All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
22 08, 2010

A Relaxing Sunday

By | August 22nd, 2010|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Sunday – Time for a Break

With just one more full week of August to go, today we have spent sometime in the office just catching up on the jobs that we had been trying to get done this month.  For example, we had some fossil casts to prepare and then send out, plus some more information on fossils to write up for a school project in the Autumn term.  This week, we have just one more engagement, once this is finished we can relax, as all our commitments for the school holidays will have been completed.

Our new website design is coming along nicely, we had a quick update on progress at Friday’s meeting and everything seems to be going well.  Not sure when the new site is due to go live, but we are hoping that this will take place before the end of August.  Let’s hope so, as we have some new items that have just come back from our test groups and these are ready to be added to our on line shop at Everything Dinosaur

It will be good to get to through next week, as the events, although very enjoyable, are really  hard work and we have been bombarded with questions from young dinosaur fans.  Some of the events and work with museums has meant that we have had very early starts and the punishing schedule is beginning to catch up with us.  However, with just one more event to go, and with a Bank Holiday coming up, at least we have something to look forward to.

22 08, 2010

Xiphactinus Fossil Goes on Display (Bully for the “Bulldog Fish”)

By | August 22nd, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Prehistoric Fish Skeleton Goes on Display

The almost complete fossilised skeleton of a giant, swift swimming and deadly Cretaceous predator is going on display for the first time at a Canadian museum.  The Cretaceous may be associated with fearsome reptiles, both on land and in the water, but the Plesiosaurs, Ichthyosaurs and Mosasaurs did not have everything their own way, as some of the nastiest fish ever to evolve also made their appearance in the late Mesozoic.

The fossilised fish, an Xiphactinus (pronounced (zee-fak-tin-us) measures nearly six metres long and this weekend it goes on display at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in the town of Morden (Manitoba, Canada).  The Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre houses one of the most extensive fossil collections of marine reptiles in the whole of Canada and the dedicated team of researchers and their assistants are constantly searching the surrounding countryside to find more specimens to add to their collection.

An Illustration of Xiphactinus

Picture Credit: BBC

The museum is perhaps best known for its superb collection of Mosasaur fossils, including the famous Mosasaur known as “Bruce”, perhaps the best preserved of all the Canadian fossil Mosasaur material.

An Example of a Fossil Xiphactinus (The Bulldog Fish)

Picture Credit: Robyn Beck/AFP

The Xiphactinus fossil has been carefully removed from a dig site, a location that was first identified as having excellent fossil finding potential when part of the huge fish’s skeleton was discovered eroding out of sediment back in the summer of 2009.

The fossil is part of a collection of specimens, including Mosasaur vertebrae and the leg bones of a giant, prehistoric seabird Hesperornis that have been discovered at the site.  They date from approximately 80 million yeas ago, a time when the Americas was effectively divided in two by a huge, shallow tropical sea (The Western Interior Seaway).

Xiphactinus (the name means “swift swordfish”), was a powerful hunter, cruising the surface waters of the Western Interior Seaway and hunting virtually any animal that it could fit inside its cavernous mouth.  A member of the teleost fish family (bony fishes), a number of specimens of Xiphactinus have been unearthed, the first being found in Kansas in the 1850s.  The rather compressed and flattened face of this large fish has led to it being nicknamed “the bulldog fish” and it has been described as the ugliest fish to have ever existed.

Perhaps the most famous fossil of Xiphactinus is the amazing “fish within a fish” specimen.  George Sternberg, (a member of the famous Sternberg family who between them discovered a number of prehistoric animal specimens in North America) found this fossil in 1952 , it revealed a Xiphactinus with a fish measuring nearly 2 metres long in its gut.  This was the last meal that this Xiphactinus ate and it probably was the cause of its death.  With their ability to open their mouths very wide, these fast swimming predatory fishes were capable of swallowing large prey, however, in this instance this particular Xiphactinus probably had a mouth that was bigger than its stomach.

The Famous Sternberg Xiphactinus Specimen (Fish within a Fish)

A fossil fish within a fish

Picture Credit: Sternberg Museum of Natural History

21 08, 2010

South Australian Fossils may be “Earliest Animals”

By | August 21st, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|2 Comments

Sponge-like Fossils may be Evidence of Earliest Animals Known to Science

A team of researchers writing in the scientific journal “Nature Geoscience” claim that an analysis of limestone strata (stromatolites formed by bacteria) from the Flinders range in South Australia, may have produced evidence of the first complex animals known.  Analysis of these strange “body” fossils undertaken by Geoscientists based at Princeton University (New Jersey, United States), suggests the presence of primitive sponge-like organisms dating from approximately 650-640 million years ago.  These fossils pre-date the presence of other complex animal fossils in the fossil record by about seventy million years.

Is there Evidence of Ancient Sponges preserved in these Limestone Formations?

Picture Credit: A. Maloof/Princeton University

The picture shows two stromatolite formations, the pen on the right of the picture provides a scale.  Stromatolites are layered, mound-like structures, sometimes reaching more than a metre tall.   These structures are built up over many years in shallow and warm tropical waters by sheets of bacteria growing over the seabed and trapping sediment.  Evidence for stromatolites have been found in rocks dating from 3 billion years of age.

The research team, led by Professor Adam Maloof and assisted by Geoscientist Catherine Rose suggest that the strange, bizarre calcite based forms preserved in the limestone are the fossilised remains of sponges.  The shapes, which vary from ovals, anvils, wishbones and rings some of which measure more than one centimetre long represent body fossils according to the Princeton University researchers.

Broadly there are two main types of fossils.  Firstly, there are body fossils, these preserve something of the bodily remains of animals or plants.  For example, the cast exoskeleton of a lobster or trilobite, fossil bones, teeth, plant remains and such like.  Secondly, there are trace fossils, these preserve evidence of the activity of animals such as tracks, insects bore holes in wood, burrows in sediment and footprints.  Technically, there are other sorts of fossils such as what is referred to as “chemical fossils” evidence preserved in rocks of the chemicals that we know can only be produced by life processes.  There are also micro-fossils, tiny, microscopic body and trace fossils such as pollen grains and other fossil material that is only able to be viewed using microscopes or other technology.

The American based researchers suspected that the peculiar shapes entombed in the limestone might be parts of the bodies of ancient organisms, the use of sophisticated 3-D imaging techniques affirm their theory.

The theory is controversial, as if the scientists are correct, then they have discovered fossils of creatures that existed in the Cryogenian period.  This geological period is estimated to have lasted from about 850 million years ago to approximately 635 million years ago, although the exact duration of this particular part of the geological time-scale is disputed, it is thought that the Earth went through dramatic climate changes resulting in a global Ice Age, when the entire planet become covered in ice, leading to the concept of a “snowball Earth”.  To have discovered the remains of relatively sophisticated creatures that have survived beyond the Cryogenian into the Ediacaran period would be a remarkable discovery and enhance the reputation of the Flinders Formation as a major location for Proterozoic fossil finds.

Professor Maloof commented:

“No one was expecting that we would find animals that lived before the ice age [global freezing event – “snowball Earth”] and since animals probably did not evolve twice, we are suddenly confronted with the question of how a relative of these reef-dwelling animals survived the “snowball Earth”.”

A spokesperson from the National Science Foundation, which funded the study, stated that the find is at least seventy million years older than any other evidence of animal body forms in the known fossil record.

Professor Maloof added:

“People have certainly proposed complex organisms, like eukaryotic algae [organisms with cells that contain a nucleus] or protists, and have even proposed animals in the form of trace fossils (preserved tracks) prior to the sponges that we report.  But I think we could confidently say that our sponges are the first somewhat convincing body fossils of an animal before the Ediacaran period.”

The Ediacaran hills, part of the Flinders Range in South Australia have already provided fossil evidence of some amazing soft bodied organisms.  In 1946, geologist Reginald Sprigg was searching for signs of mineral deposits when he discovered the remains of several bizarre Precambrian animals.  Creatures such as Tribrachidium, Yelovichnus and Spriggina (which is named in honour of him).  These animals comprise a range of organisms classified as Ediacaran fauna and are so unusual and strange that most cannot be associated with known Phylum.  For example, Spriggina could be a primitive, basal trilobite or possibly a segmented worm.

Due to the fact that the animal fossils were made of the same mineral material as the limestone rock (calcite), the scientists were unable to remove them from the matrix.  Instead, the researchers collaborated with Situ Studio, a specialist imaging company to produce digital models of the strange structures.

By carefully slicing off thin layers of rock, each about 50 microns in diameter and photographing it after each layer was removed, the team managed to create a 3-D model of the animals.  The model revealed a series of irregularly shaped bodies up to one centimetre in size (marble sized) with an internal network of interconnected millimetre-wide channels.  The presence of the channels and their structure are the interesting elements to the palaeontologists.  Such structures are found in sponges, it is these channels that have water drawn into them that permit these organisms to feed.  Could these microscopic channels be evidence of Precambrian sponge-like lifeforms?

Is this Evidence of a 640 million year old Sponge-like Animal?

3-D Ediacaran sponge fossil

Picture Credit: A. Maloof/Situ Studio

The picture shows one of the 50 micron wide rock slices, one of 500 thin layers of rock examined.  The area of interest, a potential fossil is outlined in blue.

The researchers suggest that at least three of the specimens had a short, tube-shaped pedicle at the base.  This may have been used to attach the creature to a solid surface.

A Digital Image Showing the Microscopic Network of Channels

Ediacaran Sponge Fossil

Picture Credit: A Maloof/Situ Studio

The oldest fossil sponges previously found lived around 520 million years ago.  However, chemical traces from materials of cell membranes (steranes) of sponges were discovered in 2009 in sedimentary rocks more than 635 million years old.

However, the theory put forward by the Princeton team is disputed.  In a dismissive statement; Dr. Jim Gehling, a Senior Research Scientist from the South Australian Museum said that he saw no convincing evidence to support the interpretation that the “coco-pop breakfast-cereal-like forms” were ancient sponges.

He went on to add:

“They may just as easily be mineralised bacterial cells or some other sort of single-celled microbes.  Sponges should have first appeared in the Cryogenian Period about 650 million years ago – judging by times of branching in family trees in the Animal Kingdom, based on molecular clocks and the discovery of sponge biomarkers (steranes) preserved in rocks of this age.”

However, it is difficult to interpret the fossil evidence as scientists have no real data on what the earliest types of sponge-like organisms actually looked like.

Dr. Gehling stated:

“The problem is that we have no idea what the very earliest sponges may have looked like.  This means that the discovery of any weird shape in rocks of this age may lead to claims of the ‘oldest sponge-grade fossils’.”

Our knowledge of Proterozoic lifeforms has increased dramatically over the last thirty years or so.  New insights into existing fossil specimens have occurred thanks in the main to the use of sophisticated new examination techniques.

20 08, 2010

“Terror Birds” Fly Like a Butterfly and Sting Like a Bee

By | August 20th, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|2 Comments

South American Terror Birds Fighting Strategy Revealed in New Study

New research published in the on line scientific journal “PLoS One”, the public library of science on line, into the attack strategies of large, prehistoric flightless birds suggests that these carnivores adopted an “attack and then retreat” behaviour to help them subdue their prey.

Rather than simply lunging at their victims, these Phorusrhacids may have attacked their prey like a skilled boxer, a sort of feathered Muhammad Ali.  Phorusrhacids were a group of flightless birds that rivalled mammals as top predators in South America for much of the Cenozoic.

Some eighteen species of Phorusrhacids are known from the fossil record, one of the largest being Titanis, a 2.5 metre tall carnivore, one of the last of its kind.  It crossed into North America when the Panama land bridge was established between North America and the former island of South America approximately 3 million years ago.

As the meat-eating Theropods became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous, a number of other types of animals competed to become the apex predators in the steamy jungles of the Palaeocene and Eocene.  During this time the first, large, carnivorous flightless birds took over the top predator role, creatures such as Gastornis, whose fossils have been found in Germany.  As mammals evolved and became larger, most of the “Terror birds” became extinct, but they held on in South America, an island that was not subjected to inward migration by more advanced mammal predators from elsewhere in the Americas.

Researchers are attempting to calculate how these birds tackled prey and an international team of North and South American based scientists aided by researchers from Australia have just completed the most extensive study undertaken into Phorusrhacid skull anatomy and their bite force.

Commenting on the decline of these magnificent birds, Federico Degrange, a palaeontologist at the Museo de La Plata in Argentina stated that contrary to popular belief, the “Terror birds” were already in decline before the migration of more advanced placental mammals into South America when the continental land bridge was established.

He stated:

“The number of Phorusrhacids was few and decreasing before these mammals came to this continent.  The competition Terror birds faced from new mammals might have been the final blow but it certainly wasn’t the cause that started their gradual extinction.”

As these now extinct predators have no close analogs amongst modern bird species, their behaviour and hunting methods have been somewhat of a mystery.  However, this new study has shed more light on how these large creatures may have killed their prey.

Federico went on to add:

“We need to figure out the ecological role that these amazing birds played if we really want to understand how the unusual ecosystems of South America evolved over the past sixty million years.”

Researcher Lawrence Witmer, an anatomist at the Ohio University of Osteropathic Medicine commented:

“We are trying to understand the history of life on our planet, and understanding the biology of Terror birds and how they might have interacted with animals in North America when the land bridge opened up between it and South America could help us to understand how they shaped the predators we have today.”

The researchers focused on a medium sized member of the Phororhacidae, a creature known as Andalgalornis ferox.  This particular Terror bird was formally named and described in 1960 and is one of a number of Phorusrhacids whose fossils have been found in western Argentina.  A. ferox otherwise known as Andalgalornis steulleti stood about 1.4 metres tall and weighed about as much as a ten year-old child.  It had an enormous skull in relation to its body size with a characteristic large upper mandible which ended in a strongly curved, hawk-like hook.

The team of researchers put a complete fossil skull of Andalgalornis through and X-ray CT scanner, giving the team an insight into the internal architecture and morphology of the skull.  Unlike other birds, which have light and flexible skulls, the skull of Andalgalornis was much more solid and robust.  The skull was highly rigid and did not show a great deal of flexibility between the various skull and jaw joints.

The Fossilised Skull of Andalgalornis Compared to a Eagle Skull and a Human Skull

Picture Credit: Ohio University/Associated Press

The picture shows a broad, hatchet shaped beak of a Terror Bird, the South American Andalgalornis from Upper Miocene deposits of Argentina, compared to the skull of a Golden Eagle and a Human.

Commenting on the team’s findings, Dr. Witmer stated:

“Birds generally have skulls with lots of mobility between the bones, which allows them to have light but strong skulls.  We found that Andalgalornis had turned these mobile joints into rigid beams.  This guy had a strong skull, particularly in the fore-aft [front to back] direction, despite having a curiously hollow beak.”

Using the data from the CT scans, bio-mechanist and palaeontologist Stephen Wroe at the University of New South Wales (Australia), put together sophisticated 3-D models of the Terror bird skull.  He also developed models of extant species to provide an appropriate comparison with the prehistoric bird.

With information on the bite force and skull strength of modern raptors such as large eagles, the team were able to develop computer simulations to estimate the bite force and skull stresses of the extinct bird’s fossilised skull.

Comparing the results of the simulations, Wroe commentated:

“Relative to the other birds considered in the study, the Terror bird was well-adapted to drive the beak in and pull back with that wickedly re-curved tip of the beak.  But when shaking its head from side to side, its skull lights up like a Christmas tree.  It really does not handle that kind of stress well.”

Surprisingly, for a creature with such a powerful looking beak, the bite force was estimated to be lower than anticipated.

Degrange said:

“Andalgalornis may have compensated for this weaker bite by using its powerful neck muscles to drive its strong skull into prey like an axe.”

The research team conclude that if Andalgalornis is typical of the Terror birds, then these predators were not the up close sluggers like the boxer Joe Frazier but more of a “fly like a butterfly and sting like a bee” type with a degree of “ring craft” for tackling prey.  The work on the skull shows that although it was strong vertically, it was too weak to cope well with vigorous shaking from side to side, in the way that it might have been used to subdue struggling small prey.  The hollow beak could also have broken if the bird grappled too violently with struggling prey.

The researchers, suggest that these creatures had an elegant fighting style, akin to Muhammad Ali, using a series of repeated attacks and then retreating, landing well-targeted, hatchet-like jabs.   Once dead, the prey would have been torn into bite-sized pieces by the powerful neck muscles pulling the head straight back.  Just like T. rex (whose skull has also been subjected to extensive CT scans), these birds were not capable of chewing their food and swallowed chunks of flesh whole.

19 08, 2010

Plea to Keep Ultrasauros at Seafront

By | August 19th, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Huge Dinosaur Sculpture Wins Admirers

Residents and visitors to the Southsea area have expressed their support for keeping the gigantic sculpture of a dinosaur on Southsea Common.  The sculpture, representing a huge, long-necked dinosaur known as Ultrasauros was erected last month and it has already proved to be a big hit on the Hampshire seafront.

The imposing statue towers over the surrounding area and on a clear day, it can be seen from the Isle of Wight, apt as large Sauropods did once roam on the area of land that we now know as the Isle of Wight.  Ultrasauros, used to be known as Ultrasaurus but the name had to be changed when it was noticed that an earlier fossil find had already been given this name and formerly described.  Ultrasauros may not be a legitimate dinosaur genus after all, the fossils that make up the specimen consist of a large shoulder blade from a Brachiosaurus and ribs from a Diplodocid called Supersaurus.  Ultrasauros may be a bit of a chimera (an animal made up of pieces from other animals).  The trouble is, the fossils were found at a location in Colorado (Dry Mesa Quarry) and the site represents a huge jumble of large dinosaur bones.  All the skeletons are mixed up and interpreting the fossil information is very confusing.

The sculpture, the work of Ivan and Heather Morison was transported from Serbia and assembled last month, to read more about this amazing piece of art: Ultrasauros Visits Southsea Common

The Portsmouth City Council’s culture chief had promised that he and his team will do everything they can to persuade the artists to allow it to return to Hampshire after the Ultrasauros completes its engagements in Colchester and Cardiff.

Local resident Barbara Stanley, a real enthusiast for the dinosaur model commented:

“Everyone I’ve spoken to loves the dinosaur.  It would be a shame if it goes to Cardiff or wherever and people there lay claim to it.  We should see if it can be in Portsmouth permanently.  It’s a great attraction to the seafront.”

Making a Monster Sized Impression The Ultrasauros Sculpture

Picture Credit: Press Association

Supporting Barbara’s comments and speaking on behalf of the Portsmouth City Council, Councillor Lee Hunt stated:

“We would love to have it back if we can.  The city is interested in having it permanently, no doubt about it.  It has got to go elsewhere first but I will do everything I can if it comes down to a fight to get it back here.”

Whilst we at Everything Dinosaur can admire the obvious passion being expressed, we wonder how many people actually know that Ultrasaurus (as it is often termed in misleading newspaper articles), is not a valid dinosaur genus.

Planning permission would be required if the statue was to become a permanent resident and fears have been expressed as to how winter hardy and weather proof the sculpture may prove to be.  It is nice to know that dinosaurs can still capture the imagination and make an impression, the sculpture which is called “Luna Park” stands 16 metres tall and measures an impressive 22 metres long.  It is interesting to note that if the statue had been based on Supersaurus (a Diplodocid) and not the composite Ultrasauros, it would have had to be longer, perhaps as much as 30 metres in length, but not as tall.

18 08, 2010

Climate Change not Human Hunting Led to Mammoth Extinction

By | August 18th, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Dramatic Climate Change Led to Demise of the Mammoth

New research published in the scientific journal “The Quaternary Science Review” by a team of British based scientists suggests that dramatic global climate change led to the demise of mega fauna such as the Mammoth and not predation by humans.

Researchers from the University of Durham in collaboration with scientists at the London Natural History Museum have concluded that by 11,400 years ago, most of the large mammals that had roamed across the northern hemisphere, animals such as the Giant Elk (Megaloceras), the Woolly Rhino and the Woolly Mammoth had become extinct.  Although hunting from the rapidly expanding human population may have had an effect, the loss of extensive areas of grassland and the re-forestation of northern Europe and Asia was the real reason for these animals extinction.

Our ancestors would have competed with these large mammals for space and food but it was sudden and dramatic climate change that led to the demise of most of the mega fauna at this time the scientists conclude.

Their findings are part of the most comprehensive study carried out so far on climate change and its impact on the flora and fauna of the northern hemisphere after the height of the last Ice Age, 21,000 years ago.

A rapid and sustained period of post-glacial global warming led to a rapid decline in open grasslands as much of northern Europe and Asia became woodland and forest.  Although Mammoths were descended from forest dwelling elephants, the rapid change in habitat was just too quick to enable these large, shaggy elephants to adapt.  The climate changes that led to the change in the landscape and its flora made survival impossible for the big grazing herbivores and the predators that fed on them.

Although Woolly Mammoths are often depicted in icy, glacial environments these elephants were animals of the open plain and fed on grasses, sedges and other ground dwelling plants.  The loss of their habitat led to their demise, claim the research team.

An Illustration of a Family of Woolly Mammoths

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view a model of Woolly Mammoth and dinosaur toys: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models

Over the last two or three years, there have been a number of papers published, assessing the impact of global climate change on mammal populations.  Perhaps this is a reflection of the concerns expressed over the problem of dramatic climate change that threatens our own species.  Last year, we reported on some research work that set out to accurately date some Mammoth fossils that had been found in Shropshire, England, using radiocarbon dating.

To read more about radiocarbon dating work on Mammoth fossils: Radiocarbon dating changes date of Mammoth Extinction

One of the principal authors of the study, Professor Brian Huntley of the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (Durham University) stated:

“Woolly Mammoths retreated to northern Siberia, 14,000 years ago, whereas they had roamed and munched their way across many parts of Europe, including the UK , for the previous 100,000 years.”

Commenting on the suggestion that our ancestors may have been at least partially responsible for the Mammoth’s extinction, Professor Huntley said:

“It would have been difficult for man to wipe them out [Woolly Mammoths] because our species was not so widespread then and did not have the technology.  We know from Mammoth fossils that they were hunted by humans, but they would not have been an easy kill because of their size.”

The British based research team point the finger at rising temperatures, the factor that led to the extinction of animals as diverse as Woolly Rhinos, the Mammoths, giant deer and the large meat-eaters that preyed on them.

Although some small, isolated pockets of animals may have clung on for a little longer, the climate change and loss of habitat that resulted had effectively sealed the fate of these species the scientists conclude.

Summarising the study, Professor Huntley stated:

“Mega-mammals found it increasingly difficult to find food.  We believe the loss of food supplies from productive grasslands was the major contributing factor to extinction.”

17 08, 2010

Tyrannosaurus rex – The Hunter versus Scavenger Debate Our Results

By | August 17th, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

T. rex – Hunter or Scavenger (Results from our Survey)

Over the last few weeks, team members at Everything Dinosaur have been working at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (Birmingham, UK) providing presentations and activities in support of a touring exhibition featuring Tyrannosaurus rex.  The theme of the exhibition it to present evidence as to whether Tyrannosaurus rex was a hunter, a scavenger or a bit of both (opportunist).

Everything Dinosaur team members have carried out a series of workshops and presentations updating visitors on the latest research and scientific thinking, as well as de-bunking some of the misconceptions surrounding Theropods and other dinosaurs.

Over the course of the Summer we have held our own straw poll asking the audience members to state whether they think T. rex was a hunter, a scavenger or an opportunist scavenger.  Perhaps large Tyrannosaurs like T. rex were mainly active hunters but also not averse to taking up the odd free lunch should T. rex stumble across a carcase.

In an earlier Everything Dinosaur blog article we published our preliminary results:

To see these results: T. rex Hunter or Scavenger?

In the earlier research, more than 70% of respondents considered T. rex to be both a hunter and a scavenger.  Now that all the results have been compiled from our work at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, we can confirm that this figure was sustained throughout the research period and ultimately a fraction under 70% of our respondents thought that T. rex was a both a scavenger and a hunter.

The Everything Dinosaur Final Survey Figures (Summer 2010)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We would not consider this to a representative sample of all the visitors to the museum, after all many people had come to see the excellent ceramics on display and the art galleries, but it is interesting to note that the views remained consistent throughout the duration of the exhibition.

16 08, 2010

Annual “Aussie” Dinosaur Dig Gets Underway

By | August 16th, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Amateurs and Professionals Sign up for Queensland Dinosaur Dig

The annual “dig up an Aussie dinosaur” event has started in Queensland, providing an opportunity for keen, amateur fossil hunters to join university based professional researchers and palaeontologists as they attempt to unearth evidence of Cretaceous dinosaurs and other vertebrates.

Novice palaeontologists will join experts on a dinosaur dig in the Australian state of Queensland, an area that has proved to be a “hotbed” of dinosaur discoveries with a number of new genera having been identified over the last few years.  This annual event entitled “The Australian Age of Dinosaur Dig” will last approximately three weeks and the organisers are confident that a number of new specimens will be discovered at the dig site which is at Winton, approximately 900 miles north-west of Brisbane in the Queensland outback.

Enthusiastic adults and children will be able to participate in the search for dinosaur fossils and take part in excavations, working alongside palaeontologists and other scientists.

Winton and the surrounding area has provided palaeontologists with a number of exciting finds over recent years, including the discovery of two new species of long-necked dinosaur and a fearsome meat-eating dinosaur that we at Everything Dinosaur reported on last year.

To read more about these discoveries at Winton, Western Queensland: A Trio of Aussie Dinosaurs found in the Outback

The rocks in this part of the vast expanse of Australia date from the Mid Cretaceous and have yielded a number of very well preserved dinosaur fossil specimens, many of them unique to this region of Australia, we wish the dig team the very best of luck for this season’s expedition.

Good hunting!

15 08, 2010

New Olorotitan Specimen Discovered In Russia

By | August 15th, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

New Olorotitan Fossils may Yield Information on Duck-billed Dinosaur Brains

Scientists working in the south-east of Russia have uncovered the fossilised remains of an Olorotitan, a large duck-billed dinosaur that lived during the very end of the Age of Reptiles.  The fossils are so well preserved in their mudstone tomb, that the researchers hope to learn more about these particular dinosaurs and possibly get the chance to study how their brains functioned.

Olorotitan lived during the Cretaceous (Maastrichtian faunal stage), it was a large, herbivorous dinosaur closely related to the North American Lambeosaurines Corythosaurus and Hypacrosaurus.

A Model of Olorotitan (O. arharensis)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view a model of Olorotitan and other dinosaur toys: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

Olorotitan was formally named and described in 2003, after the discovery of a nearly complete specimen eroding out of the banks of Amur River in the far southeast of Russia.  The new dinosaur discovery is in the Russian region of Primorsky Krai, this location (Kundursky) has already yielded a number of vertebrate fossils.

Commenting on the discovery, Ivan Bolotsky, a junior research assistant at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Geology and Natural Resource Use stated:

“While removing the bones of an Olorotitan from the Kundursky excavation site, we spotted a tooth of a carnivorous dinosaur stuck between the caudal vertebrae.”

The tooth lodged in the Olorotitan’s tail bones (caudal vertebrae) is a bonus for the scientists, it will help them build up a picture of the fauna in the area during the Late Cretaceous.

The remains of the dinosaurs were preserved as mudslides in the area buried the bones and permitted their preservation.  The news release on the Olorotitan discovery explained that these fossils may represent some of the last types of dinosaur to have existed in Asia.  The site may yield a number of pristine specimens as according to the news report, the fossil rich site may actually cover an area of 30 square kilometres or more.

Commenting on the state of fossil preservation, Yuri Bolotsky, chief of Palaeontology Laboratory at the Far Eastern regional branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences said:

“The dinosaurs have been preserved to such an extent that the orifices, outlets of cranial nerves and blood-vessels remained intact.  This means we can analyse the brain structure of these animals.”

Yuri Bolotsky, was one of the original researchers on the first Olorotitan discoveries.  He was part of the team that formally named and described Olorotitan in 2003.

If the researchers are able to examine the braincase of this particular Lambeosaurine dinosaur, then it will contribute to the scientific data available on this branch of the Hadrosaur family.

14 08, 2010

Early Hominids Used Stone Tools says Fossil Study

By | August 14th, 2010|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Evidence of Stone Tool use by Australopithecus afarensis

The fossilised remains of two ancient animal bones dating from 3.4 million years ago discovered in Ethiopia have put back the use of stone tools by early Hominids by some 800,000 years according to a new scientific study.

Researcher Zeresenay Alemseged of the California Academy of Sciences believes that the bones show evidence of being cut and smashed by stone tools, this could be the first evidence of stone tools used by a species of Australopithecus (A. afarensis).

The Australopithecines represent an extinct group of small but upright-walking, ape-like human ancestors that lived from approximately 4.5 million years to about 1.4 million years ago.  Australopithecus afarensis is estimated by scientists to be the most likely ancestor of the human lineage.  This particular species was named as fossil remains were first found in the Afar region of northern Ethiopia.

Perhaps the most famous of all the early hominid fossils known is that of “Lucy” a female Australopithecus afarensis, nicknamed “Lucy” after the discoverers were listening to the Beatles track “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” when the fossils were first located.  Known in the scientific community by the slightly less inspiring name of A. L. 288 this early hominid dates from approximately 3.2 million years ago and about 40% of the skeleton was recovered.  “Lucy” stood a little over one metre tall and importantly, the limb bones show that she walked upright.

Early hominid fossils are extremely rare and it is likely that this particular species was quite widespread across central and east Africa.  The large distance between the fossil sites has led scientists to postulate that this particular species of ape-man was quite widespread.

The Fossilised Skeleton of “Lucy” A. afarensis

Picture Credit: Houston Museum of Natural Science

Commenting on the conclusions drawn from the study Zeresenay Alemseged stated:

“We are putting stone tools in their hands!”

However, other palaeoanthropologists have urged caution.

The authors of the report state that the bones indicate that human ancestors used sharp stones to carve meat from the carcasses of large animals and other stones to smash bones to get to the marrow.  Being able to feed on marrow would have been very important to our ancient ancestors.  This foodstuff would not be readily accessible to other predators and even if a carcase had been picked clean by vultures and other scavengers, early hominids could still get a highly nutritious meal by breaking the bones and feeding on the protein rich marrow inside.

Some scientists have suggested that the ability to feed on protein rich marrow may have been crucial in the development of larger brains.

One of the bones analysed belonged to a herbivore about the size of a modern cow, the other bone in the study is a leg bone from an animal about goat sized.  No stone tools were found at the site.

The research team have also concluded that these fossils represent the earliest evidence for meat-eating amongst hominids.  The study authors attribute the stone tool use to A. afarensis as no other hominid species is known from that region and rock strata.  “Lucy”, herself was discovered in the same general area, so if this is “smoking gun” evidence of stone tool use then Australopithecus afarensis is the most likely to be the tool user.

Alemseged commented that our ancient relatives probably scavenged carcasses rather than hunting live animals.  They also ate the meat raw has fire had not been mastered yet.  The research team are unable to state whether the stone tools were made or whether they were simply stones that were used as tools.  The intention is to continue the fieldwork in order to establish more evidence.

Alemseged made the point that as some A afarensis stripped meat from a carcase, others probably stood guard to ward off other scavengers and predators in return for some of the meat, which would indicate a degree of cooperative behaviour.

Until this new study, which has been published in the scientific journal “Nature”, the earliest sign of tool use dates to approximately 2.6 million years ago, also from Ethiopia, but scientists are not sure what species used these tools.

Other experts remain sceptical regarding this particular study’s conclusions.

Nicholas Toth of Indiana University, a palaeoanthropologist who has specialised in the study of early stone tools stated:

“I’m very cautious about the conclusions.”

He went on to point out that the bones in this new study were actually found on the surface rather than being excavated from a layer of sedimentary rock.  This means that nobody can be sure exactly what strata the bones come from, which is crucial to knowing their true age.

The marks on the bones may not be from the impact and use of stone tools.  Toth noted that the pictures he had seen were inconclusive, the notches and marks could have been made by trampling or animal bites.

Tim White of the University of California (Berkeley) commented that the tooth marks in his opinion looked like the work of crocodiles, he also pointed out that the marks do not appear in the places on the bones that one would expect from a butchering.

Noting that in 30 years of searching for fossils, no stone tools as old as the bones have been found – White stated:

“The evidence is very thin here, and very ambiguous.  An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence.”

Other experts are more supportive of the study’s conclusions, Bernard Wood of George Washington University declared:

“I’d be willing to bet a month’s salary that those cut marks are from stone tools and not tooth marks.”

Commenting further Bernard went on to state that the bone markings:

“Are as significant a statement about early hominid behaviour as the Laetoli footprints are about hominid locomotion.  Whilst it is reasonable to assume that A. afarensis wielded the tools, the idea about the butchers being guarded by other group members in exchange for meat is pushing the envelope a bit far.”

Wood also said the finding suggests A. afarensis ate meat but doesn’t prove it, because maybe they cut off animal flesh just to get to the marrow.

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