pennsylvania based scientists Brandon P. Hedrick and Peter Dodson as well as researchers from China’s Dalian Museum of Natural History, where the rock slab is currently stored.  The fossil material was first described ten years ago, the block, which measures a little over sixty centimetres in length was discovered by an amateur palaeontologist, it is believed to date from around 120 million years ago (Aptian faunal stage of the Cretaceous).

Psittacosaurus is one of the most studied of all the dinosaurs.  A number of species have been assigned to the genus, it remains the most specious of all the Dinosauria, although some species have been described as nomen dubium following a recent review (2013).  Seen as a transitional form between the Ornithopods and the horned dinosaurs, Psittacosaurus is regarded as a basal member of the Marginocephalia.  Rarely exceeding two metres in length, fossils of this herbivorous dinosaur have been found in China, Russia and Thailand.

An Illustration of Psittacosaurus

A typical psittacosaurid.

A typical psittacosaurid.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Despite its spectacular appearance, the fossil material has only been briefly described, although the idea of a “dinosaur creche” has been proposed before.  The exact location of the discovery was never recorded, this hampered the international research team but as PhD student Brandon P. Hedrick stated:

“I saw a photo of it [the block] and instantly knew I wanted to explore it in more depth.”

Dalian Museum of Natural History Slab of Fossil Material

Is this evidence of a dinosaur creche with a baby sitter?

Is this evidence of a dinosaur creche with a baby sitter?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/University of Pennsylvania

In order to learn more about how these dinosaurs may have died, the orientation of their bodies was carefully studied.  Thin slivers of rock were examined under the microscope and further samples were subjected to X-ray diffraction.  The analyses suggested that the matrix was composed of volcanic material, indicating that these prehistoric animals were caught in a flow of material as a result of a volcanic eruption.  Since all the fossils were orientated in the same plane, the position of the fossils supports this idea that all these dinosaurs were engulfed in a flow.

As the fossilised bones showed no scorch marks or signs of heat damage, the researchers concluded that the flow was unlikely to be pyroclastic in nature.

Hedrick added:

“If they were captured in a flow, the long axis, their spines, would be orientated in the same direction.  That was what we found.  They were likely trapped by a flow.”

It is likely the flow was some sort of lahar – a mixture of water, mud, rock and other debris associated with volcanic eruptions.

Since no egg shell material has been found, it is believed that the twenty-four fossils represent a group of hatched dinosaurs.  The larger skull was found in close association with the fossil material, it is likely that this larger Psittacosaurus perished at the same time as the younger animals.  All the Psittacosaurs have been assigned to the same species Psittacosaurus lujiatunensis, the skull probably belonged to an immature adult, one not old enough to breed, so the researchers have hypothesised that this was an older sibling helping to care for its younger brothers and sisters.

Family members helping out to raise the following year’s brood is a type of behaviour found in a number of bird species.  It has been estimated that around 8% of all, extant bird species are involved in some form of co-operative breeding in which other family members help to raise young.  This behaviour is found in many types of song bird and the crow family for example.  The scientists emphasise that this material cannot be regarded as a dinosaur “nest”.

Hedrick explained:

“It certainly seems like it might be a nest, but we were not able to satisfy the intense criteria to say definitely that it is.  It is just as important to point out what we don’t know for sure as it is to say what we are more certain of.”

The scientists hope to continue their work by focusing on the micro-structure of the fossilised bones of the smaller dinosaurs to establish whether they were all at the same stage of development.  If this is found to be the case, this would support the theory that this rock slab represents the preserved remains of one clutch or brood of animals.

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.”

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