All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//June
20 06, 2008

Dinosaur Cookie Cutters

By | June 20th, 2008|Everything Dinosaur Products, Press Releases|0 Comments

Dinosaur Cookie Cutters – Make Dinosaur Shaped Biscuits and Snacks

Ideal for making Tyrannosaurus rex or Triceratops shaped snacks for dinosaur parties, a strong, sturdy set of dinosaur shaped cookie cutters, great for baking, school projects or even for cutting out shapes when working with clay.  A metal dinosaur shaped cookie cutter set, ideal for young, hungry palaeontologists!   The set includes four super prehistoric animal shaped biscuit cutters – T. rex, Triceratops,  the long-necked Diplodocus and a super plated Stegosaurus.

Make Meal Times into Dinosaur Times
Dinosaur Cookie Cutters ideal for a dinosaur party!

Dinosaur Cookie Cutters ideal for a dinosaur party!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Just what you need to make your dinosaur party a “roaring” success.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s huge range of dinosaur party items:  Dinosaur Party Supplies

19 06, 2008

European Champions for Prehistoric Animal Genera – How did we do?

By | June 19th, 2008|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Is the number of Prehistoric Animal Genera a good Guide to National Football Team Performance?

At the start of the 2008 European Football championships some of the team members at Everything Dinosaur conducted a quick analysis of the sixteen countries taking part to ascertain whether the number of prehistoric animal genera recorded within a country would act as a guide to football team performance.

No in-depth analysis of the actual number of genera recorded was carried out, most of the countries playing in the football tournament have had far more genera recorded from palaeontological finds from their countries than we stated.  Team members merely used what data they could find from the office files one evening, as a very crude and general guide.  The number of genera was weighted in accordance with the size of the country concerned; (it was felt appropriate to do this, as how else where we able to compare the likes of Croatia and Austria with Russia for example).  For extra spice, we also factored in the number of mentions a participating country had had within our own web log.

Based on this analysis, we produced a ranking table, listing the expected position of each nation based on the statistical data provided.

To view the first article and summary table: European Champions for Prehistoric Animal Genera

With the group games now concluded and the quarter finalists determined, it is a good time to review our data to see how accurate our predictions were.  According to our study, Germany should win the tournament, beating France in the final (countries ranked one and two respectively in our analysis).  It is true that Germany have made the last eight, unfortunately France have been knocked out, indeed the French finished bottom of their group.

The top ranked teams, according to this analysis are listed below along with their tournament record:

National Team Performance at Quarter Finals Stage (2008 European Championships)

Rank Country Performance
1 Germany Quarter finalist
2 France Knocked out
3 Spain Quarter finalist
4 Russia Quarter finalist
5 Portugal Quarter finalist
6 Greece Knocked out
7 Switzerland Knocked out
8 Sweden Knocked out
9 Turkey Quarter finalist
10 Poland Knocked out
11 Italy Quarter finalist
12 Romania Knocked out
13 Holland Quarter finalist
14 Czech Republic Knocked out
15 Austria Knocked out
16 Croatia Quarter finalist

Data Source: Everything Dinosaur

It seems that using this rather bizarre methodology, four out of the eight teams that have made the quarter finals have been predicted correctly.  In essence, had we picked 8 countries at random, we statistically would have had a chance of predicting half of them correctly, so without having to conduct Chi squared tests or indeed subjecting our work to a more rigorous analysis we can conclude that prehistoric animal genera does not seem to have an impact on a football team’s performance.

However, Germany, the country ranked number one in our survey could still win the Championship.

18 06, 2008

Dinosaur “Log jam” Discovered in the Morrison Formation of Utah

By | June 18th, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

New Dinosaur Quarry unveiled – a chance to meet up with old Friends

An expedition hoping to find specimens for a Chicago museum have hit the jackpot with the discovery of a vast number of jumbled up dinosaur bones in an ancient river system outside of Hanksville, Utah in the USA.

The researchers, representing the Burpee Museum of Natural History, had been hoping to find specimens for the museum’s new display centre which is currently under construction.  This new discovery will give them plenty of options, as so far, six types of dinosaur have been identified along with a number of other important finds that provide a detailed picture of the western North American landscape in the late Jurassic.

It seems the team have uncovered a “log jam”, a series of fossils that represent the aftermath of a single flood event (or perhaps numerous floods), with drowned animals being washed down stream and ending up in part of a river system with more flood debris including trees and other plant material.   The site is then gradually covered over with sediments and preserved as fossils, providing a remarkable insight into the fauna and flora of this part of the world approximately 148 million years ago.

These “log jams” can provide palaeontologists with a tremendous amount of information about a particular ecosystem, as a vast amount of fossil material is uncovered.  This new site includes numerous dinosaur remains, some of the bones are articulated but the majority are scattered and jumbled up.  Amongst the fossil bones are the fossilised remains of conifers, so well preserved that the texture of the bark can still be made out along with growth rings on the broken branches and trunks.  These pieces probably created a natural dam which enabled the collection of all the carcases of animals caught in the floods to be washed up together in the same area.  Dendrochronologists (scientists who study the growth rings of timber), should be able to obtain climate data from the fossilised wood.  Wide growth rings followed by narrow growth rings would indicate distinct seasons, such as a wet season with rapid growth followed by a dry season with limited tree growth.  This site could help provide further information on life in the late Jurassic (Tithonian faunal stage).

These log jam sites are very important to palaeontologists, because of the wealth of data they contain, although such finds are rare, when they do occur they permit scientists a unique access to ancient worlds.

To read about the discovery of a similar site (but dating from the Cretaceous period), in Argentina: Giant Dinosaur Discovered in Cretaceous “Lost World”

This new quarry is within the Dinosaur National Monument Park, an area protected by the U.S. National Parks Service, an area that is one of the most important sites in the world for dinosaur fossils.  The National Monument site was established in 1915 by Presidential decree, and much of what we know about dinosaurs such as Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, Allosaurus, Camptosaurus and Dryosaurus is due to fossil discoveries made in this area.

This part of Utah was first recognised as being scientifically important in 1909, when an almost complete Apatosaurus skeleton was discovered by an expedition from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).  Between 1909 and 1923 the site was continually excavated and approximately 350 tonnes of fossil bones were removed, providing the backbone (no pun intended), of most of the world’s Jurassic dinosaur fossil collections.

Commenting on the discovery, Matt Bonnan an associate professor of biological sciences at Western Illinois University stated:

What’s exciting is that it’s the first time in a long time where we have logjams of bones of a different species in one place” .

For Matt, this will give him an opportunity to study more Sauropod fossils including Apatosaurus, Diplodocus (Diplodocids) and the more heavily built Macronaria, a clade of Sauropods that includes the Brachiosaurids and Camarasaurids.  The name Macronaria, literally means “big nostrils”, a reference to the distinctive box-like skulls of these huge dinosaurs, where the naris (hole in the skull for the nostrils) is bigger than the orbits (the hole in the skull for the eyeballs).  It is thought that these large nostrils were filled with moist membranes that would have cooled the brain as these animals wandered around the hot Jurassic landscape.

The area of land around the town of Hanksville has been known as a source of fossils to locals and land managers for years, but it was only in the last few weeks that its potential impact to science became apparent.  Amateur fossil hunters had picked over the site but no extensive excavations had taken place thus leaving those fossils below ground in pristine condition.  The Bureau of Land Management intends to close the site to the public to permit a proper scientific excavation to take place.

It is hoped that the Burpee group will provide more information on some already well known dinosaurs such as the meat-eater Allosaurus, plus the herbivores Stegosaurus and Camptosaurus.  Elements of a Brachiosaurid type fossil have already been recovered.  Despite being a very well known dinosaur, remains of these animals in the Morrison Formation are very rare.  The only virtually complete skeleton of a Brachiosaurus was found in Tanzania, it is on display at the Humboldt Museum of Berlin.  This animal has been reclassified as a different type of Brachiosaur by some scientists and re-named Giraffatitan, although this re-working of the evidence has yet to gain universal approval and most palaeontologists refer to the Humboldt specimen as a Brachiosaurus.  Perhaps the Brachiosaur remains at the Hanksville site will give scientists a rare opportunity to compare the African and North America types of Brachiosaur.

A Typical Model of a Brachiosaur

Brachiosaurus replica (Bullyland of Germany)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the model of Brachiosaurus: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

The fossil area is approximately half a mile in diameter and probably represents a sandbar deposit upon which all these organic remains came to rest.  Whether this marks a single flood event or a gradual build up of debris in one area over a number of years has yet to be determined.  One thing is for sure, this new site will help cement the Morrison Formation as one of the most important Mesozoic sites of all and provide fresh insight into well-known dinosaurs, but relatively poorly researched animals such as the North American Brachiosaurids.

 “We will be able to take a look at old bones with new eyes and new techniques,” Bonnan commented. “In the old days they looked for the best specimens for display. What we tend to be interested in nowadays when you have a log jam is what it can tell you about the flow of the river system and about the ancient environment.” 

It is sometimes difficult for the public to appreciate how little is still known about famous dinosaurs such as Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus for example.  Although scientific techniques have improved and new fossils found, there is still so much more to learn about these amazing creatures.  A point that is all too often overlooked when the likes of “Walking with Dinosaurs” a ground breaking BBC TV documentary series featured the animals of the Morrison Formation in episode two of the series -“Time of the Titans”.

17 06, 2008

Ancient Fish Found in Scottish Quarry

By | June 17th, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

Devonian Fossil Fish Found in Scottish Quarry

A Scottish fossil fish that dates from the Devonian period has been unearthed in a disused flagstone quarry.  The fish which has been identified as belonging to the genus named Actinolepis had not been known from UK strata before this discovery.  Actinolepis was a Placoderm (the name means “plated skins”).  Placoderms were a class of jawed fish, protected by dermal armour around the head and front of the body.  Originating sometime in the Ordovician, the group flourished throughout the Devonian but disappeared from the fossil record around 354 million years ago.  The Placoderms were one of the classes of vertebrates that went extinct at the end of the Devonian period.

The only other example of an Actinolepis was found in Devonian strata in Estonia, making this Scottish fossil an important discovery.

During the Devonian period (approximately 417-354 million years ago), the landmasses that were to become North America, Scandinavia and Europe were joined together.  The Eastern part of this super-continent was called Baltica, a mountain ridge had formed when continental plates had collided together (Laurentia colliding with Baltica to form a landmass called by many scientists – Euroamerica).  Water draining from these uplands formed a huge, freshwater lake in the low lying areas of barren land between the mountains and the sea.  This lake is called Lake Orcadie and at its peak it covered the land now occupied by Shetland, the Orkney, Caithness, the Moray coast and across to Norway.  The lake seems to have existed for hundreds of thousands of years and during this time it went through a series of expansions and reductions in volume.

The lake contained a diverse variety of fish genera, with many of the fish being found as fossils in the quarry at Achanarras in Caithness, from which this new Placoderm fossil was extracted.  The quarry is now managed by Scottish Natural Heritage, so far sixteen different types of prehistoric fish fossil have been found at the site, including Agnathans (jawless fish).  It is not only fossil fish that makes this site so interesting fossils of many invertebrates that shared this watery world with the fish have also been found including fossils of Eurypterids (sea-scorpions).

The Rare Actinolepis Fossil

Picture Credit: Scottish Natural Heritage

This latest discovery was officially unveiled by Aberdeen-based palaeontologist Nigel Trewin, who has been visiting the Achanarras quarry for more than 35 years. Professor Trewin, with colleague Mike Newman, has published details of this find in the Scottish Journal of Geology.

The actual fossil was found by an amateur collector, however, it was soon realised that this was an unusual and important find.  Professor Trewin believed the fish, which had large pectoral fins, would have been a bottom feeder. Commenting on the demise of the Placoderms, he said: “I’m afraid there are no modern relatives of this one, unlike some of the other finds which have been made here.”

The Placoderms are one group of vertebrates that died out, in what has become known as the Devonian mass extinction, a mass extinction event that devastated many marine families of fish, especially those that lived on tropical reefs.

16 06, 2008

Part of the Dinosaur Mummy ready for Display

By | June 16th, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Dakota the Dinosaur Mummy goes on Display

The arm and tail of a rare mummified dinosaur that has been heralded as one of the most amazing dinosaur discoveries ever made have gone on display in North Dakota’s state museum.  The dinosaur, believed to be a type of duck-billed dinosaur called an Edmontosaurus (nick-named Dakota), has been fossilised with a remarkable degree of detailed preservation, including skin and other soft body tissues.

At the unveiling of the first parts of the skeleton to go on display, the audience were able to examine one of the arms and the tail of this huge, plant-eater that roamed Dakota approximately 67 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian faunal stage).

The team at Everything Dinosaur first reported on this fantastic fossil in 2007, when the first detailed reports became available: Dinosaur Mummy unlocks Duck-Billed Dinosaur Secrets

Commenting on the Hadrosaurine fossil, Dr Phil Manning, a palaeontologist at Manchester University and one of the international team of researchers working on the project said:

“It is a fascinating fossil, and it’s one which we’re going to be disinterring secrets from … for many years to come”.

When members of the public see the huge reconstructions of dinosaur skeletons within museums, many get the wrong impression, believing that dinosaur fossils must be relatively common.  This is simply not true, even fossils of some of the most diverse and numerous types of dinosaur, such as dinosaurs from the Hadrosauridae (the Duck-Billed dinosaurs) are exceptionally rare.  Despite having ranged over much of the northern hemisphere in the Late Cretaceous only a few hundred Hadrosaur fossils are known and the vast majority of these do not represent articulated fossils.  Dinosaur bones are extremely rare and to find the mummified remains of a dinosaur is exceptional.  Only a handful of mummified dinosaurs have ever been discovered.  For young Tyler Lyson, currently completing his Doctorate in Palaeontology at Yale University, who discovered the dinosaur remains on his uncle’s ranch back in 1999, the unveiling permits him to share his amazing discovery with a larger audience.  Up until now only the researchers and one or two privileged individuals were allowed to gaze upon this dinosaur, still partially encased in a sandstone block.

This Hadrosaur, when it died was buried very quickly by fine sediment and this has preserved parts of the soft body tissue, the dinosaur’s skin scales have even been preserved on parts of the skeleton.  How much of the fossil has been recovered has still to be determined as much of the animal is still entombed in a large sandstone block that will take the research teams many years to prepare.

The tail and arm have been extracted from a smaller sandstone block, the larger block, which contains the rest of the fossil has undergone a CAT scan to determine its contents but the stone matrix is very solid and the block so big that the data produced is still being analysed.  It is not clear for example whether the skull of the animal has been preserved.

Fossilised Skin of “Dakota” the Edmontosaurus

Picture Credit: Xinhua/Reuters

The picture was taken at the dig site and shows the remarkable degree of preservation of the fossilised skin, individual scales can be clearly seen.

“It’s certainly drawing a lot of attention to North Dakota,” commented state palaeontologist John Hoganson, a member of the North Dakota Geological Survey.  He went on:  “we know people are going to be coming in from all over the country and world to see this”.

It has been estimated that another $100,000 would be required to complete the work of extracting the fossil from its matrix.  Already the likes of the National Geographic Society has funded the project to the sum of approximately $200,000 but at this stage a definite cost for the work to be carried out cannot be calculated.  Since the scientists are not exactly sure what the sandstone block actually contains, any funding costs at this stage are merely estimates.  A spokes person for the research team who helped remove the arm and the tail estimated that it could take more than a year to reveal the rest of the skeleton.

It is hoped that when the project has been completed Dakota will go on a world wide tour of museums, probably starting with Japan, before finally going on permanent display in the state after which it was named.

To read more about this fossil: Update on Dakota – the recently discovered Hadrosaurine Mummy

15 06, 2008

A Maternal Mammoth

By | June 15th, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Did Woolly Mammoths make Good Mothers?

With the many fossils of Woolly Mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) and the ancestral type Mammuthus meridionalis, plus the opportunity to observe modern elephant species, scientists have built up a detailed picture of the lives of Woolly Mammoths.  Well preserved frozen carcases from Siberia and other remarkable finds have enabled researchers to piece together a picture of what it must have been like to be a Mammoth in the Pleistocene, wandering the extensive, grassy plains of northern Europe.

Daniel Fisher of the Michigan University has pioneered a method of determining the age of Mammoths at death by analysing cross sections of the tusk.  It seems that Mammoths could live to about the age of sixty, a lifespan slightly shorter than the African and Asian elephants.  Like modern elephant species they lived in a sophisticated, highly structured social hierarchy.  The females and young animals lived in herds together, with perhaps a matriarch figure, the oldest female in the group acting as leader.  Mature bulls lived a solitary existence, coming into contact with females only to mate.  Younger males may have formed small herds, gathering together for protection from predators such as Dire wolves and Sabre-tooth cats.

Competition for mates was probably a common site when the females came into season.  One Mammoth fossil found in Nebraska comprises two skulls locked together by their curling tusks, the combatants, probably males must have become entangled during a fight and then unable to separate themselves.  They must have died a slow and lingering death from starvation.

As with most mammal species adapted to northern climates, mating probably occurred in the Summer months.  With a twenty-two month gestation period, a female Mammoth that conceived in July would give birth in the next May but one, allowing the calves to have a few months of warm, mild weather before the winter and any migration that was undertaken.  Having a calf in the Spring would also benefit the Mammoth mothers as they would have plenty of new grazing to help them produce the milk required for their offspring.  A single calf would be born, and this calf would probably depend on it’s mother’s milk for at least two years.  The calf being dependent on the mother coupled with the long gestation period would have meant that mature females would only have been able to breed once every four years.

A Mother and Calf Woolly Mammoth

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Mammoths in the picture are models from the Schleich Prehistoric Mammals series.  These are 1:20 scale models of Pleistocene age mammals which are now extinct.  In recognition of the maternal instincts of Mammoths, the Everything Dinosaur team supply the adult Mammoth model and the baby as a set.

To view the Mammoth and baby model set: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

Many large mammals produce just a single calf and dedicate a lot of resources into nurturing their offspring.  This strategy is effective so long as the adult population does not decline.  As has been seen with African elephants, if there is much predation of adult animals, as with poaching for example, then the population can crash dramatically.

Some researchers have claimed that Mammoths would look after each other and orphaned calves would be fostered.  There is also some fossil evidence to suggest that Mammoths like modern elephants were reluctant to abandon a dead or dying member of their group.  Offspring off both sexes probably stayed in the female herd until about 10-12 years of age, before the males moved on to form bachelor groups.

14 06, 2008

Real Life “Jurassic Park” not too Far Away

By | June 14th, 2008|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, TV Reviews|0 Comments

TV Documentary Explores Dinosaur Genome

A TV programme being shown for the first time in the UK (Discovery Channel over the weekend) aims to demonstrate steps taken by scientists to bring Dinosaurs back to life.  The programme to be shown on the Discovery Channel is entitled,  “Dinosaurs: Return to Life”; highlights the work done to date to explore and identify the DNA signature of Dinosauria.

A team of scientists from Montana State University, a part of the Western USA with geology dating form the Age of Reptiles, aim to unlock the secrets of the dinosaur genetic code and if they are ultimately successful this could lead to the creation of dinosaurs once again.  The Jurassic Park, of the Michael Crichton novel would become a reality.  The progress the team have made on this remarkable project will be revealed in the TV documentary, receiving its premier in the UK.  The question is posed; will scientists be able to reverse an extinction and ever be able to resurrect a dinosaur?

For Jack Horner, a professor of palaeontology at Montana State University and one of the consultants on the Jurassic Park films, the answer is a definite yes.

Professor Horner commented: “Of course we can bring them back to life. Their ancestral DNA is still present.  The science is there. I don’t think there are any barriers, other than the philosophical.”

As genetic research has developed over the last twenty years or so, there have been numerous attempts to unravel the genetic make-up of a number of organisms.  Professor Raul Cano, professor of microbiology at California Polytechnic State University, attempted to extract DNA from the preserved remains of insects trapped in amber.  The Californian team claimed that they had extracted strands of DNA from a 40 million year old bee.  In a similar programme of research at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, a group of scientists claimed that they had extracted the DNA from a fossilised termite.

However, the initial results could not be replicated and it is now thought that the samples had been contaminated with modern DNA.  Attempts have been made to recover genetic material from frozen Siberian Mammoths and from fossil Neanderthal bones, but to resurrect a dinosaur, scientists will need to be able to recover DNA from a fossil of an animal at least 65 million years old.

Many scientists believe that DNA being an organic substance would not be able to last 10,000 years under ideal preservation conditions, so finding valid dinosaur DNA would be impossible.  However, both American and Russian teams claim that they have discovered fossils that have permitted the extraction of dinosaur proteins.  This could lead to a breakthrough in this form of genetic research.  The Russian team claim to have extracted proteins from a Ceratopsian (horned dinosaur) and identified it to be similar in structure to the DNA of an ostrich.  This would be somewhat expected as birds are thought to be close relatives of dinosaurs.  Indeed, some palaeontologists have speculated that the Dinosauria clade should be re-classified along avian and non-avian forms.

Work by Hans Larsson, a palaeontologist at McGill University in Canada, has begun to unravel the links between the birds and dinosaurs.  He conducted an experiment in November 2007 into the evolution from the long tail of dinosaurs into the short, stubby tails of birds.  Advanced birds, such as the Ornithothoraces and the modern Neornithes have a much reduced tail structure.  This is called the pygostyle and it consists of the last five tail vertebrae fused together into a plate of bone.  The anatomy of the tail is one of the diagnostic characteristics that scientists use to differentiate between birds and Maniraptoran dinosaurs such as Velociraptor.  If a tail is found to contain less than 25 caudal vertebrae then this feature is used to help classify this organism as a bird.

Archaeopteryx for example had this shortened tail and so it is classified with the Aves clade.

A Picture of Archaeopteryx (Ancient Wing)

Archaeopteryx model

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture of Archaeopteryx is a 1:5 scale model from the Museum Line range and other dinosaur models: Dinosaur Toys for Girls for Boys – Dinosaurs

Working with chicken embryos that were no more than 48-hours old, the McGill University team discovered that there were 16 vertebrae developing in the embryonic spine, effectively evidence of a reptilian tail.  As the embryo developed the “tail” became shorter and shorter, until the young bird hatched with just the five vertebrae of a modern bird (Neornithes).

Larsson and his team claim that this research indicates that the blueprint for a dinosaur remains dormant within the genetic make-up of birds.  Taking their study further, the team have hatched mutant chicks with three extra vertebrae, providing evidence that they have been able to partially switch back on dormant genetic processes.

A group of researchers from the University of Wisconsin have also been attempting to manipulate the genome of chickens, not an easy task when it is considered that chickens have 78 chromosomes compared to just 46 in humans.  Although the number of chromosomes does not seem to be related to the complexity of the organism, it is more directly related to the time a species has existed, with older species accumulating more chromosomes.

This American team attempted to turn on the processes for constructing teeth within the beaks of chickens.  Early birds had teeth, but just like their long tails, they evolved toothless beaks in order to lose weight so that this would assist with flight.  The team have reported some success, with embryos producing a form of dentition similar to the teeth of embryonic Alligators, another indication of the close relationship between Crocodilians, Aves and Dinosauria.

Professor Horner and his fellow scientists have speculated that within 100 years the knowledge and the techniques will be available to produce a dinosaur from a bird embryo – a sort of deconstructing one advanced Theropod to produce a Dinosaur.

Whether or not this is the right ethical approach has yet to be debated, after all, look what happened in the Jurassic Park movie!

13 06, 2008

Happy Birthday Diplodocus

By | June 13th, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

The 130th Anniversary of the Naming of Diplodocus

Diplodocus one of the best known of all the dinosaurs, a regular entry in the annual Everything Dinosaur survey of children’s most popular prehistoric animals, was named in 1878.  This year marks the 130th anniversary of the naming of this long-necked Sauropod.  A number of species of Diplodocus are now recognised, indeed recently the single specimen of the huge Seismosaurus has been reclassified by some palaeontologists as a Diplodocus (D. hallorum).

To read more about this: The Demise of Seismosaurus

Diplodocus means “double beam”, the name is derived from the unusual shape of the bones on the underside of the tail.  These bones, called chevrons, in most dinosaurs are simple V-shaped structures, but with Diplodocus the chevrons are striking and unusual.  They are shaped like side-on letter Ts, projecting both forwards and to the rear, as to their precise function, this remains unclear.  However, scientists now believe that Diplodocus held its tail straight out behind it, lifted off the ground.

Diplodocus owes much of its fame to the 19th Century American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.  He funded a number of expeditions to collect dinosaur fossils in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  He was one of the principals behind the funding of the Natural History museum of Pittsburgh, named the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in his honour.  When an almost complete skeleton of a Diplodocus was unearthed in the USA, he commissioned 11 casts of the massive skeleton and donated them to museums all over the world – including the Natural History Museum in London.

This species of Diplodocus – D. carnegii was named in recognition of Mr Carnegie’s services to science.   In the late 1980’s new studies into Diplodocid anatomy concluded that the long tail was held off the ground.  This rethink over the Diplodocus stance and posture led to a revision in museum displays.  The graceful 87½ feet long skeleton had to be reconstructed, depicting the tail raised off the ground.  This work was undertaken in 1994.  The Carnegie Diplodocus dominates the main entrance and hallway of the Natural History museum.

Further Diplodocus finds from the Western USA led American palaeontologist Steven Czerkas to propose that there may have been a row of spines running down the back and tail of Diplodocus, but this theory is controversial.

This explains one of the dilemmas facing model makers when they come to reconstruct Diplodocus.  Some manufacturers have chosen to produce a Diplodocid with spines, such as the Natural History Museum model (seen below).

Natural History Museum Diplodocus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In this model, Diplodocus is depicted with spines running from over the sacral vertebrae down to the tip of the tail.  The animal’s colours have been inspired by elephantine colouration, dark, mottled greys.

To view the model: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

In contrast, the American company Safari, took a very different approach.  In their larger 1:30 scale model of Diplodocus, introduced this year, partly to mark the anniversary of the naming of this Dinosaur, the animal is depicted without spines.

Safari Carnegie Diplodocus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This particular model of a Diplodocus has been coloured differently in contrast to the British influenced and designed Diplodocid.  The head area has been given a flash of blue, perhaps indicating that the head and neck could have been used to send signals to other animals within the herd.

To view this model: Dinosaur Models – Dinosaur Toys

12 06, 2008

Potential New Dinosaur Species from British Columbia

By | June 12th, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Potential New Dinosaur Discovered in British Columbia

Most people imagine that new species of dinosaur are discovered in some remote, desolate part of the world.  Indeed, this is often the case, excavations in the outback of Australia, up mountains in Antarctica and the deserts of China have all yielded evidence of dinosaurs new to science.   Sometimes a new, as yet undescribed dinosaur can be literally under the noses of the scientists, yet can go unnoticed.

A previously unknown dinosaur may have been discovered after a set of fossilised bones in storage at the Royal British Columbia Museum were re-examined by a group of palaeontologists.

The group of just seven bones, believed to represent a single individual were discovered in northern British Columbia in 1971, but they have only recently been studied in detail and the conclusion drawn is that these bones represent an unknown species.

The fossils were found by geologist Kenny Flyborg Larsen, searching for uranium deposits near the confluence of Birdflat Creek and the Sustut river, north-east of the small town of Terrace in British Columbia.  An area more associated with fine fishing than with dinosaur discoveries.  The partial skeleton is believed to be approximately 70 million years old (Maastrichtian faunal stage of the late Cretaceous), although more precise dating cannot be made as no record of the exact location of the discovery exists so the sediments in which they were deposited are not known.

Larsen kept the fossils until 2004, deciding to donate them to Dalhousie University’s Earth Sciences department.  The fossils were moved to the Royal British Columbia Museum in 2006.  This gave University of Alberta palaeontologist Victoria Arbour and her co-author of the paper on these fossilised bones, Milton Graves, a scientist from Dalhousie University the chance to study them.  The authors conclude in their findings published in the latest edition of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, that these bones belonged to as yet undescribed bird-hipped dinosaur, an Ornithischian dinosaur.

Commenting on her research, Victoria stated:  

“There are similarities with two other kinds of dinosaurs, although there’s also an arm bone we’ve never seen before. The Sustut dinosaur may be a new species, but we won’t know for sure until more fossils can be found. It’s very distinct from other dinosaurs that were found at the same time in southern Alberta.”

University of Alberta Palaeontologist Victoria Arbour Prepares the Fossils

Picture Credit: University of Alberta Handout

She hopes to lead an expedition to the discovery site in search of more evidence.

Other dinosaur finds have been made in British Columbia. in the past three decades, but the area is not as famous for Late Cretaceous dinosaurs as the neighbouring state of Alberta.  However, there may be many more exciting dinosaurs awaiting discovery in the rugged country of British Columbia.  A number of trace fossils (footprints) of dinosaurs have been discovered at a number of sites in the state but the the belated documenting of the 1971 find could make these fossil bones the first dinosaur body fossil ever discovered in British Columbia, the authors note.

In a statement released by the University of Alberta, the seven bones consisting of leg material, arm, toe and possible skull bones resemble bones from a small, bipedal, herbivore.  For the moment, these remains have been classified as Ornithischian, the same Order as the horned dinosaurs such as Torosaurus and Triceratops and the Hadrosaurs such as Edmontosaurus.

The researchers have tentatively named this British Columbian dinosaur Cerapoda incertae sedis, a nomen nudum, as the authors comment that the name may be altered “pending the discovery of additional diagnostic material.”

A nomen nudum is a name given to an organism by scientists that has not yet formally been described and for which no holotype (a specimen upon which the first description of the organism is based), has been formerly designated.

So new species of dinosaur can come to light when examining the fossils already found and stored within museums and other institutions.  The British Columbia case is not unusual, a number of new exciting discoveries have been made when fossils have been re-examined.  For example, the discovery of a new type of long-necked dinosaur (Sauropod) when fossil vertebrae were studied in detail at the Natural History Museum in London.

To read about the London discovery: Where is the best place to find a new Dinosaur? In a museum collection!

11 06, 2008

Australian Dinosaur Bone Questions accepted Theory on Break up of Gondwana

By | June 11th, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

Dinosaur Discovery “Knocks” Continental Drift

A new interpretation of a fossilised arm bone of an Australian dinosaur has brought into focus the on-going debate about the break up of the southern super-continent Gondwanaland.

In a paper published in the scientific journal “The Proceedings of the Royal Society”, Nathan Smith of the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois, argues that a single fossilised dinosaur bone found in Australia links this country to South America.  Dating of the fossil indicates that Australia may have still been connected to the rest of the southern super-continent of Gondwanaland much later in the Cretaceous than first thought.

Conventional scientific theory states that the land mass in the southern hemisphere, known as Gondwana or Gondwanaland began to break up during the Cretaceous period.  The land that was to form South America, Africa, India, Antarctica and Australia began to split apart under the impact of continental plate forces.

Australia remained attached to Antarctica until approximately 95 million years ago, until the start of the formation of the south-east Indian ridge (a mid-ocean spreading ridge), began to tear these two landmasses apart.  As new ocean floor was created at this ridge, Australia was gradually separated from other areas of land and pushed northwards, towards its present position.

However, in the Field Museum study, a single bone, identified as coming from a dinosaur called a Megaraptor (the name means “big thief”), questions the accepted theory on the timing of the break up of Gondwana.  If the interpretation by the Chicago team is validated, this sheds new light on the origin of Australian dinosaurs and may indicate that land bridges existed between Australia and other parts of the splintering southern continent.

The single bone, an ulna (one of two bones in the forearm) has been dated to approximately 110 million years ago, it shows a striking similarity to the ulna of a Megaraptor, a large carnivorous dinosaur known exclusively from South America.

This study has suggested that Australia remained connected to the rest of Gondwanaland far later than originally thought and may help explain the diverse fauna and flora of Australia in the late Cretaceous.

Commenting on his paper, Smith stated: “It doesn’t rewrite the biogeographic history of the early Cretaceous in Australia, but it adds an important well-constrained data point showing a South American connection”.

The unnamed Australian fossil is about 50% of the size of the corresponding bone in Megaraptor fossils, unearthed in Argentina, but it is not clear if the animal was a juvenile or an adult of a smaller related species. Such ontogenic information is difficult to infer from a single fossil bone.  The fossil has been dated to approximately 110 million years ago (Albian faunal stage), the fossils of Megaraptor from Argentina are dated to the Cenemanian faunal stage, some 20 million years later than the Australian fossil.

Professor Pat Vickers-Rich of Monash University, Victoria, casts doubts upon the Chicago study.  Professor Vickers-Rich has worked extensively on the Dinosaur fossils found at the famous Dinosaur Cove and East Gippsland sites in Victoria state.  Along with her husband Tom, Professor Vickers-Rich has been responsible for the naming of a number of new Australian dinosaur genera.  As to this new American assessment of Australia dinosaur origins she commented that Smith’s group were “pushing the envelope”, implying that they were trying to infer too much information from a single, isolated bone.

Yet Smith and his team take their case even further suggesting that the Australian bone tips the scales in the debate over Megaraptor’s closest relatives – shifting the evidence towards another group of carnivores, the Spinosauridae.

The south American fossils of Megaraptor have a rather interesting history themselves.  The first fossils of Megaraptor were described in 1998, the animal being identified as a Dromaeosaur due to the large 30 cm long, highly re-curved claw found.  This was first interpreted as being a sickle-like toe claw typical of the raptors.  However, the discovery a complete hand in 2003 proved that the claw belonged to the first phalanx (thumb claw).  A large thumb claw is a characteristic of Baryonychids which are believed to be the ancestors of the later Spinosaurs.  Hence the conclusions draw by Smith and his colleagues from the study of the ulna found in Australia.

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