All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
18 02, 2011

Majungatholus or Majungasaurus – What’s the Difference?

By | February 18th, 2011|Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Main Page|0 Comments

The Joy of Junior Synonyms

Today some of our team members have been reviewing the fact sheets that are being produced for new prehistoric animal models being introduced into the Everything Dinosaur model range.  One such fact sheet concerns the Abelisaurid Majungatholus atopus, or as it should, more correctly be called, Majungasaurus crenatissimus. 

The fossilised bones of a large, bipedal dinosaur were first discovered on the island of Madagascar by French scientists who accompanied a French military expedition to secure the island from the British in 1895.  The fossils were found in a region of exposed Upper Cretaceous strata in the north-west of the island.  As a result of this work, a new genus of Theropod dinosaur – Majungasaurus was formally named and described.  In the 20th Century, more fossil remains were discovered, some of which were ascribed to the Megalosaurus taxon – an example of a taxonomic waste basket, but clearly the fossil evidence suggested the presence of a large meat-eater present on the island at the end of the Cretaceous.  Scientists have studied the ancient fauna and flora of Madagascar, as technically, it is the world’s oldest island.

During the Cretaceous the landmasses that were to become India and Madagascar were still joined together, located in the southern hemisphere east of the broken up super continent of Gondwanaland.  Rising magma in the Earth’s mantle under Madagascar began to stretch the crust.  Eventually, the Earth’s crust at this point, rifted and lava began to pour out onto the surface of the Earth.  It was this rifting process that was to lead to the separation of India from Madagascar, so helping to isolate Madagascar and leading to the development of its unique flora and fauna.

In 1979, a team of German and French scientists excavated a partial skull from the same formation as where the earlier Majungasaurus fossils were found.  They identified this fossil as being part of the thickened skull of a Pachycephalosaur and this specimen became the holotype for the genus Majungatholus atopus.  However, an almost complete skull of the Theropod known as Majungasaurus was unearthed in 1996 and what was thought to have been a part of a Pachycephalosaur was identified as being the frontal horn of an Abelisaurid.  In 1979, when the Pachycephalosaur from Madagascar was named and described it created a sensation amongst palaeontologists as no Pachycephalosaur material had ever been discovered in the southern hemisphere.

However, we now know that this particular fossil was misidentified and in essence Majungatholus and Majungasaurus are effectively one and the same genus.  In taxonomy, an organism can have a number of names, the earliest names given to an organism are known as senior synonyms, whereas, later names are junior synonyms.

In this case, Majungatholus is a junior synonym of Majungasaurus as Majungasaurus was first used in 1896 and Majungatholus not used until 1979.  The two names effectively describe the same animal.

The act of declaring a name to be the synonym of another is called synonymisation.

An Illustration of Majungasaurus crenatissimus (M. atopus)

Abelisaurid Ilustration

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The illustration above shows an adult man as an approximate scale.  Note the frontal horn on the top of the skull, the cause of the confusion between what was an Abelisaurid and what was thought to be a Pachycephalosaur.

In order to prevent confusion, and in recognition that this Theropod was most probably the apex predator on the island of Madagascar in the Late Cretaceous, some of our team members have resorted to calling this dinosaur “the monster from Madagascar”.

17 02, 2011

Bristol Remembers its Dinosaur

By | February 17th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Thecodontosaurus Remembered in Bristol

With all the amazing dinosaur discoveries in exotic places such as South America, the Badlands of America and remote areas of China, it is difficult to believe that some of the very first dinosaur discoveries were made in England.  Take the Triassic Sauropodomorph Thecodontosaurus (T. antiquus et al) for example.

Thecodontosaurus fossils have been found in an number of locations in England, but the first evidence for this two-metre-long, Late Triassic dinosaur was discovered in 1834 when a partial jawbone and some teeth were found in limestone deposits at a quarry on Durdham Downs, a site just north of what is now Bristol’s bustling city centre.

We were in Bristol at the beginning of the year, it was very chilly and it was difficult to comprehend that back in the Late Triassic (Norian faunal stage), around 212 million years ago or so, this part of the world was a lush tropical paradise, superficially resembling the Caribbean of today.  The area that was to become Bristol was covered by low lying islands, set in a warm shallow sea that teemed with life.  Living on the islands was the little, herbivore Thecodontosaurus, an ancestor of the giants of the Jurassic such as Diplodocus and Apatosaurus.

To read more about Bristol’s tropical past: New Insights into Thecodontosaurus

Thecodontosaurus was only the fourth dinosaur genus to be described (Iguanodon, Megalosaurus and Hylaeosaurus preceded it), however, when the fossil bones were first examined it was thought too small to be a dinosaur.  It was only officially added to the Dinosauria Order after a review by Thomas Huxley in 1870.

Thecodontosaurus Fossils and Artist’s Reconstruction

Picture Credit: Simon Powell/University of Bristol

This agile little dinosaur had a small head, with plant-shearing teeth located in sockets in its narrow jaws.  It is from these teeth that Thecodontosaurus got its name (name means “socket-toothed lizard”).  The forelimbs were shorter than the hind-limbs.  This suggests that this dinosaur was a facultative biped, it normally walked on all fours but when required it could rear up and run on its hind legs.

This dinosaur was officially named and described by the Georgian geologists Samuel Stutchbury and Henry Riley in 1836.  Samuel Stutchbury was the curator of the Bristol Institution, this later became the city’s museum and Bristol is renowned throughout the world for its University with its very prominent departments and faculties specialising in Earth Sciences.

Samuel Stutchbury became a Fellow of the Geological Society of London, he is perhaps best remembered for this geological survey work of Australia.  He died in February 1859 and he was buried in Bristol’s Arnos Vale cemetery.  The cemetery staff have teamed up with Bristol University to host a series of events this month to commemorate his work and to remember Bristol’s very own dinosaur.

Some of the original fossil material can still be viewed at Bristol Museum, unfortunately, many of the earliest specimens handled by the likes of Stutchbury and Riley were destroyed by German bombing in World War Two.

Arnos Vale cemetery intends to hold a number of events throughout this year to commemorate the lives and achievements of people remembered or buried at the cemetery.

16 02, 2011

First Frog of 2011

By | February 16th, 2011|Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

First Frog Sited in Office Pond

A little bit of excitement around the office today, a colleague has spotted a large frog in the pond next to our office building.  We have restored this pond and watched over the years to see how many frogs it attracts in the spring.  Last year we recorded ten and we had a record amount of frog spawn.

The bad weather over the Christmas period was a concern, we wondered how many of that year’s hatchlings had survived, but at least it is reassuring to see a frog in the pond this early in the year.  Hopefully, the weather will stay mild and for the frogs and the other creatures that we have observed in and around our office (we saw a fox the other day), the worst of the winter is over.

We are going to organise a clean up of the area around the pond over the weekend.  Some of our team members will be in the office on Saturday and Sunday and if they get some free time, they have agreed to give the pond some attention, remove any surface leaves trim the dead plants around the margins and so forth.

I suppose this is giving our pond a spring clean.

15 02, 2011

Amateur Archaeologists Set Out to Preserve “Open Field” Prehistoric Site

By | February 15th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Locals set out to Protect part of Prehistoric Nottinghamshire

Nottinghamshire, a county in the heart of England, may be more famous for Robin Hood and the origins of the modern game of football, but the discovery of what may prove to be a seasonal hunting camp of our Palaeolithic forefathers has got local archaeologists waving their trowels in excitement.

The site, known as an “open field” location has yielded a large number of flint tools, all dating from approximately 13,000 years ago (Upper Palaeolithic).  The discoveries have centred around the Nottinghamshire village of Farndon and so far a number of flint tools have been found, but many more and other tantalising evidence may lie beneath plough depth, just waiting to be found.  The site is claimed to be unique in the British Isles, certainly, such large numbers of stone tools, some of which are complete, are usually associated with cave locations.

Local amateur archaeologists and residents are seeking funds so that the site can be fully explored and researched.  The prehistoric site was first discovered during preliminary analysis of a road widening project (A46 Newark to Widmerpool).  In order to permit the site to be fully explored funding is required and locals have formed the Farndon Archaeological Research Investigations (FARI) to raise awareness and to act as a focus for their fund raising activities.

Some of the Flint Tools found at the Site

Picture Credit: BBC

The picture shows some of the flint tools found at the location.  They have worked cutting edges and would have been used for various jobs including cutting up carcases and scraping hides.

Daryl Garton, a professional archaeologist supporting FARI stated:

“There is not another site in Britain of the same age and with the spread of activity.  It is incredibly important.”

Initial work indicates that this site was probably a seasonal camp or a collection of camps, where hunters would have butchered animals that had been killed, perhaps herds of wild horses and deer as they crossed the treacherous River Trent nearby.

Farndon Archaeological Research Investigations (FARI) are bidding for £50,000 of Heritage Lottery Funding to be used over three years.

With this they hope to do more field walks, dig several test pits and carry out scientific tests they would otherwise not be able to afford.

Anne Coyne, from FARI, said the funding would be good, not only for archaeologists but also for the area.

She added:

“Its like ancient family history, studying how our ancestors lived in the past.  It would be great to put Newark on the map in terms of prehistory.”

As important as work in the field, FARI plans to communicate the importance of the site to the public, through talks and displays.  With all the interest in tracing family trees, and with so much media dedicated to exploring ancient Britain, it seems that they will have an eager audience.

Anne commented:

“Eventually what we would like to do is to put on a permanent display of the finds at the local museum at Newark [Nottinghamshire] for people to view for future generations.”

FARI are expecting to finalise their application by the end of March and hope to hear from the Heritage Lottery Fund a few months later.  With luck (and with funding), they hope to start work excavating the first pits in the summer.

14 02, 2011

One Small Step for Man a Giant Leap for Mankind

By | February 14th, 2011|Educational Activities, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Best Foot Forward for Homo sapiens – Spring Loaded Heels

Our species may have had a crucial, anatomical advantage over Neanderthals when it came to surviving the environmental change that led to the development of wide expanses of tundra.  We were better at long distance running and walking.

For those of us who remember the perils of enforced cross-country runs when we were at school, it may be hard to imagine that our species may have had a mechanical advantage when it came to travelling distances, but the structure of the bones and tendons in our feet could have provided us with a crucial evolutionary advantage over Neanderthals.

Researchers studying the heels of modern humans have found that our bone structure stretches the Achilles tendon taut, storing energy more efficiently than the Neanderthal foot and allowing us to run better.

However, Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis), were no slouches when it came to walking, their feet and ankles gave them an advantage in walking uphill and the bones in the foot supported the ankle more if they jumped, so says the research team based at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

In our ancestors, just as with people today, a short, lower heel stretched the Achilles tendon tight.  This arrangement increases the tendon’s spring-like action, making it an efficient store of energy; helping us to run efficiently and to make long-distance treks.  This anatomical difference between our species and the Neanderthals, one of a number of subtle differences, could have given us the edge when hunting on the wide, open plains of prehistory.

Anthropologist, David Raichlen, who led the research, published in the “Journal of Human Evolution”, commented:

“We can say that energy costs of running differed between Neanderthals and modern humans, but our data does not really provide answers as to what happened to the Neanderthals.”

Scientists believe that the last of the Neanderthals died out approximately 28,000 years ago.  These humans, were very well adapted to the cold European environment, they had bigger brains than us and were physically stronger, but for some reason or reasons, they became extinct and our species went onto thrive.

Anthropologists already know that compared to our ancestors, Neanderthals were stronger, heavier, had shorter legs and smaller inner-ear canals (important for co-ordination and balance) – all factors in making them less efficient runners compared to us.  However, this new line of study provides evidence to suggest that Neanderthals were disadvantaged compared to us when it came to moving long distances.

The research shows the distance runner’s foot and ankle was very efficient.  Measurements of part of the heel bone has helped the researchers determine how efficiently an individual could run long distances.

In a forested environment, the Neanderthals tactics of ambushing prey would have been a successful strategy.  Their strength and power would have given them an edge over H. sapiens.  However, if climate change led to a loss of forests and a more open environment, the ability to track animals over long distances, running prey to exhaustion would have been a tactic better suited to our ancestors.  Unfortunately, the lack of fossil human foot bones is preventing scientists from determining when our running-friendly, spring-loaded heels first evolved.

Raichlen and his team calculated rates of oxygen consumption for eight experienced long-distance runners as they performed on a treadmill for 10 minutes running at a pacy 16 km/h.  On a separate day, MRI scans of each person’s heel and Achilles tendons revealed the nature of the potential mechanical advantage.  Those runners who used oxygen most efficiently whilst running had shorter heel bones.

Heel-bone measurements of 13 fossil Homo sapiens that lived between approximately 30,000 and 100,000 years ago resemble those of today’s runners, the scientists have stated.  On average, the measurements indicate that the ancient humans expended 6.9 percent more energy while running than their counterparts today did, not a substantial difference, according to the researchers.

Analyses of heel bones of six Neanderthals from the same time period indicate that these hominids used an average of 11.4 percent more energy while running than modern athletes did, a statistically notable disparity.

Energy efficiency while running depends far more on a person’s anatomy than on physical training, the researchers say. They used distance runners as a modern comparison group in order to account for any training effects.  The research concludes that our springy heels enabling us to run for longer may have proved decisive as hunting moved to the open plains.

Is this a case of best foot forward, in terms of hominid evolution?

13 02, 2011

Was Dilophosaurus related to Tyrannosaurus rex?

By | February 13th, 2011|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Questions about Theropods

On one of our many expeditions into schools, to meet young palaeontologists and keen dinosaur fans studying dinosaurs, we were asked by a student who was busy helping us create a montage of dinosaur pictures was Dilophosaurus related to T. rex?

An interesting question, the short answer is yes, but they were only distantly related.  Dilophosaurus fossils are known from western North America and China, interestingly large Tyrannosaur fossils such as T. rex and Tarbosaurus are also found in these parts of the world.  Both Dilophosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex were meat-eaters and members of the Theropoda.  However, to all intents and purposes this is where the similarities end.

Dilophosaurus lived in the Jurassic Period, Tyrannosaurus rex existed at the very end of the age of reptiles, in the Late Cretaceous.  Although these two dinosaurs were Theropods they represent examples of different families in the Theropod clade.  Dilophosaurus was agile and its most significant distinguishing feature were the pair of semi-circular crests that it sported on the top of its head.  Quite what these thin crests were used for remains a mystery, but they may have played in role in communication amongst pack members.

An Illustration of Dilophosaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Measuring perhaps as long as 8 metres, Dilophosaurus was certainly a large, formidable predator, but it was considerably smaller and less heavy than Tyrannosaurus rex.

We enjoyed meeting the enthusiastic primary school children and we tried to answer all their questions.  Hopefully, we were able to explain the difference between Dilophosaurus and T. rex.  Later on in the lesson we constructed a time-line and put these dinosaurs on it, so the children could see how many millions of years apart these particular dinosaurs lived.

12 02, 2011

Terror Bird (Kelenken) on its Way

By | February 12th, 2011|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page|3 Comments

New Terror Bird Model (Collecta Kelenken Model Arrives)

Our stock of the new Collecta Terror Bird is due to arrive in the next few days or so.  We are all looking forward to its arrival along with the other new models in this extensive range.  This Terror Bird (Phorusrhacid), is part of the scale model range of prehistoric animal models, it is the first bird sculpted by the Collecta team.

The model represents a Kelenken, a genus of South American Phorusrhacid, a creature that was only formally named and described four years ago.

An Illustration of Kelenken (Kelenken guillermoi)

The Kelenken in all its Glory

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We have illustrated our Terror Bird quite vividly.  The plumage is bright and colourful, in recognition of how important eyesight was to these creatures.  The large feathered head crest and the red flash along the eyeline, pure speculation on our part, would have been used in visual communication.

Known only from a rostrum and a handful of foot bones, scientists are unsure just how big this bird was.  It has been suggested that this creature stood over two metres tall and would have weighed as much as an African lion.

Certainly, Kelenken guillermoi was a formidable predator.  We certainly are going to enjoy having a Kelenken guillermoi model in stock.

To view our range of Collecta dinosaur models and other dinosaur toys: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls

11 02, 2011

Early Hominids had their Feet Firmly on the Ground

By | February 11th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Analysis of 3.2 million-year-old Toe Bones Indicates Walking Tall A. afarensis

One of the many fascinating puzzles surrounding the evolution of hominids is at which point in their evolutionary development did they stop behaving like apes and started to adopt recognisable human traits such as leaving an arboreal lifestyle and adapting to a life, walking the open grasslands.

A team of American scientists, analysing a single toe bone, dating from around 3.2 million years ago, have suggested that one of our earliest known ancestors Australopithecus afarensis may have been an obligate walker, with foot arches to cushion movement as they walked along.  Such evidence, if the controversial interpretation is accepted, suggests that these early hominids had evolved adaptations suited to walking and not for climbing trees.  Perhaps the first steps on the pathway to the evolution of ground dwelling human ancestors.

According to researcher William Kimbel, (Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University), one of the authors of this new study, A. afarensis had a permanently arched foot and walked essentially the same as our own species.  The fossil of the fourth metatarsal, ascribed to belonging to A. afarensis suggests that these hominids had a foot designed to cushion the effect of walking.  This indicates that this particular species was an obligate walker.

The research team’s work is published in this months edition of the academic journal “Science”.  The team concludes that this research resolves the debate between palaeoanthropologists who think that this species was a biped and those who believe that A. afarensis was a stepping-stone between a tree-climbing ape and full bipedalism.

Commenting on the research, Kimbel stated:

“This fourth metatarsal is the only known of Australopithecus afarensis and is a key piece of evidence for the early evolution of the uniquely human way of walking.”

The fossil was found in Ethiopia, at Hadar, the famous location of Late Pliocene aged strata that has yielded a number of exceptional hominid fossils, some more than 3.5 million years old.  The area is so important in terms of  its fossil hominid remains, that the site is known as the “home of the first family”.  The village of Hadar, in the Awash river valley has given its name to the rock formation that yields these fossils – the Hadar Formation.

Researcher Carol Ward, another author of the study, stated:

“Understanding that the foot arches appeared very early in our evolution shows that the unique structure of our feet is fundamental to human locomotion.”

However, not all the scientific community agree with the paper’s findings.  Some scientists have suggested that it may be better to assess the degree of arching found in some of the larger toe bones such as the big toe (first metatarsal) before making such claims.

A Human Foot with the Fossil Metatarsal showing Fourth Toe Bone Position

Picture Credit: Kimberly A. Congdon, Carol Ward, and Elizabeth Harman

Bones of a human foot showing the uniquely arched configuration of the foot bones, and where the fourth metatarsal is located. The 3.2 million year old bones from Ethiopia reveal the foot arches in the ancient hominid Australopithecus afarensis.

An almost complete set of hand bones for A. afarensis is known.  This fossil was also found at Hadar, it dates from approximately 3.3 million years ago.  Metacarpals as well as proximal and distal phalanges are known.  This set of bones seem to suggest that A. afarensis had hands close to but not resembling human ancestors.  They show characteristics of both an arboreal tree-climber and a ground-based animal.  Of course, since no species is fixed, over the time that Australopithecus afarensis existed it is possible that they adapted to a drier climate with less trees and become more accustomed to living on the ground.  Over generations, natural selection would have led to modifications such as adaptations to a more ground based existence.  Whether or not these relatively small animals walked the same way as we modern humans do, is open to debate.  They may have been upright and competent bipeds, but they probably had a different gait.

10 02, 2011

Dinosaurs at National Science and Engineering Week

By | February 10th, 2011|Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Teaching|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur Prepared for National Science Week

Next month sees the annual National Science and Engineering Week, the event actually runs from March 11th through to March 20th and its aim is to showcase the best in science and engineering in the UK and to get people involved.  There are a huge number of events and activities taking place again this year, from intimate cafe venues holding discussions on science related topics to enormous science festivals all round the country.

The dinosaur experts at Everything Dinosaur are not being left out, they are visiting a number of schools with fossils and other dinosaur related activities to enthuse the next generation of young scientists.

To read more about Everything Dinosaur’s dinosaur workshops and other school activities visit this link: Dinosaur Workshop

The theme for this event is communication, bringing the general public together to discuss science topics, discover new things and to communicate the role science and engineering has to play in everyone’s lives.

Organised by the British Science Association, this annual event goes from strength to strength and Everything Dinosaur are proud to be involved especially with the elements that involve teaching about dinosaurs in school.

9 02, 2011

David Attenborough’s Life Stories Series Two on Radio 4

By | February 9th, 2011|Educational Activities, Main Page, Radio Reviews|0 Comments

First Life – Back on Air

The highly acclaimed “First Life” radio series, a collection of stories and anecdotes by Sir David Attenborough is starting a second series.  One of the world’s best known and most popular presenters, Sir David examines twenty marvels of the natural world, a collection of experiences in some fifty years of broadcasting.

Each ten minute programme deals with a different subject and they are on radio four at 8.50pm on Friday evening (GMT) repeated the following Sunday at 8.50am.  Sir David’s enthusiasm is infectious and his curiosity for the natural world really comes out in these broadcasts.

Well worth a listen, and we suspect the series will be available on CD from the BBC in the Summer.

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