All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
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10 06, 2008

Evidence of Interpersonal Violence in Neolithic Europe – Fighting over the Girls

By | June 10th, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Stone Age Tribes may have fought over Women as well as Resources

Stories of conflicts and wars being fought over women are common place in most cultures and societies.  The story of Helen of Troy is a typical example, but now new research indicates that fights over women may have taken place in Neolithic times.

A new study published this week in the journal Antiquity, may indicate that men executed rivals in order to steal women from neighbouring tribes.  In the research into interpersonal violence during the Neolithic of Northwest Europe, the researchers examined the teeth of 34 skeletons found in burial pit in Talheim, southwestern Germany.  The pit was discovered in the 1980s and although the human remains had been studied previously, this research team was interested in uncovering the tribal relationships between the people who had been buried there 7,000 years ago.

The research, led by the Anthropology Department of Durham University, in co-operation with scientists from the University College London, Wisconsin University and a local German organisation, examined the teeth of the 34 skeletons found in the burial pit.  Strontium, carbon and oxygen isotopes extracted from the ancient teeth, provide information on the person’s geological origin and diet.

The genetic evidence gathered indicates that these were the remains of people killed in a fight between two rival tribes.  The 34 people came from three groups – locals, cattle-herders and a “family” of a man, woman and two young children.

Within the group identified as being local to the area, there were only men and children, indicating that the women in this group were spared.  Adult female skeletons were found amongst the “immigrants”, perhaps these are the remains of some of the aggressors, women who took part in the attack.  The scientists have concluded that the absence of local females in the burial pit showed they were captured instead, and that could have been the primary motivation for this violent attack.

Lead author Dr Alex Bentley from Durham University’s Anthropology Department said: “It seems this community was specifically targeted, as could happen in a cycle of revenge between rival groups.”

Dr Bentley commented further: “Although resources and population were undoubtedly factors in central Europe around that time, women appear to be the immediate reason for the attack. Our analysis points to the local women being regarded as somehow special and were therefore kept alive.”

The research was funded primarily by the Leverhulme Trust, with support from the National Science Foundation.  This is part of wider research studying the history of interpersonal violence within Neolithic communities of North-western Europe.

Many local police forces are called in when fights break out on a Saturday night, often  the cause of the dispute is an argument over girls, it seems our ancestors may also have fought over women.  The archaeological findings from this study for the first time strongly suggest violence took place over mates as early as prehistoric times.

The skeletons from the mass grave in Talheim, were all buried in a single pit of three metres long. The deliberateness of the prehistoric attack was first realised when German skeletal experts determined that the majority had been killed by a blow to the left side of the head, suggesting the victims were bound and killed, probably with a stone axe. Others may have been killed from arrow-wounds from behind as if the victims had tried to flee.

Further research will be conducted with the aim of shedding more light on the causes and consequences of such violent actions.  The perpetrators of these attacks were not some sort of ape-man but our own species, it seems men have been fighting over women for a very long time.

This article has been compiled using information from Science Daily and Durham University (2008, June 4). Men Fighting Over Women? It’s Nothing New, Suggests Research.

9 06, 2008

Fossilised Burrows found in Antarctica

By | June 9th, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Ancient Burrows found in Antarctica

A team of American scientists have discovered fossilised burrows in Antarctica, trace fossils of ancient land animals that pre-date the dinosaurs.  This is the first time trace fossils such as burrows have been found on this continent.  The burrows have been dated to the Early Triassic and were dug by land living, vertebrates approximately 245 million years ago.

Although, no remains of the excavators have been found, Christian Sidor of Washington University, who led the team has stated that these burrows were dug by Tetrapods and are not likely to have been dug out by invertebrates such as crayfish.  Tetrapod is the scientific name given to four-legged vertebrates and those two-legged and limbless vertebrates descended from them.  The term Tetrapod, literally means “four feet”.  The limbs of Tetrapods have distinct digits, they are believed to have evolved in the Devonian.  The oldest Tetrapod fossils, multi-digit animals such as Ichthyostega and Acanthostega have been found in late Devonian river and lake deposits (dated around 360 million years ago).  These first four-limbed vertebrates were mainly aquatic creatures but their muscular limbs, perhaps evolving first as an aid to clambering through weed clogged water or perhaps digging for shellfish, were a wonderful pre-adaptation for venturing onto land.

Though no animal remains were found inside the burrow casts, the hardened sediment in each burrow preserved a track made as the animals entered and exited, according to the American palaeontologists.

“In addition, scratch marks from the animals’ initial excavation were apparent in some places. We have got evidence that these burrows were made by land-dwelling animals rather than crayfish,” commented Christian, the expedition leader and assistant professor of biology at the University of Washington.

Despite the absence of fossil bones, the burrows’ relatively small size prompted the US team to speculate that their owners might have been small lizard-like reptiles called Procolophonids or an early mammal relative called Thrinaxodon.  Thrinaxodon was a Cynodont, a small carnivorous synapsid which like other Cynodonts and Dicynodonts are believed to have lived in burrows and fossils of this little animal, no more than 50 cm long have been found in Antarctica.

The fossils were created when fine sand from an overflowing river poured into the animals’ burrows and hardened into casts of the open spaces. The largest preserved burrow is about 35 cm long (14 inches), 15 cm wide (6 inches) and 8 cm deep (3 inches).

During this time in the Earth’s history Antarctica was joined to landmasses that were to eventually form South America, Africa, India and Australia, although Antarctica may not have been directly over the south pole as it is today, it was certainly a cold, harsh environment and the southerly latitude would have meant that this area would have been in darkness for part of the year.  Perhaps these little vertebrates dug burrows to escape the most extreme of the climatic conditions around at the time.

8 06, 2008

Young boy finds Dinosaur Tooth on First Fossil hunting Expedition

By | June 8th, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Trip to the Isle of Wight – Dinosaur Tooth Found

For young Josef Bangbala, his first fossil hunting trip turned out to be a red letter day for Isle of Wight palaeontologists.  Josef, aged seven, was out on an organised fossil hunting trip with his father whilst on holiday on the Isle of Wight.  Keen eyed Josef spotted a two-inch long dinosaur tooth, one of the largest found on the island.

His find has sparked a debate amongst scientists as the tooth, believed to belong to a Baryonychid may lead to a re-think over the size and scale of these predatory dinosaurs.

Josef was on a special fossil hunting expedition during half term with his dad Tom, 52, of Stacksteads, Rossendale.

Tom said: “He is into dinosaurs and wants to be a palaeontologist when he is older and so I took him to the Isle of White on the trip last week”.

The southern part of the Isle of Wight has a number of Cretaceous sediments exposed, in fact unusually,  the only surface rocks on the island are sedimentary and they only herald from three geological periods.  A number of dinosaur fossils have been found on the island, particularly in the south-west between Compton Chine and Atherfield Point.  Wave action is constantly exposing new strata at the shoreline, providing opportunities for new fossils to come to light.

Josef’s dad went on to explain: “we were on the beach and he saw it sticking out of the shale. We showed it to the specialist we were with and he was beside himself. He said it was the best thing they have found for at least three years.

“They wanted to borrow it for a year and put it in the museum on display with Josef’s picture.

A number of Baryonychid teeth have been found but the size of this one makes it particularly special and may indicate that animals such as Baryonyx may have exceeded 10 metres in length.

An Illustration of Baryonyx (Baryonychid)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Baryonyx was a large meat-eating dinosaur of the early to mid Cretaceous, a possible ancestor of the Spinosaurs.  The name means “heavy claw” after the long, re-curved, sharp claws on its thumbs.  It is believed this animal was a fish-eater, although it probably was an opportunist hunter, feeding on other dinosaurs as well as scavenging the kills of other carnivores.  The first fossils of Baryonyx were discovered by an amateur fossil hunter called William Walker on a visit to a clay pit in Surrey, southern England.  About 70% of the entire skeleton of this first specimen was found and although not fully grown, careful study of this fossil has led scientists to speculate that creatures such as Baryonyx could grow to lengths in excess of 10 metres.  The large tooth found by Josef also indicates that Baryonyx could have been larger than first thought.

Steve Hutt, curator of Dinosaur Isle, on the Isle of Wight, described the tooth as “extra special” as it was much larger than other teeth found on the island.

We find things everyday but once every few years we find something extra special like this fossil.  I would have been proud to have found it myself.  It is particularly extra lucky to have found it on his first hunt.  He is so young and he found it all by himself.”

Children often find fossils, there are a number of reasons for this, their eyesight is much more acute than an adult’s and they are able to discern strange objects amongst stones and debris.  Also being closer to the ground than an adult, they are often able to spot things overlooked by even the most dedicated expert.  Scientists are confident that this tooth is from a Baryonychid as teeth from these dinosaurs are very characteristic.  They tend to be less re-curved than other large Theropod teeth, but the give-away is their unusually fine serrations (7 per mm).  These serrations are called denticles and are used to help determine the type of meat-eating dinosaur the tooth came from.  The tooth does not have a root, so it is likely that it was shed when the animal was alive.  Teeth with roots are usually associated with a dead animal, the teeth falling out of the skull complete, as the flesh rots away.

To see a model of Baryonyx: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

7 06, 2008

European Champions for Prehistoric Animal Genera?

By | June 7th, 2008|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Press Releases|0 Comments

Euro 2008 – Who has the most Prehistoric Animal Genera?

Just for a little bit of fun, todays’ article attempts to link the start of the European football championships with geology and palaeontology.  Some of our staff members have been in the office today, trying to avoid hearing about the start of the European football championships.  With no home country participation, the championships may well pass us by but there are sixteen teams in the tournament all aiming to do what the Greeks did in the last tournament held in 2004 and become the champions of Europe.

We have compiled a quick and very approximate comparative table of the sixteen finalists in this tournament to see which country could be heralded as the “European Champions” in terms of the number of different prehistoric animal genera and ancient human species found in that particular country.  Everything Dinosaur staff have compiled a table using various information sources and calculated a ranking for each country participating in the European Championships.  The number of dinosaur and prehistoric animal genera have been quickly assessed, weighted against the actual size of the country and correlated against the number of mentions each country has had in our own web log.

There is no real scientific method behind our research, the information has been compiled just as a little bit of fun whilst working in the office this afternoon.  According to our study, and weighted analysis of each country, Croatia comes out with the lowest rank (16) of the countries that have qualified for the finals.  There have been relatively few finds in what is quite a small European country.  Austria and Switzerland, the joint hosts may not be fancied by many football analysts to make much of an impact in the actual football tournament, but under our brief, unscientific study the hosts fair very differently.  Austria for example, comes out with a ranking of fifteenth, whilst Switzerland in contrast are ranked seventh – the equivalent of making the quarter finals.

Portugal, one of the favourites for the football trophy comes out with a high ranking under our study.  This relatively small country has had a number of different prehistoric animal genera discovered within their national boundaries.  Fossils of dinosaurs such as Brachiosaurs, Allosaurids and Iguanodontids have all been reported from Portugal.  As a result, Portugal comes out ranked fifth under our analysis.

Surprise, surprise based on our very crude reckoning we have crowned Germany as European champions. Not only do the Germans have an excellent record in the European Championships, after all, they are one of the favourites to win the competition, but they also have made a huge contribution to palaeontology and geology.  Many important fossil finds have been discovered in Germany, examples being the likes of Ichthyosaurs, Liliensternus, Paratypothorax and of course perhaps one of the most important fossil finds of all – Archaeopteryx.

European Championship Table 2008

European Champions – Prehistoric Animal Genera v Country Size (Weighted and Ranked)
 

Country size/km

Prehistoric Animal Genera

Examples of Genera

Mentions in Blog

Rank

Group A
Czech Republic

79,000

4

Edaphosaurus, Cave Bear

0

14

Switzerland

41,000

1

Plateosaurus

3

7

Turkey

783,000

8

Cave Bear

1

9

Portugal

92,000

4

Brachiosaurus, Dacentrurus

6

5

Group B
Austria

84,000

5

Rhabdodon, Struthiosaurus

1

15

Croatia

56,000

3

Neanderthal Man

0

16

Germany

357,000

21

Archaeopteryx, Juravenator

30

1

Poland

312,000

6

Sauropods, Ornithopods, Allosaurs*

0

10

Group C
Holland

41,000

3

Mammoths

3

13

Italy

301,000

12

Scipionyx, Eudimorphodon

3

11

Romania

238,000

7

Valdosaurus, Rhabdodon

2

12

France

551,000

18

Liliensternus, Dacentrurus, Plateosaurus

9

2

Group D
Greece

132,000

4

Cave Bear

4

6

Russia

17,098,000

7

Psittacosaurus, Dimetrodon

9

4

Sweden

450,000

3

Hypsilophondontids

0

8

Spain

505,000

13

Baryonyx, Pelicanimimus

6

3

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Note

A number of different types of prehistoric animal have been identified within Poland, many of the dinosaurs have been identified from fossilised footprints (trace fossils).  The actual genera cannot be determined under these circumstances but the taxonomic family can usually be stated with a degree of certainty.

So based on our findings and this very rough and ready analysis, it looks like Germany will be champions with France the runners up.  The Germans do have an advantage as they have a tradition of prehistoric animal model making which is perhaps why that country receives a lot of mentions in our blog.  Nevertheless, Germany has a proud heritage of scientific discovery and as a nation can claim to have some very important palaeontological sites within their boundaries – sites such as Holzmaden and Solnhofen with their late Jurassic sediments as well as early Tertiary sites such as the quarries near Messel in southern Germany.

Some typical prehistoric animals from Germany:

Iguanodon, Plateosaurus, Emausaurus, Ichthyosaurs, Batrachotomus and of course Liliensternus which was named in honour after Hugo Rühle von Lilienstern, a German palaeontologist.

A model of Liliensternus: Dinosaur Models for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Toys

6 06, 2008

When is a Mass Extinction a Mass Extinction?

By | June 6th, 2008|Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Defining When a Mass Extinction Occurs

Mass extinctions by definition are substantial and significant events.   At any time in the history of life on Earth, there will be a level of background extinctions taking place as well as speciation – the evolution of new species.  The vast majority of species recorded in the fossil record have gone extinct as part of this normal background rate, this is a consequence of evolution and the process of adaptation.  However, it is the mass extinctions that grab the headlines, although the existence of such events in the geological record of this planet was not really understood and widely accepted until late on in the 19th Century.

As scientists and geologists began to understand the stratigraphy (the sequences of rocks laid down in strata, indicating they were of different ages), and an appreciation of the development of life began to emerge, it was noted that many groups of fossils disappeared from the fossil record at about the same time.

Fossils such as Ammonites, very abundant in strata dated from the Jurassic and Cretaceous, become more scarce and less diverse in rocks derived from Upper Cretaceous sediments, before finally disappearing from the fossil record completely.  Ammonite fossils are not found in rocks younger than approximately 65 million years.  Although present in older rocks, they are not known from younger rocks.

It is partly due to the dramatic change in the fossil record that the boundaries between geological eras and periods are where they are in the chronological history of our planet.  For instance, the boundary between the Mesozoic and the Cenozoic eras is at approximately 65 million years ago – the time of a mass extinction that saw the end of the Dinosaurs, Mosasaurs, Pterosaurs and Plesiosaurs.  The boundary between the Palaeozoic and the Mesozoic (Permian/Triassic periods), dated to approximately 248 million years ago marks what is believed to have been the greatest mass extinction of all time.

Geologically rapid, major reductions in the diversity of life on a global scale are termed mass extinctions.  Patterns of extinction and the severity of the extinction event are assessed by examining their impact on the taxonomic hierarchy.  Individual species may become extinct, indeed whole genera (the next taxonomic category up from species) may die out, but the term mass extinction is usually reserved for those events that impact on life at the family level – the next category up from genus/genera).  Geologists and palaeontologists have identified five especially severe mass extinction events in the history of life on planet Earth.  These are termed the “Big Five” and they are summarised in the table below.

The Big Five Mass Extinction Events (Phanerozoic Eon)

Mass Extinctions – the Big Five (Phanerozoic Eon)
Era Period Date (approx) Main Extinctions
Palaeozoic Late Ordovician 443 million years Trilobites, Brachipods, Corals, Echinoderms
Palaeozoic Late Devonian 355 million years Reef dwellers – Corals, Bivalves, Sponges
Palaeozoic/Mesozoic Late Permian 248 million years Corals, Reef dwellers, Trilobites, Graptolites, Brachipods, Amphibia, Reptilia*
Mesozoic Late Triassic 206 million years Gastropods, Cephalopods, Sponges, Reptila, Amphibia, Mammal-like Reptiles, Insects
Mesozoic/Cenozoic Late Cretaceous 65 million years Cephalopods, Dinosauria, Pterosaurs, Plesiosaurs, Plankton, Echinoderms

Source: Everything Dinosaur

Note

The Phanerozoic Eon refers to the geological time from approximately 545 million years ago to the present, this eon marks the presence of visible life in the fossil record (animals with hard parts such as shells).

The Permian mass extinction is believed to have been the greatest mass extinction of all with nearly 60% of all marine families becoming extinct.  Life on land was devastated too with many groups of amphibians, reptiles and the ancestors of mammals also perishing.  Such was the devastation that the term “dead clades walking” has been coined by scientists to describe those remnants of once diverse and abundant families of organism left behind.

It is possible for a fossil of an organism to be found in rocks which were formed after these organisms are believed to have become extinct.  This is not always due to some “living fossil” existing in a remote, isolated area after the rest of their species have died out, but perhaps due to a process called redistribution.  For example, a fossil of a sea urchin, preserved as an internal flint mould, laid down originally in Cretaceous chalk strata.  As the chalk is weathered and eroded the more robust flint nodule survives this physical process and eventually under the effects of wind and rain is deposited in a river where it mixes with sand and gravels before finally coming to rest at a bend where the river water slows down, losses energy and deposits its load of debris.  Thus the flint nodule, no doubt having suffered some weathering may find itself redistributed into younger sediments.

5 06, 2008

A Recipe for Making Tyrannosaurus rex Gingerbread

By | June 5th, 2008|Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Dinosaur Gingerbread Biscuits – a Tasty Tyrannosaurus Treat

Tyrannosaurus rex is regarded as one of the fiercest predators ever to have stalked the planet.  Although palaeontologists debate what proportion of its meat only diet was from prey that had been actively hunted, compared to scavenging the kills of other animals, it certainly had the tools for a position at the top of the food chain.

With keen eyesight, a superb sense of smell plus an immensely powerful set of jaws, Tyrannosaurus rex was one dinosaur best avoided in case it made a snack out of you.  However, you can get your own back, turning the tables on T. rex and eating him rather than have a T. rex have you for dinner, with this simple recipe for T. rex shaped gingerbread.  These biscuits are ideal for a snack for young children and great for dinosaur themed parties.

A Recipe for Tyrannosaurus rex Gingerbread Biscuits

A recipe for T. rex gingerbread biscuits.

T. rex gingerbread biscuits recipe.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Recipe for Tyrannosaurus rex shaped Gingerbread

To make the dinosaur shapes, we suggest you use a dinosaur shaped cookie cutter or a similar kitchen tool.

Ingredients (makes about 20 biscuits)

For the Biscuits

Unsalted butter, softened 125 grammes (4 oz)

Soft brown sugar 60 grammes (2 oz)

Golden syrup 90 grammes (3 oz)

One egg lightly beaten

Plain flour, sifted to remove any lumps 250 grammes (8 oz)

Self-raising flour 30 grammes (1 oz)

One tablespoon of ground ginger and one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

Icing for Decoration

Icing sugar, sifted 125 grammes (4 oz)

Softened unsalted butter 40 grammes (1.5 oz)

Assorted food colourings

Method

1).  Preheat the oven to 180° C/350° F (gas mark 4).  Line two baking trays with baking paper.

2).  Using electric beaters, cream the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy.  Add the egg gradually, beating well after each addition.  Sift the dry ingredients over the butter mixture and mix with a knife until just combined.  Combine the dough with your hands.  Turn onto a well-floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes, or until smooth.  Roll out onto a chopping board, between two sheets of baking paper, to 5mm thick.  Chill on the board for 15 minutes to firm.

3).  Cut the dough into shapes with the dinosaur cutters.  Press the remaining dough together and re-roll.  Cut out shapes and place the biscuits on the trays.  Bake for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Cool on the trays.

The Tyrannosaurus rex Gingerbread on a Cooling Tray

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

4).  To make the icing, place the sifted icing sugar and softened unsalted butter in a mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth, adding 1-2 tablespoons of water if necessary.

5).  Divide the icing among several bowls and add the food colourings.  Spoon into small paper icing bags.  Seal ends, snip the tips off the bags and pipe onto the biscuits.  You can also use all sorts of cake decorations – jellies, sprinkles and such like.

These gingerbread biscuits were made using the Tyrannosaurus rex biscuit cutter, a handy, robust cookie cutter in the shape of this famous dinosaur.

The Tyrannosaurus rex Biscuit Cutter

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur is a UK-based supplier of dinosaur and prehistoric animal themed models, toys and merchandise, check-out our website: Everything Dinosaur.

4 06, 2008

The Demise of Seismosaurus – its a Question of Vertebrae

By | June 4th, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page|0 Comments

Is Seismosaurus a valid name or should it be regarded as a genus of Diplodocus?

Much debate has taken place over the years as to which of the dinosaurs was the biggest, the longest or the heaviest.  The origins of this controversy amongst scientists can be traced back to the “Dinosaur Wars” between the likes of Cope and Marsh in the 19th Century, as expeditions competed with each other to provide the biggest and best specimens for their wealthy sponsors.  Despite improvements in technology, the much more accurate and detailed study of fossil locations, plus of course improvements in research techniques and the greater number of specimens around today to study, it is still unclear as to which genus or even family of dinosaurs can lay claim to being the biggest.

There are certainly some spectacular contenders out there, Titanosaurs are well represented with genera such as Andesaurus, Antarctosaurus and Argentinosaurus being heralded as true “heavy weights” in the Dinosauria clade.  However, the Titanosaurs do not have everything their own way, although these Cretaceous leviathans are certainly very impressive, many are matched in terms of size by the earlier Brachiosaurids, Camarasaurids and Diplodocids of the Jurassic.

These huge animals do have a number of common characteristics that frustrate teams of field workers, tasked with the job of excavating such finds.  For one thing, the remains of these large animals are relatively rare within the fossil record in comparison to other herbivorous groups such as the Ornithopods for example.  Another problem is the lack of fossil bones which represent one individual specimen.  Many of these large dinosaurs have been named and described from just a few isolated bones, or at best a new genus has been announced based on fossils found in association with each other – rarely do articulated fossils turn up.

Although, as with most scientific matters there are always exceptions to this rule, for example the recent discovery of another large Titanosaur from Argentina:

Huge Titanosaur Specimen uncovered in Cretaceous “Lost World”

The jumble of Sauropod bones to be found in the Morrison Formation has still to be unravelled, no doubt more surprising discoveries will be made, but discussion has turned recently to the validity of another contender for certainly the longest dinosaur yet known – Seismosaurus.  Seismosaurus, the name means “earth-shaking lizard”; as it was imaginatively speculated that such a huge beast would cause the ground to shake as it walked by, could be reclassified as a Diplodocus.

The single specimen found to date of this animal was discovered in 1979, two hikers walking in New Mexico, literally stumbled upon some strange fossil bones eroding out of sandstone sediments.  David Gillette, an American palaeontologist whose work has focused mainly on the Jurassic Morrison Formation in New Mexico, organised a team to begin the long process of extracting the fossils from the matrix.  This process took many years, as the sandstone entombing the fossils was as hard of concrete.  This excavation helped with the design and modification of ground penetrating radar, as this technique was used extensively during the excavations to help locate fossils still buried in the sediment.

Seismosaurus was named and described by Gillette in 1991 (S. hallorum), the remains of this animal consisting of vertebrae, ribs and part of the pelvis.  Based on this evidence it is clear that this particular animal was a contender for the longest dinosaur yet to be described with an estimated length of around 40 metres for this late Jurassic giant (Kimmeridgian faunal stage).  Like all other Diplodocids, the majority of this length was made up of the long neck and the very long tail.  In the New Mexico specimen, the body is not particularly big for a Diplodocoid, it had longer back legs than front legs, a characteristic of this family, but a study of the pelvic area and the subsequent assumed position and length of the legs indicated that they may have been quite short and stubby in comparison to other closely related dinosaurs.  The impressive whip-like Diplodocid tail seems to have had a “kink” in it, perhaps indicating that unlike other Diplodocids, which are believed to have held their tails out straight behind them, perhaps the end portion of the tail of Seismosaurus was trailed on the ground.

However, further work on this fossil has led to a number of reviews some of which have questioned whether the name Seismosaurus would be valid.  In 2004, a case was made for Seismosaurus to be regarded as a Diplodocus, certainly from the fossil evidence these two animals do seem to be very closely related.  Whether or not there are enough differences found to regard Seismosaurus as a separate genus is still being debated.

In 2006, a scientific paper was published, following the most detailed analysis of the fossil bones made at the time, the validity of the Seismosaurus name was challenged, as indeed was the actual size of the beast.  Put into simple terms, it is largely a matter of how you construct the vertebrae, the order in which they are placed together and which part of the backbone is associated with them.  The authors of this 2006 paper renamed Seismosaurus as Diplodocus hallorum, but also speculated that it could actually be a large specimen of another Diplodocus species D. longus.

A Model of a Typical Diplodocid

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The model shown above is the new scale model of Diplodocus produced by Carnegie.  It represents the latest interpretation of these huge dinosaurs, with a relatively stiff neck, not capable of obtaining the so-called “swan neck” position.  This model is one of the largest scale models currently available with a length of nearly 60 cms.  We love this new interpretation, the Everything Dinosaur packing team who were given the job of finding suitable packaging to enable this item to be posted out to customers are not so keen!

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

As Diplodocus was named before Seismosaurus, the first Diplodocus being named and described in 1878, 113 years before Seismosaurus was named and described, the nomenclature Diplodocus would take precedence.  Seismosaurus would be a junior synonym of Diplodocus.  A synonym is another name for an object.  In taxonomic circles, the earliest of several names given to an organism is considered the senior synonym while later names are junior synonyms.  Perhaps the most famous example of this concerns another Diplodocid – Apatosaurus.  The name Apatosaurus predates Brontosaurus but both are synonyms of the same animal (genus).  Thus Apatosaurus is the senior synonym and Brontosaurus the junior synonym.  The name Brontosaurus, means thunder lizard, a great description for such a huge dinosaur was officially dropped by palaeontologists in 1974.

3 06, 2008

Media Co-ordinator Discovers Dinosaur – Hoorah for Amateurs!

By | June 3rd, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Young PR Co-ordinator for Museum Discovers Dinosaur

The discovery of an articulated or associated fossilised skeleton of a large dinosaur can often be the culmination of a lifetimes work for a palaeontologist.  A reward for years of fieldwork and painstaking research – or you can simply stumble upon one, by luck.

Recently, a young public relations co-ordinator for the Houston Museum of Natural Science called Steve Cowan, discovered the remains of a duck-billed dinosaur.  The animal has been identified as a Brachylophosaurus (means short-crested lizard), a type of Hadrosaur that lived approximately 75 million years ago.  Compared to other Hadrosaurine Hadrosaurs such as the later Edmontosaurus, this type of duck-billed dinosaur is relatively rare in the fossil record.  It is known from late Cretaceous deposits (Santonian to Campanian faunal stages) from Alberta and Montana.

The most complete (a semi-mummified specimen) of Brachylophosaurus was found in the same area in 2000, it is from this fossil that scientists have been able to obtain the most data regarding these relatively rare Hadrosaurs.  These particular dinosaurs are believed to have grown to about 7 metres in length and although regarded as duck-bills this term is a bit of a misnomer when referring to this genus.  Brachylophosaurus, rather than having the typical Hadrosaurine broad, duck-like bill had a more flattened bill which was down-turned, perhaps an adaptation to grazing on a particular type of plant, such as cropping vegetation close to the ground.

Steve has nicknamed this new specimen “Marco”, he was only attending the fossil site in preparation for a media tour being organised to discuss earlier Hadrosaur finds in the area.  Walking up a ridge he noticed what he thought were bones eroding out of the ridge.

Describing his find as “exciting”, Steve may have to writing a press release in the near future for his own dinosaur discovery.  Palaeontologists who have begun to study this location more closely are confident that more bones from this Brachylophosaurus will be found, perhaps even precious skull material.  The discovery had been made on a particularly cold, wet day.  Sometimes sudden downpours  can reveal new fossils quite quickly and the wet fossils can stand out more clearly against the background sediments.

The discovery, a first for Steve, also surprised Robert T. Bakker, curator of palaeontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences, who was leading the expedition.

“One of the things we always need to watch out for is thinking that we know it all,” commented Robert. “I knew enough never to go to a ridge-top because you don’t find specimens there.

“But I forgot to tell that to Steven, so he did exactly that and proved me wrong.”

Media Co-ordinator Steve Cowan with some of the Fossil Bones he Discovered

Picture Credit: Houston Museum of Natural Sciences

Steven Cowan, 22, a first-year media coordinator for the Houston
This particular article reminds us of an incident that happened a few years ago to one of our Everything Dinosaur colleagues whilst on a trip to the Royal Tyrrell museum at Drumheller, Alberta in Canada.  They had been visiting the museum and were working on an unrelated project when quite by chance they were invited out for the afternoon into the Dinosaur Provincial Park to accompany some field workers who were going back to a dig site to retrieve some equipment.
The weather had been unsettled for a number of days and there had been some heavy rain in the area, quite an unusual event for what is effectively semi-desert.  Jokingly, as the party set off, one of the Canadians remarked to our colleague that with all the heavy rain she might find a new specimen.  This was laughed off, the Everything Dinosaur team member, recounting the story remembered commenting that she would not know a fossil even if she fell over it.
However, within a few minutes at arriving at the dig site, our colleague climbed a small bluff to retrieve a piece of tarpaulin that had been blown up there and on the way down stumbled, kicking over some debris that that had been laying half-way up the slope.
To the parties amazement, she had tripped over some articulated Hadrosaur vertebrae that had begun to erode out of the bluff.  So sometimes, dinosaurs can be found even when you are not actually looking for them, it is really a question of being sharp-eyed and being in the right place at the right time, plus of course relying on the intervention of lady luck.
Other exciting dinosaur finds have been made quite by chance recently: Young boy Stumbles across Dinosaur Footprints
2 06, 2008

Amphibian Ancestry a little clearer thanks to new Discovery

By | June 2nd, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Half Frog and Half Salamander helps shed light on modern Amphibian Ancestry

Attempts to understand the evolution of four-limbed vertebrates (i.e. Tetrapods) has been dogged by the lack of fossil evidence to assist scientists in piecing together cladograms to show the relationships between the earliest land dwelling animals and their ancestors with more advanced forms of terrestrial creature.

Even before we consider the evolutionary line of the amniotes (creatures that protect their embryos within a sealed structure – reptiles, mammals and birds, plus some early Tetrapods), the evolution of amphibia has been difficult to determine.  Now the discovery of a “Frogmander” a fossil of an animal that shows both anura (frog) and caudata (salamanders and newts) characteristics may help resolve some of these issues.

The modern class of amphibia is made up of three orders.  Firstly there is the most diverse group around today the anura consisting of the frogs and toads.  Secondly, there are the salamanders and newts that belong to order caudata.  A third group, the gymnophiona, contains the bizarre, segmented, leg-less caecilians.  To help remember the three orders of amphibia, simply remember that those amphibians without tails are in the anura order, whilst tailed amphibians are in the caudata.  Everything else, the caecilians are grouped into gymnophiona.

The discovery and subsequent study of an ancient amphibian may help to resolve the ancestry of modern amphibians.  An ancient “Frogmander” an animal that shows both frog-like and salamander-like characteristics may indicate that these modern amphibians shared a common ancestor.

An Artist’s Impression of Gerobatrachus

Picture Credit: Reuters/Michael Skrepnick/University of Calgary

The 290 million year old fossil was discovered in 1995, by a team of scientists from the Smithsonian Institute on an expedition to Texas.  A team of Canadian scientists led by Jason Anderson of the University of Calgary, Alberta, have been carefully removing the specimen from its matrix and making a close study of its morphological and anatomical features.

The fossil has been named Gerobatrachus hottoni or elderly frog, and the conclusions from the Canadian’s work have just been described in the scientific journal Nature.

“It’s a missing link that falls right between where the fossil record of the extinct form and the fossil record for the modern form begins,” commented Jason.

He went onto conclude that: “it’s a perfect little frogamander”.

Gerobatrachus has a mixture of frog and salamander features, with fused ankle bones as seen only in salamanders, a wide, frog-like skull, and a flexible backbone that resembles a mix of the two.

The Gerobatrachus Fossil

The Frogmander fossil

Picture Credit: Reuters/University of Calgary

The picture shows the nearly complete fossil of Gerobatrachus, the large, wide, skull can be seen in the lower left of the picture.

The fossil suggests that modern amphibians may have come from two groups, with frogs and salamanders related to an ancient amphibian known as a Temnospondyl, and worm-like caecilians more closely related to the Lepospondyls, another group of ancient amphibians.

“Frogs and salamanders share a common ancestor that is fairly removed from the origin of caecilians,” Anderson said.

Prior to this Canadian led study it had been thought that both frogs and salamanders may have been descended from the Lepospondyls, but now this theory has been put forward that only the caecilians are descended from this group.  This may have implications for the classification of Lissamphibians the collective name given to all three orders of modern amphibia

“The fossil itself is almost perfectly complete,” Anderson said.

“It died on its back. Its legs and arms were curled up on its belly and it’s that part that weathered away.”

Amphibians are represented very poorly in the fossil record.  This is partly because they have relatively delicate skeletons and light bones.  However, every now and then a truly amazing amphibian fossil is found, such as the partial remains of a huge frog, one that was capable of eating dinosaur hatch-lings.

To read more about this giant frog: The Frog from Hell, one that could jump continents

1 06, 2008

A Fishy Tale Indeed – A Placoderm Parent

By | June 1st, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Live Birth Fossil – Placoderm gave birth to Live Young

A 380 million year old fossil Placoderm reveals an internal embryo and a mineralised umbilical cord, indicating that these ancient fish gave birth to live young, pushing back the origins of viviparous behaviour by 200 million years.

A team of Australia scientists have claimed that this is one of the most important palaeontological finds and the earliest example of vertebrate sex discovered to date.  One of the team’s lead researchers Dr John Long (Museum Victoria) stated:

“This is one of these real eureka moments in science you have once in your lifetime.  When you look down the microscope and there it was – an embryo inside a 380-million-year-old fish – and I was blown away by the very thought of this fish giving birth to live young almost 400 million years ago.”

The fossil fish is a member of the now extinct Placoderm group and has been dated to the  Devonian period, otherwise known as the Age of Fishes.  The 25 cm long fossil was found in the far north of Western Australia, south east of Fitzroy Crossing in a fantastically fossil rich area known as the Gogo Formation.  Approximately 380 million years ago this area of dry, scrub-land was covered by a shallow sea and teemed with life, an environment similar to the Great Barrier reef of Australia to day, the corals that provided much of the habitat were not the scleractinian corals of today, these types of corals first evolved in the Triassic, the corals that dominated this environment were rugose and tabulate corals, two types of coral that went extinct at the end of the Permian period.

The Placoderms were very heavily armoured fishes that possessed bony skeletons and jaws.  The head and trunk were encased in a box-like series of bony plates, the group is believed to have evolved sometime in the Silurian and diversified into as many as 200 different genera.  Fossils of Placoderms have been found in sediments that represent both marine and freshwater environments.

The shales that form the Upper Devonian Gogo Formation were formed in quiet bays, that formed a link between the coral sea and the surrounding coastal areas.  The sediments contain superbly preserved fossil fish and other creatures that lived in this ancient sea.  These thick deposits contain one of the most diverse collection of animal fossils of the Devonian period with over 25 varieties of Placoderms, ray-finned fishes, lobe-fins and lungfish.  Such has been the quantity and quality of fossils from this area that a Placoderm has been adopted as the official state fish of Western Australia – it is known affectionately as the GoGo fish – official name Mcnamaraspis kaprios.

Preserved as original bone in limestone nodules within the shale, these fossils represent the best preserved early fishes in the world and the site is of huge importance to scientists as they try to piece together the evidence to understand how and why vertebrates moved onto land.

The fossil showing the embryo was found three years ago, but only after the specimen was placed in an acid bath to help dissolve away the surrounding matrix, was the significance of this particular fossil recognised.  Acid preparation is a common technique used by laboratory technicians to help reveal more of a fossil which is surrounded by a limestone matrix.  This technique was pioneered by scientist at the Natural History museum in London and used to help reveal more of dinosaur bones embedded in calcareous rocks.

This particular Placoderm, represents a new species and it has been named Materpiscis attenboroughi after Sir David Attenborough, in recognition of his work in the field of Natural History and his help in identifying the Gogo Formation as being of major scientific importance.

“The discovery is certainly one of the most extraordinary fossil finds ever made and changes our understanding of the evolution of vertebrates,” Melbourne-based Dr Long commented.

“The existence of the embryo and umbilical cord within the specimen provides scientists with the first every example of internal fertilisation – that is, sex – confirming that some Placoderms had remarkably advanced reproductive biology.”

Once the cleaned and fully prepared fossil was put under a powerful CT scanner at the Australian National University in Canberra, the yolk sac and a major blood vessel inside the umbilical cord could clearly be seen.  The fossil provides evidence that the basic body plan that makes up a vertebrate was already present 380 million years ago and sheds light on how the Placoderm group reproduced.

An Artist’s Impression of Materpiscis attenboroughi

Picture Credit: Museum Victoria

The paper on this particular specimen, the oldest vertebrate mother known,  has just been published in the scientific journal Nature.  It seems that some Placoderms reproduced in a very similar way to some cartilaginous fish (sharks and rays) who are also viviparous – able to give birth to live young.

Could this be evidence that the sharks and rays shared a common ancestor with the Placoderms?  The fossil record of vertebrates is particularly poor in the Silurian and Ordovician and scientists are still uncertain as to the relationships between the different Orders of fish.  Perhaps this fossil of a female Placoderm provides evidence of convergent evolution.  Convergent evolution is the development of similar anatomical or morphological characteristics such as the ability to give birth to live young in unrelated groups of animals or plants in response to the same environmental pressures.

The ability to give birth to fully developed young which had grown up inside the mother for protection would have given such creatures an advantage, helping to ensure the survival of more babies, than those species that laid eggs expelled from the body – oviparous behaviour.  There were certainly a great number of predators around ready to feast on any eggs that were found, fish such as the lung fishes, lobe-finned species as well as the large arthropod predators the sea scorpions (Eurypterids).

Some other remarkable fish finds have been reported from the Gogo fossil site, including evidence of fish with muscle tissue similar to that which is found in land living vertebrates and an almost 3-D impression of a fish providing information on nerve and circulatory tissue.  Such exquisite preservation provides scientists with an opportunity to learn a great deal more about life in the Devonian seas.  Another Placoderm specimen from the same formation was found in 1986, this fossil shows evidence of three internal embryos and study of the developing babies could provide the Australian team with a wealth of new data on bone formation and the growth of young Placoderms.

Unfortunately, any biological advantage life birth gave some of their kind, this was have been outweighed by other factors as the entire family went extinct at the end of the Devonian – perhaps their armoured blunt bodies made them too inefficient swimmers to compete effectively with the Tetrapods and the rapidly diversifying other fish families.

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