All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//July
23 07, 2012

Important Palaeogene Fossil Site in British Columbia gets Protection

By | July 23rd, 2012|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Canadian Government Officials Take Steps to Protect Fossil Location

With the current spate of vandalism to important fossil sites being reported from Canada it is very reassuring to note that  for one location in British Columbia; Government officials have stepped in to help protect it and the areas valuable fossils.

A series of highly fossiliferous strata described as a “fossil gold mine” by palaeontologists near to the small town of  Cache Creek located on the junction between the Trans Canada Highway and Highway 97 has  been granted full conservation status by the Canadian Government.  The site known as the McAbee Fossil Beds are a set of shallow lake sediments laid down between fifty and fifty-five million years ago (Palaeogene geological period).  These beds have provided a large number of plant, invertebrate and fossil fish specimens, many of which are new to science.  Impressions of feathers have even been found, preserved in the fine sediment.  The land owners had run fossil excavation trips to permit amateur fossil hunters the chance to obtain their own fossil specimen, however, although these excursions were carefully planned and supervised, the provincial government has put an end to them by declaring the location as a heritage site.

Students Looking for Fossils at the Site

Students exploring the sediments

Picture Credit: Provincial Government – British Columbia

Commenting on the decision, which was formalised this spring, Forests and Lands Minister Steve Thomson stated that the declaration will secure the future of the McAbee fossil beds.  The decision has been taken so that the fossils can be properly studied by palaeontologists and to prevent important finds not reaching the scientific community.

However, the decision does not please everyone, a number of trips had already been booked to the quarry site, (the fossils are to be found in a cliff face), these have now been cancelled.  The land owners are not happy with the compensation they have been offered, stating that the figure quoted by the provincial government covers the mineral rights but not the value of the potential fossil finds.  The decision has forced the landowners to close down their commercial fossil hunting enterprise for good.

22 07, 2012

Palaeontologists Take Steps to Preserve Dig Sites

By | July 22nd, 2012|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology|Comments Off on Palaeontologists Take Steps to Preserve Dig Sites

Field Workers Intend to Increase Security at Dinosaur Dig Sites

Following a number of incidents of fossil thefts and deliberate vandalism from Canadian vertebrate fossil sites, scientists are taking steps to try to protect the precious fossils that they find. Dinosaur fossils can take many months or even years to be excavated and removed from a dig site. In many cases, each fragment of bone or piece of a tooth has to be carefully excavated and then protected with glues and resins before they can be taken from the location. This painstaking process can take many hundreds of man hours to complete and as a result many fossils are only partially mapped and prepared in each season. The site is often carefully covered over so that palaeontologists can return to the area to complete their work later on that year or even in subsequent years.

These locations, although very often to be found in remote areas attract trophy hunters and smugglers who are keen to remove fossils so that they can be sold illegally. However, some fossils have been deliberately vandalised as they lie in the ground awaiting further excavation work.

Hadrosaur Specimen Destroyed

It was reported that an eight metre long, duck-billed dinosaur specimen found in the Pipestone Creek area near Grande Prairie in northwestern Alberta, Canada was smashed up and virtually destroyed a couple of months ago. This follows on from a number incidents reported to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police about dinosaur fossil thefts and damage to vertebrate fossils as they lie in their fossil locations.

To read more about the Pipestone Creek incident: Vandals in Alberta damage Duck-Billed Dinosaur Fossils

Palaeontologists and field teams are now trying to work together to help protect their rare and delicate fossil finds. The problem is most palaeontology is carried out on a small budget, usually money allocated to a dig site from the bursar of a Natural History Museum. Often there are simply not the resources available to mount video security, infra-red cameras or to employ security staff twenty-four hours a day.

The Need for Security on Dig Sites

Keep up the Vigil!

Help from Landowners and Volunteers

Scientists have requested that the land owners where fossils have been found, keep a close look out for trespassers or suspicious activity in the area. Their vigilance can help prevent attacks on the fossil finds. Volunteers have been called for in some areas to help deter thefts and acts of vandalism by getting people to camp out close to the site. Although, museum staff try their best to protect a location, the presence of local volunteers camping nearby would deter all but the most determined attacker.

Keeping Dig Sites Secret

One of the best ways to protect a new fossil discovery is to keep it a secret. By limiting the number of people who are informed of a dinosaur fossil discovery, scientists hope to minimise the risk that this information might fall into the wrong hands and lead to site damage or theft.

Public education can help to reduce the problem. In many countries, including Canada, the taking of fossil material or other artefacts is illegal and fines in excess of $40,000 Canadian dollars may be levied or even a term in prison. Palaeontologists believe that the vandalism may not be a deliberate attempt to destroy the fossils but the botched efforts of amateurs trying to steal the fossils either as souvenirs or to sell on.

21 07, 2012

More Prehistoric Turtle Remains from a Columbian Coal Mine

By | July 21st, 2012|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Giant Turtle with a Rounded Shell – Reptiles Ruled When Dinosaurs Died Out

Palaeontologists and field workers have been marvelling at the latest discovery of huge reptile fossils from Columbia’s Cerrejon coal mine.  After the dinosaurs died out, there were many gaps in ecosystems, these were rapidly filled by animals that had survived the Cretaceous mass extinction event that saw the demise of the Dinosauria.  In the geological time period that followed the Cretaceous, known as the Palaeogene, global temperatures soared and planet Earth became a paradise for those reptile genera that survived.

The research team have uncovered the carapace of another enormous freshwater turtle from the coal mine.  This sixty million year old fossil was found in a section of the open cast mine known as La Puente pit.  Scientists have already built up a picture of the reptile dominated swampland and rain-forest that made up this part of South America, just a few million years after the dinosaurs became extinct.  Giant crocodiles took over the predatory role of dinosaurs such as the Abelisaurids and huge turtles swam in the lakes and rivers of the area.  The apex predator of the region, the stuff of nightmares was a huge constrictor snake, possibly the largest snake that has ever lived.  This animal has been named Titanoboa and the fossils found of this animal indicate a snake with a length in excess of fifteen metres, twice the size of any species of snake alive today.

To read an article about the discovery of Titanoboa: Titanoboa – Huge Snake of the Palaeogene

This new giant, freshwater turtle has been formally described and named Puentemys mushaisaensis.  It measured over 1.5 metres in length and it was named after the part of the coal mine where the carapace (top part of the turtle’s shell was found).   The palaeontologists have classified P. mushaisaensis as a turtle belonging to the Bothremydid family of the Chelonia (turtles and tortoises).  Although many types of turtle have been discovered at the Cerrejon mine, this is the first Bothremydid turtle to be found in Palaeogene deposits in South America.

The Giant Turtle Fossil In Situ

New Turtle Discovery from Cerrejon (Columbia)

Picture Credit: Edwin Cadena (North Carolina State University)

The palaeontologists responsible for the scientific description of this table-sized turtle have suggested that its nearest relative known in the fossil record is a genus of turtles whose fossils have been found in Upper Cretaceous strata in Europe.  This has perplexed palaeontologists as during the Late Cretaceous the Atlantic Ocean was already vast and it is difficult to imagine how even a large turtle could have made its way from Europe to South America.  A number of theories have been put forward to explain this distribution.  Perhaps turtles of this type lived in estuaries and spread across the planet by moving along coastlines to exploit new habitats.  Or perhaps individuals were washed out to sea and survived the long crossing between Europe and the east coast of South America.  Alternatively, turtles may have reached South America by “island hopping”, slowly making their way across the Atlantic over millions of years by colonising islands of the coast of Africa and then it was from these that some individuals got washed westwards to the Americas.

Puentemys mushaisaensis had a very rounded shell, described by field workers when they first excavated the fossils as being “rounded like a car tyre”.  Round shelled turtles had existed during the reign of the dinosaurs.  Columbian scientists have proposed that a very round shell would have had two advantages.  Firstly, with huge crocodiles and the enormous Titanoboa about, the round shell would have offered considerable protection.  Crocodiles would have found it difficult to get a purchase on the carapace with their teeth.  The constrictor snake Titanoboa would have had difficulty swallowing a turtle with such a rounded shell.  So the strange shape to the carapace could have evolved as an adaptation to the large predators that P. mushaisaensis shared its habitat with.  Secondly, the shell being so round would have enabled a large surface area to be presented to the sun, permitting a cold-blooded turtle to be warmed quickly by the sun’s rays.  Being sluggish when surrounded by such formidable predators would not have been a good idea.

Scientists from the various museums and institutes who have been working in the area are confident that the coal mine will yield more spectacular reptile fossils from a time in the Earth’s history immediately after the dinosaur extinction.

To read an earlier article about Cerrejon turtle fossil discoveries: Giant Freshwater Turtle from a Columbian Coal Mine

20 07, 2012

Grange Moor Primary School Pupils Tackle Dinosaur Tracks

By | July 20th, 2012|Educational Activities|1 Comment

Miss Allen’s Class Explore Dinosaur Footprints and Come Up with Fascinating Theories

One of the great things about palaeontology is that it is a very accessible science field.  When looking for the Higgs Boson particle a Large Hadron Collider is required but with palaeontology, going for a walk in an area where fossils can be found and turning a few rocks over might lead to a discovery that changes the way that scientists view the world.

For Miss Allen’s class of Year 5/6 pupils at Grange  Moor Primary School (Wakefield, West Yorkshire), they got the chance to get to grips with a real palaeontology puzzle by studying a bizarre set of fossilised dinosaur tracks that had recently been discovered in the United States.

Miss Allen’s Class 3 were given the opportunity to take part in some real palaeontology and to come up some scientific theories of their own when they were invited to try to work out what a set of dinosaur tracks made many millions of years ago might reveal about the behaviour of prehistoric animals.

Dinosaurs as a term topic can be help provide students with challenging assignments and the teachers and teaching assistants at Grange Moor Primary School certainly came up with a number of creative and imaginative lesson plans for the pupils to enjoy.

In this particular lesson, involving year 5/6 students at the school, a series of pictures and drawings were shown to the class.  These illustrate a strange set of dinosaur tracks that were made next to a drying up lake by a dinosaur that lived during the Early Jurassic geological period.

The children were given a set of structured assignments to accomplish, using a worksheet and the scientific illustrations they were tasked with interpreting the fossil evidence and just like a real scientist, they had to come up with a theory to explain the strange foot prints and marks that had been preserved.

Pupils at Grange Moor Primary School Studying a Set of Dinosaur Footprints

Pupils examining strange dinosaur footprints

Picture Credit: H. K. Luterman of Cedar City, Utah

The picture above shows the scientific drawing that Class 3 had to interpret.

The pupils had to work out the direction of travel and why scientists include scale bars when presenting scientific information.  To conclude this exercise the children had to try to come up with a theory that might explain the strange tracks and markings preserved in the fossilised mud.  Just like a real palaeontologist they had to evaluate the evidence and come with their own hypothesis as to what might have happened.

Just like in real palaeontology, there were lots of different theories put forward.  Some of the children’s ideas are listed below:

Genevieve – she thought that more than one dinosaur had walked over the ground.

Olivia  – suggested that a hunting dinosaur may have dropped its catch and this had been preserved in the dinosaur tracks.

Amelia and Kelsey – proposed that the shore of the lake may have been slippy and the dinosaur may have fallen over.

Matthew – stated that the tracks and strange marks preserved as fossils may show where a mother dinosaur dropped its baby whilst carrying it along the side of the lake.

The pupils came up with a number of fascinating ideas, all or which could be relevant as since no scientists were around 190 million years ago, it is difficult to say exactly what actually happened.

However, our theory is that a large, bipedal dinosaur had been to the lake to have a drink, it must have been a hot day so it decided to cool off by sitting in the mud for a short while to rest.  As the animal sat down it left its impression of its “hands” and bottom in the mud.  The “handprints”, as far as we at Everything Dinosaur know, are the first trace fossils of a meat-eating dinosaur’s front limbs found to date.  The resting position of the front limbs of this dinosaur can be calculated by looking at the fossilised marks in the mudstone and this is helping palaeontologists to understand more about how the “hands” of dinosaurs worked.

One Theory – A Dinosaur Takes a Rest on a Hot Day in the Early Jurassic

Pupils propose theories about dinosaur behaviour

Picture Credit: H. K. Luterman of Cedar City, Utah

The pupils came up with a variety of explanations, as well as learning about how scale measures are used in scientific drawings and calculating the actual size of the tracks.  All useful in helping to familiarise the students with aspects of mathematics such as scale drawings, simple calculations and accurate measuring objects.

Miss Allen even entered into the spirit of the dinosaur day by coming into the classroom dressed as a dinosaur.  The pupils at Grange Moor Primary School are certainly very lucky to have such enthusiastic and hard working teachers and teaching assistants to encourage and motivate them.

Miss Allen and Amy as Dinosaurs

Two of the “Dinosaurs” at Grange Moor Primary School

Picture Credit: Grange Moor Primary School

The picture above shows Miss Allen (Class 3 teacher) dressed up as a dinosaur.  Alongside Miss Allen is Amy, a pupil at the school who, like a lot of her classmates came as a dinosaur for the special dinosaur day with Everything Dinosaur.

19 07, 2012

Diplodocus Feeding Frenzy – A Biter or a Comber

By | July 19th, 2012|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans|0 Comments

New Research into Diplodocus Feeding Habits

A team of British scientists have published research that re-affirms the theory that Diplodocid dinosaurs such as Diplodocus combed leaves into their mouths rather than biting leaves off branches.  Using sophisticated computer based modelling techniques more at home in the aeronautical industry, the research team assessed the stresses on a Diplodocus skull as the animal ate.

Diplodocus was typical of the Diplodocid Sauropods.  It had a small head, on a long, slender neck and large body supported by four column-like legs.  The tails of these giant animals were also very long and slender.  Some of the dinosaurs described as Diplodocids may have been the longest land animals of all time.  The Upper Jurassic strata of the Morrison Formation (western United States) has revealed the fossilised remains of a number of giant, plant-eating dinosaur species, some of which may have exceeded thirty metres in length.

A Typical Model of Diplodocus

A typical Diplodocid dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The research team, including members from the Natural History Museum and the School of Earth Sciences at Bristol University, studied the biomechanical stresses imposed on a typical Diplodocid skull when different methods of feeding were examined.  These large animals were able to consume and process huge amounts of plant matter and very probably spent most of their time eating.  Everything Dinosaur team members have calculated that some large individual Sauropods may have had to consume plant material equivalent to many thousands of breakfast wheat biscuits per day.

The study, reported this week in the scientific publication “Naturwissenschaften” supports an earlier hypothesis that was put forward in the 1990s, that these dinosaurs fed by combing leaves and other plant material off branches and twigs straight into their mouths.  The biomechanical tests show that the skull of Diplodocids were adapted to strip leaves from trees.

During the Late Jurassic the flora was dominated by ferns, bennettitales, seed ferns (pteridosperms) and cycads.  The largest trees tended to be conifers.  Flowering plants (the angiosperms), had not evolved and did not evolve until the Early Cretaceous.  Palaeontologists have debated which type of plant material these large creatures favoured.  Analysis of fossilised dinosaur poo (coprolite) reveals that unsurprisingly, these long-necked dinosaurs were not fussy eaters.  Diplodocids were very efficient “feeding platforms”.  An animal could stand in one position and with its long neck it could reach a huge amount of vegetation without moving, a very efficient and energy saving method of gathering food.  In addition, dinosaurs like Diplodocus could probably have rocked back onto their hind legs and balanced on their tails (a tripod stance), to enable it to reach up high and feed on the tops of trees.  The Diplodocids were therefore able to reach parts of the plant canopy that other herbivores did not have access to.

Some of the largest fossils found of dinosaurs relate to the Diplodocid clade.  Scientists have estimated, for example, that some species of Diplodocus could exceed lengths in excess of twenty-seven metres and weigh more than twenty tonnes.

Diplodocus only had a few, small, peg-like teeth in its jaws.  What teeth Diplodocus had were at the front of its jaws and some of these teeth protruded forward.  Using a computerised model of a Diplodocus skull, that had been constructed by scanning in three-dimensions Diplodocus skull material, the team were able to build up a picture of the stresses imposed on the skull as the animal ate.

The biomechanical analysis assessed three types of potential feeding behaviour in Diplodocids.  The model was used to push the skull material to its physical limit helping to determine how much stress the teeth could withstand along with the bones that make up the animal’s head.

One of the problems associated with studying Sauropods is that there are no animals alive today that are remotely like them.  This complicates any study being made into the feeding habits of these sort of animals.  Using finite element analysis (FEA), a methodology used extensively in the design of aeroplanes and orthopaedic devices, the British team concluded that Diplodocids probably combed food into the mouths rather than biting off branches.

New Study into the Eating Habits of Diplodocus

Feeding by combing or raking food into the mouth

Picture Credit: Mark A Klinger/ Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Finite element analysis is just one of a number of techniques  being used by palaeontologists to find out more about long extinct creatures.  Technology more at home in an engineering plant or a hospital is being used to discover more about dinosaurs and other extinct vertebrates.

The research will furnish one student with a doctorate paper and it provides fresh evidence to support the “leaf-combing” theory postulated by palaeontologists.   Some other theories regarding how these animals ate and what food they consumed have been put forward in the past.  In the 19th Century and into the early 20th Century, many scientists believed that dinosaurs like Diplodocus were almost entirely aquatic, living in lakes and swamps.  These scientists believed that the weak teeth were only suitable for feeding on soft aquatic vegetation such as pond weed.  Most palaeontologists now accept that Sauropods were almost entirely terrestrial and that they fed exclusively on land plants.

One of the more bizarre theories put forward; postulated that the long necks, small heads in relation to their bodies and peg-like teeth could have been ideal for snatching up shellfish from amongst rocks and off the bottom of lakes and rivers. This theory has largely been discounted, most palaeontologists are comfortable with the hypothesis that these animals were entirely herbivorous.

The research team discovered that whilst the stripping of bark from trees was too stressful for the teeth and likely to result in tooth breakage, combing and raking food into the mouth was no more stressful on the skull as standard biting.  This research may help to answer the question how did Sauropods feed?

An examination of the structure of ferns and indeed extant cycads, suggests that raking food into the mouth would have resulted in a very efficient feeding behaviour.  To prove this yourself, take a fork and a fern frond, pull the fork from the base of the frond up to the tip with the prongs of the fork between the rachis (mid-rib).  One sharp pull should result in the majority of the vegetation being pulled from the rachis. Everything Dinosaur conduct a similar small group exercise when working with Key Stage 1 children as part of Everything Dinosaur’s school workshops.   By doing this you are mimicking the feeding behaviour of one of the largest animals ever to walk the Earth.

18 07, 2012

Royal Mail seeks to Assure UK Customers Regarding Mail Disruption During the Olympics

By | July 18th, 2012|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates|0 Comments

Royal Mail Does Not Expect Significant Interruption to UK Mail Deliveries During the Olympics

Officials at the Royal Mail are assuring customers in the United Kingdom that during the Olympics, despite the significant road closures in and around London, they are not expecting too much service disruption.  London is the first city in history to host the Games three times and although there will be a number of road closures, Royal Mail anticipates that deliveries and collections will take place as usual.

In an information release, the Royal Mail state that over the past twelve months or so the company’s business experts have liaised with local personnel as well as the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) and Transport for London (TfL) to minimise any mail delays.

With a population of around eight million people, delivering and collecting mail in the London area is a huge logistical task already.  The influx of visitors and the subsequent road closures that will be taking place throughout the Games will add to the difficulties.  Whilst we at Everything Dinosaur, praise the organisers and companies like Royal Mail for their proactive approach, we would advise that extra time be given by customers to getting mail to recipients.  In these circumstances it is better to purchase early rather than procrastinate, after all, despite the very best efforts of all concerned some delays may occur.

A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur, the Cheshire based supplier of dinosaur toys and games, commented:

“We do appreciate that the road closures may lead to some delays in the delivery of parcels.  However, our customers can be assured that we at Everything Dinosaur will be working longer shifts to ensure that we can keep up to speed with the packing and despatching of deliveries.”

17 07, 2012

Giant Philippine Crocodile Is Guinness World Record Holder

By | July 17th, 2012|Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Lolong – Officially the Biggest Crocodile in Captivity

A giant Estuarine crocodile, otherwise known as a Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) captured by villagers in the Philippines has been officially declared the largest crocodile in captivity.  Everything Dinosaur reported on the capture of the six metre long monster croc last September when brave villagers in Bunawan, aided by the local authorities trapped the huge reptile.

To read the original article: Monster Crocodile Caught

The crocodile, called Lolong to honour a Philippine Government official who died from a heart attack after travelling to the area to help capture the crocodile, has been housed in a new eco-tourism park just outside the village and it has proved to be a star attraction.  After being officially declared the largest crocodile in capitivity by the Guinness World Records Association, no doubt more tourists will come to see the monster.

Up until Lolong was officially measured the title of the largest captive crocodile belonged to Cassius, another Saltwater crocodile that was housed in the Marineland Melanesia wildlife zoo on Green Island of the coast of Queensland (Australia).

To read about Cassius: Question – what is the biggest crocodile alive today?

Cassius had been measured at 5.48 metres long, but the Philippine monster has been measured at 6.17 metres in length.  Estimating the weight of these creatures is difficult, imagine persuading a twenty-foot long crocodile to sit on some scales, but both these apex predators probably weigh more than 1,000 kilogrammes.

The Capture of Lolong (September 2011)

The Capture of Lolong

Picture Credit: Reuters

Biologists suggest that these crocodiles, the largest species of reptile in the world can live for over one hundred years and males may reach lengths in excess of seven metres.  Unlike humans, animals like crocodiles can continue to grow incrementally for as long as they live.  A very old male crocodile could exceed twenty-three feet in length.  Worryingly for the inhabitants of Bunawan, they have been reports of an even larger crocodile lurking in the lush, swampland of the region.  Fishermen are still very wary of going fishing after dark just in case there is an attack.

The village mayor Edwin Cox Elorde stated that the news of their record breaker led to celebrations amongst the locals.  Lolong has already proved to be a big hit with tourists and visitors who have brought much needed income into the area.  Now that this Philippine monster has been officially declared the biggest crocodile in captivity in the world, more people are expected to visit, to catch a glimpse of the region’s very own “prehistoric-looking monster”.

The mayor went on to add:

“There were mixed feelings [in the community].  We are really proud because Lolong proves the rich biodiversity of our place but at the same time there are fears that Lolong may not be alone.”

With the possibility of an even larger predator in the area, local officials are seeking Government permission to carry out more trapping in the area.  Crocodile attacks are a constant threat and for many of the inhabitants of Bunawan who make their living as fishermen, there are growing fears that an even bigger and more dangerous crocodile may be present in the swamp.

16 07, 2012

Carnegie Collectibles Brachiosaurus Dinosaur Model Reviewed

By | July 16th, 2012|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Products, Everything Dinosaur videos, Product Reviews|2 Comments

Review of 1:50 Scale Brachiosaurus Dinosaur Model (Safari Ltd)

Team members at Everything Dinosaur have received a number of requests to make a video review of the 1:50 scale Brachiosaurus model manufactured by Safari Ltd.  We have made a short (five minute) video which discusses some of the palaeontology behind the making of this exciting, new Brachiosaurus replica.

Everything Dinosaur’s Video Review of Brachiosaurus (Safari Ltd)

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This model, like all the prehistoric animal models in the Carnegie Collectibles range has been approved by the palaeontologists at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.  It shows the very latest scientific thinking concerning this Late Jurassic herbivore and great care has obviously gone into the model’s design.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s Carnegie Collectible range: Carnegie Dinosaur Toys

A striking model that shows a new neck position, contrasting nicely with other Brachiosaur models that have a more “giraffe-like” stance and also look carefully to see where the nostrils have been placed.

An exciting new addition to the Safari Ltd range of dinosaur models.

 

15 07, 2012

Scientists Discover Amazing Early Human Fossil in Laboratory

By | July 15th, 2012|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Palaeontological articles|2 Comments

South African Scientists Intend not to Leave Australopithecus sediba “On the Shelf”

An innocuous looking slab of rock, simply known as Block 051 lay in a storage area of a South African laboratory for three years as scientists went about their daily business.  By chance a technician took a closer look at the one-metre wide rock and spotted a small, whitish object sticking out from it – on closer examination it turned out to be a fossilised tooth of a two million year old hominid.  This was only the start, as palaeoanthropologists believe that this greyish rock nodule may contain the most complete fossilised skeleton yet discovered of Australopithecus sediba.

Rock May Reveal Evidence of Human Evolution

Scientist points to the tooth and shows replica skull of Hominid

Picture Credit: AFP

Scientists from the Wits Institute for Human Evolution based at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg (South Africa) have announced the discovery of a significant amount of a skeleton of a potential early human ancestor.  The skeleton is believed to be the remains of ‘Karabo’, the type skeleton of Australopithecus sediba, discovered at the Malapa Site in the Cradle of Humankind in 2009.

The remains, embedded in the rock may consist of elements of the skull plus ribs and parts of the limbs from a hominid that lived two million years ago.  Scientists are unsure as to whether the fossils represent a male or a female but a preliminary examination suggests that the bones may belong to a juvenile, aged between nine and thirteen years when they died.

Professor Lee Berger, a Reader in Palaeoanthropology and the Public Understanding of Science at the Wits Institute for Human Evolution made the announcement.  Professor Berger and his team at the University of Witwatersrand have been at the centre of the research into A. sediba fossil specimens and have excavated a number of highly significant finds of South African hominid fossils in recent years.

To read an early article on the University’s research: Fossil Find may Help to Determine how Humans Evolved

Professor Berger commented:

“We have discovered parts of a jaw and critical aspects of the body including what appear to be a complete femur (thigh bone), ribs, vertebrae and other important limb elements, some never before seen in such completeness in the human fossil record.”

The Professor went on to add:

“This discovery will almost certainly make Karabo the most complete early human ancestor skeleton ever discovered. We are obviously quite excited as it appears that we now have some of the most critical and complete remains of the skeleton, albeit encased in solid rock.  It’s a big day for us as a team and for our field as a whole.”

The fossils are not visible on the surface of the rock, but encased within it.  Although the rock had been brought back to the laboratory three years ago it lay unnoticed in the Wits laboratories until early June.  With the tooth spotted, Professor Berger and his wife Jackie Smilg, a radiologist at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, who is conducting her PhD on the CT scanning of fossil material embedded in rock, scanned the large rock in a state of the art CT scanner.

A Preliminary Scan Reveals Substantial Fossil Material in the Matrix

Initial Scan of the Matrix Proves Promising

Picture Credit: University of Witswatersrand (Johannesburg)

The picture shows a probable hominin fibula (circled), in the rock known as block 051.   Note the shaft of a probable femur just above and to the left.

The scans reveal tantalising glimpses of the fossil material that lies within the rock.  In an unprecedented gesture of open access to science and public participation, the University of the Witwatersrand, the Gauteng Provincial Government and the South African national government have announced that for the first time in history, the process of exploring and uncovering these fossil remains would be conducted live, captured on video, and conveyed to the world in real time. This will allow members of the public and the scientific community to share in the unfolding discovery in an unprecedented way.

A spokesperson for Everything Dinosaur commentated:

“This is a very exciting development, giving members of the public open access to palaeoanthropology as it happens, people will get to see the fossils at the same time as the scientists”.

A laboratory studio, designed in collaboration with the National Geographic Society, will be built at the Maropeng Visitor Centre in the heart of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.  It will allow the public to view the preparation of this skeleton live if they visit Maropeng, or live on the internet.

Access to the laboratory studio will not be limited only to visitors to the Cradle of Humankind and the internet as Professor Berger explained:

“We intend to create virtual ‘outposts’ in major partner museums around the world.  These outposts will allow visitors to these partner museums the chance to interact with scientists in real time in a way we simply could not conceive of a few years ago.  It is anticipated that the laboratory and virtual infrastructure will be built within a year, expanding our ambitious tourism and smart province infrastructure programme.”

Berger added that negotiations have begun with the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, the Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom and the Smithsonian in Washington.

Pointing out the Evidence – The Tooth

Pointing out the tooth… “the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth”

Picture Credit: University of Witswatersrand (Johannesburg)

The photograph above shows  the tooth of a hominid embedded in a rock containing significant parts of a skeleton of an early human ancestor.  The skeleton is believed to be the remains of “Karabo”, the type skeleton of Australopithecus sediba, discovered at the Malapa Site in the Cradle of Humankind in 2009.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur have highlighted the tooth with a red circle.

Looks like it is going to be an exciting time for some of the candidate hominids involved in the search for the direct ancestry of our own species.

Everything Dinosaur is grateful to the University of Witwatersrand for the compilation of this article.

14 07, 2012

New Prehistoric Times (Summer 2012) Out Next Week

By | July 14th, 2012|Dinosaur Fans, Prehistoric Times|0 Comments

Prehistoric Times (issue 102)

The next edition of the quarterly magazine Prehistoric Times is out next week.  Mike Fredericks, the editor of this prestigious magazine for dinosaur fans and dinosaur model collectors sent us a picture of the front cover.   We can’t wait to get our copy, Mike tells us in an email that he will start shipping copies next week.

Summer 2012 Edition of Prehistoric Times

Giganotosaurus on the front cover

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks/Prehistoric Times

It looks like the Giganotosaurus depicted on the front cover has been in a fight.  From the puncture wounds and cuts on the snout and jaws we could surmise that this is a result of face-biting between two of these huge, fearsome creatures.  Pathology on the jaws and snouts of Theropod dinosaurs suggests that such intraspecific combats did occur (competition between two animals of the same species).  These fights could have been between siblings to establish dominance, or within adult animals to establish a hierarchy within a pack, or possible fights over females between males or squabbles over a kill.  With a skull measuring around six feet in length and with jaws liked with re-curved and very sharp teeth  you would not want to get into an argument with a Giganotosaurus.

To visit the Prehistoric Times website and subscribe: Prehistoric Times

Packed full of features, reviews, news about the latest fossil discoveries this magazine is ideal for grown up dinosaur fans and model collectors – we heartily recommend it.

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