All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
21 10, 2013

Ancient Arthropod Brain and Nervous System Studied

By | October 21st, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Cambrian Arthropod – The World’s Oldest “Brain” is Studied

The fossil of an ancient Arthropod discovered in southern China is helping scientists to understand the links between different types of animal that make up the largest phylum in the animal kingdom.  The fossil has revealed evidence of a central nervous system and a rudimentary control centre situated at the front of the animal, what could be termed a brain.  The fossil, a member of a Cambrian Arthropod genus known as Alalcomenaeus has a nervous system that is similar to that found in extant spiders and scorpions.  By studying the layout of central nervous systems in the Arthropoda, palaeontologists are able to build up a picture of the phylogenetic relationships between what is a very diverse phylum.  Arthropods include crustaceans, scorpions, spiders, millipedes, centipedes, horseshoe crabs and insects.

Alalcomenaeus is a member of the Megacheiran group of the Arthropoda (big claws).  It lived in a shallow, marine environment approximately 520 million years ago (Middle Cambrian).  The fossil is one of a number of beautifully preserved specimens that have been unearthed in the Chengjiang Formation (the Moatianshan shales of Yunnan Province, south-west China).  The shales have revealed an extensive and diverse marine fauna (something like 16 different phyla have been identified).  The site rivals the great Burgess Shales location in British Columbia (Canada), in terms of its importance to scientists when it comes to understanding the rapid diversification of animal types in what is known as the “Cambrian explosion”.

A Fossil of Alalcomenaeus

Ancient Arthropod from 520 million years ago.Picture Credit: University of Arizona/N. Strausfeld

The research team, which included scientists from the University of Arizona, used CAT scans to make three-dimensional reconstructions of features of the fossilised nervous system.  Laser scanning was also carried out and light microscopy studies to enable the distribution of chemical elements preserved in the fossil to be mapped.  Evidence of metals such as traces of copper and iron helped the team to outline the different neural structures in this ancient animal.

The complex structure in the animal’s head, the brain and the layout of the central nervous system and nerve network reveals similarities between the extinct creature’s nervous system and the nervous systems of several modern Arthropods.  This suggests a common ancestry between Alalcomenaeus and many types of extant Arthropod.

Living Arthropods are commonly separated into several major subphyla.  The Chelicerates, for example, includes spiders, horseshoe crabs and scorpions.  Then there is a subphylum termed Crustacea (shrimps, crabs, lobsters and such like) and a group the includes the insects (Hexapoda).  This new study sheds light on the evolutionary processes that may have given rise to modern Arthropods, and also provides clues about where these extinct mega-clawed creatures fit in with the Arthropoda phylum.

Senior author of the research paper, which has recently been published in the journal “Nature”, Professor Nicholas Strausfeld (University of Arizona) stated:

“We now know that the Megacheirans had a central nervous system very similar to today’s horseshoe crabs and scorpions.  This means that the ancestors of spiders and their kin lived side by side with the ancestors of the Crustaceans in the Cambrian.”

Alalcomenaeus is a newly established genus.  It measured around three centimetres in length, had a segmented body with approximately 12 pairs of attached limbs.

Extinct and Extant Arthropod Nervous Systems Compared

Nervous systems of Arthropods compared.

Picture Credit: University of Arizona/N. Strausfeld

This illustration shows the nervous systems of the Alalcomenaeus fossil (left), a larval horseshoe crab (middle) and a scorpion (right).  Diagnostic features that reveal the evolutionary relationships among these animals include the forward position of the gut opening in the brain and the arrangement of optic centres outside and inside the brain supplied by two pairs of eyes.  The brown coloured objects represent the compound eyes.

Describing this strange creature Professor Strausfeld added:

“Up front, it has a long pair of appendages that have scissor-like components, basically an elbow with scissors on the end.  These are really weird appendages, and there has been a long debate about what they are and what they correspond to in modern animals.”

Greg Edgecombe (Natural History Museum – London) stated that the nervous system tends to be similar between major groups of related animals.  By studying these structures scientists can work out phylogenetic relationships between different taxa.  He stated that the nervous system and its layout was one of the more reliable tools in the armoury of invertebrate palaeontologists when it comes to trying to investigate the evolutionary tree of the Arthropoda.

Doctor Edgecombe commented:

“They both have an ‘elbow joint’ in the same place, and they both have a similar arrangement of a fixed and movable finger at the tip.  Because of these similarities, one of the main theories for what ‘great appendage Arthropods[Megacheirans]’ are is that they were related to Chelicerates.  Thus, our findings from the nervous system gave an injection of new data to support an existing theory.”

Recently, Dr. Edgecombe and his fellow researchers from the Natural History Museum identified another Cambrian fossil specimen whose nervous system and brain revealed an unexpected similarity to the brains of modern Crustacea.  When these two studies are put together, they reveal important and significant information regarding the evolution and early diversity of the Arthropoda.

A Close up of the Head of Alalcomenaeus

Superimposed colours reveal the presence of elements preserved within the fossil material.

Picture Credit: University of Arizona/N. Strausfeld

The picture shows a highly magnified view of the head region of the Alalcomenaeus fossil specimen.  It includes superimposed colours of a microscopy technique that reveal the distribution of chemical elements in the fossil. Copper shows up as blue, iron as magenta and the CT signatures as green. The coincidence of iron and CT denote nervous system components.  The creature boasted two pairs of eyes (ball-shaped structures at the top).

Professor Strausfeld explained:

“Our new find is exciting because it shows that Mandibulates (to which Crustaceans belong) and Chelicerates were already present as two distinct evolutionary trajectories 520 million years ago, which means their common ancestor must have existed much deeper in time.  We expect to find fossils of animals that have persisted from more ancient times, and I’m hopeful we will one day find the ancestral type of both the Mandibulate and Chelicerate nervous system ground patterns.  They had to come from somewhere.  Now the search is on.”

A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur added:

“This new research in conjunction with the earlier published papers, is helping to shed new light on the evolutionary relationships concerning the Arthropods.  The Cambrian explosion, a sudden burst of evolution, specifically of those organisms with hard, mineralised parts marks the start of the Phanerozoic Eon – the “time of visible life”, these fossils, many of which are microscopic are playing an important role in helping scientists to unravel the tree of life.”

20 10, 2013

Inflatable Dinosaurs from Everything Dinosaur

By | October 20th, 2013|Everything Dinosaur Products, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products, Press Releases|0 Comments

Inflatable Dinosaur from Everything Dinosaur

An inflatable Tyrannosaurus rex to make young dinosaur fans roar with excitement and swish their tails with delight.  As part of Everything Dinosaur’s commitment to its customers, the company’s team members have been busy sourcing and testing a huge range of new items for the website.  So far over twenty new products have been added this month, with much more promised in the run up to Christmas.

The Inflatable T. rex

Just add air for some prehistoric fun

Just add air for some prehistoric fun

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Standing an impressive 76 centimetres tall, this inflatable Tyrannosaurid has proved to be very popular on test.  Aimed at children from three years and upwards it makes a wonderful accessory for an aspiring palaeontologist. Remarking on some of the more unusual uses of an inflatable dinosaur, a spokes person from Everything Dinosaur explained that they had supplied some T. rex inflatables to a rally club which was having a fancy dress event. Several members wanted to convert their vehicles into “stone age mobiles” and this inflatable, of perhaps the most famous dinosaur of all, was just what they needed to add the final flourishes to their cars.

To view the Tyrannosaurus rex inflatable and other items in Everything Dinosaur’s party products range: Dinosaur Themed Party Supplies

As one young dinosaur fan exclaimed “it was like having a baby dinosaur in the house, one that was nearly as tall as me.”

Just add air to create your very own dinosaur fun.

19 10, 2013

Early Human Fossil May Re-Write Early Human Evolutionary History

By | October 19th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|1 Comment

New Fossil Study May Lead to the Human Family Tree Being Simplified

A team of international scientists studying a series of hominin remains that date back some 1.8 million years, have concluded that the fossils. although showing a degree of variation, do all represent a single human species.  The team’s findings could have far-reaching implications for the accepted view of the evolutionary human family tree.

The fossils come from Dmanisi, a site in southern Georgia that has provided an extensive amount of early human fossil material, documenting the earliest migrations of hominins into Eurasia.  The scientists led by David Lordkipanidze, a palaeoanthropologist at the Georgian National Museum (Tbilisi), have spent eight years studying the various fossil bones, many of them fragmentary but their research has amassed enough evidence to suggest a re-writing of the Homo genus.

The paucity of the global fossil record for humans has left scientists with a large number of gaps in the human family tree.  These species currently recognised as distinct members of the Homo genus, the likes of Homo erectus, Homo ergaster and Homo habilis may represent variation amongst members of a single, evolving lineage of humans.  Put into simple terms, people look different from each other today, although they are all members of a single species (H. sapiens), so did early hominins look different from one another?  The wide variation seen in the fossil bones could perhaps have led scientists to establish a number of species, when perhaps, the fossils represent a single human form.

Scientists Attempt to Unravel Human Evolution

Skulls and jaws from the site in Georgia.

Skulls and jaws from the site in Georgia.

Picture Credit: Science

The picture above shows some of the distinct differences between hominin fossils excavated from the Dmanisi location.  The skull on the left for example, has a much broader face than the skull on the right, the cheekbones are more pronounced, the brow ridges are more defined and prominent when compared to the specimen on the far right.  One of the jawbones (to the left of the picture), is significantly deeper than the specimen adjacent to it.

This is the conclusion drawn by the research team led by David Lordkipanidze and reported in the academic publication, “Science”.  A hominin cranium excavated in 2005, a fossil referred to as “skull 5” or more specifically (D4500) and described as being “the world’s first completely preserved adult hominid skull”, when combined with a fossilised mandible (jawbone) found at the same location (D2600), provided the key evidence that led to the simplified human evolution theory.  This skull was dissimilar to other human remains found at the dig site, it had a number of primitive features such as a long ape-like face, large teeth, a much smaller braincase and a more substantial lower jaw.  Together D4500 and D2600 represent the best example yet found of an adult hominin skull from the early Pleistocene epoch.

The fossil haul from the Dmanisi site, which now comprises five crania, provides direct evidence of wide morphological variance amongst early Pleistocene hominids.  The Dmanisi fossils have permitted the research team to study the physical traits of Homo genus members that apparently lived at the same location and at approximately the same time.   The small braincase, as indicated by D4500 at approximately 546 cubic centimetres is only about 10% bigger than the average braincase size found in extant Western Lowland Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla).  These primitive characteristics found amongst other hominin remains that show more “human-like” anatomical traits suggests that rather than types of human species, there could have been just a single, evolving lineage of early humans.

The scientists have concluded that the differences between these fossils were no more pronounced than the differences between any given five members of our own species H. sapiens or from five chimpanzees.  Such morphological differences had been used as the basis to establish new species in the human evolutionary family tree.  For example, the hominin fossils from Dmanisi, evidence of the earliest Europeans, had been assigned to the new species of H. georgicus.  If this new hypothesis becomes the accepted norm, then fossils assigned to the likes of H. ergaster may have to be re-examined.

Commenting on the results of the study, co-author Christoph Zolikofer (University of Zurich) stated:

“Had the braincase and the face of Skull five been found as separate fossils at different sites in Africa, they might have been attributed to different species.  Since we see a similar pattern and range of variation in the African fossil record, it is sensible to assume that there was a single Homo species at that time in Africa. As the Dmanisi hominids are so similar to the African ones, we further assume that they both represent the same species.”

The very first hominins evolved in Africa, it is only in strata less than two million years old that palaeoanthropologists start to find evidence of a migration of early humans out of Africa into Europe and Asia.  This first phase of human migration out of their ancestral home coincides with a period of dramatic climate change.  There was an extensive period of global cooling.  Many of the apex, mammalian predators that had existed in North Africa became extinct and it has been proposed that the lack of competition for meat that hominids now faced help to drive the migrations into Europe and beyond.  The further north (or south) one travels, the greater the contrast between seasons.  If the world cooled and mankind’s homelands of Africa grew colder, than this in conjunction with the absence of other animal competitors could have helped fuel the movements north.  After all, if Africa was colder than early hominins would have had to adapt to the new climate, predisposing them to being able to cope better with colder climates at more northerly latitudes.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“This recently published paper provides a new perspective on the evolution of our own species.  The fossil record of early hominins and evidence for their potential migration out of Africa is very poor and much more research is needed in this area.  Perhaps, in future, scientists will not use species definition to distinguish different forms of ancient human but rely on analysis of stone tool use to establish a range of different progressions in technology to chart the evolution of the human population as we know it today.

Post cranium elements found amongst the medieval ruins of a castle that marks the Dmanisi dig site suggest that the Dmanisi hominins were shorter than modern humans, but they were fully upright bipeds with leg bones capable of efficient locomotion.  These traits help distinguish these fossils from much earlier material still attributed to the Australopithecus genus.  Australopithecines are believed the ancestors of the Homo genus.

18 10, 2013

Meet the Experts at Everything Dinosaur

By | October 18th, 2013|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Press Releases|0 Comments

Half-Term Fun at the Beacon Museum (Whitehaven) with Everything Dinosaur

On Saturday and Sunday, 26th and 27th of October, Everything Dinosaur are going to be on the road again as they will be working that weekend at The Beacon in Whitehaven exploring all things “Ice Age and Sharky” as a staff member succinctly puts it.  Visitors to the wonderful museum on Copeland’s harbour side will get the chance to meet Everything Dinosaur team members and to get to grips with real fossils of ancient prehistoric animals.  From 10am to 4.30pm  each day, Everything Dinosaur will be on hand to guide visitors through the exhibits, answer questions and to demonstrate what we do and don’t know about mammals and giant birds that evolved after the dinosaurs extinction.  In addition,  team members will be highlighting the importance of sharks both today and in prehistory, tracing 400 million years of shark evolution.
Everything Dinosaur – Back at The Beacon
Everything Dinosaur at The Beacon (Whitehaven) weekending 26th/27th October.
The event, which is included as part of the normal admission price, is inspired by The Beacon’s two blockbuster exhibitions “Ice Age – Life After Dinosaurs” and “Shark! Myths & Reality” which are showing until 5th January.  If you have ever wondered just how sharp the tooth of a giant prehistoric shark was, well, if you pop along to The Beacon that weekend you might get the chance to find out!
Learn about the very first sea monsters, get up close to the business end of a Woolly Mammoth, discover how the Sabre-Toothed Tiger got its misleading name and release your inner Neanderthal.  All these topics and more will be covered by our enthusiastic team members, and we will try to answer questions too, as well as having some dinosaur fossils on hand.
To read more about the exhibitions at The Beacon: Exhibitions at The Beacon (Whitehaven)
17 10, 2013

Prehistoric Times Issue 107 Reviewed

By | October 17th, 2013|Magazine Reviews, Prehistoric Times|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur Reviews the Autumn Issue of Prehistoric Times Magazine

Issue 107 of Prehistoric Times, the magazine for dinosaur fans and serious model collectors has arrived in the office and fans of the artwork of John Sibbick are going to be delighted with the front cover.  The illustration of  two Allosaurs fighting over the carcase of a Camptosaurus was painted by John, a man who has been much in demand recently, as he was responsible for the prehistoric animal paintings that now adorn the new Royal Mail First Class stamps that came into circulation last week.  Inside the magazine, its sixty-two pages are jam packed with lots of features, articles and illustrations.  There is a profile and interview of  commercial illustrator Jerry LoFaro and in the light of the news that Jurassic Park IV (Jurassic World) is likely to be in cinemas by the summer of 2015, dinosaur expert Gregory S. Paul gives his view on the “JP” franchise.

Prehistoric Times Autumn 2013 

The autumn (fall) edition of Prehistoric Times magazine.

The autumn (fall) edition of Prehistoric Times magazine.

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks/Everything Dinosaur

Utahraptor and Uintatherium are the prehistoric animals showcased in this edition.  There are lots of pictures and drawings submitted by readers and Phil Hore provides a highly informative text, focusing on the largest of the Dromaeosaurs and on the mighty Eocene, herbivorous mammal with the strange and bumpy appearance.  Surprisingly, Utahraptor features in a Star Trek novel, the things you learn about when reading Prehistoric Times.  Tracy Lee Ford gets in on the act and provides a master-class in Dromaeosaurid illustration, including some interpretations of the very latest scientific data.  He also edits the Paleonews page, covering topics as diverse as Ichthyosaur evolution, Chelonia and giant Pterosaurs.

On the subject of the Pterosauria, for all those who haven’t quite got their fill of flying reptiles after reading the wonderful “Pterosaurs” by Mark Witton, there is a super article all about the attempts to replicate Pterosaur flight, in particular that of the likes of the Azhdarchid Quetzalcoatlus.  Amongst the reviews and product updates, the magazine’s editor, Mike Fredericks sheds some light on some amazing dinosaur themed items from the past in collector’s corner, look out for the “deliberate” mistakes on Mike’s “What’s New in Review” page, whoops!

Issue 107 even features an article on prehistoric themed roadside attractions in the United States, there is something for everybody in the autumn edition, the Prehistoric Times team must have some sort of space-aged print compactor that enables them to squeeze it all into one magazine.  Another triumph, one to read by the fireside as the nights draw in.

To subscribe to Prehistoric Times: Prehistoric Times Magazine

16 10, 2013

Diplodocus under the Hammer

By | October 16th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Diplodocus Fossil to be Auctioned in the UK

The fossilised remains of a Diplodocus longus are due to be sold at an auction in the United Kingdom next month.  The specimen, nicknamed “Misty” measures approximately seventeen metres long and dates from the Late Jurassic of Wyoming.  The fossils are estimated to be around 150 million years old and as articulated Sauropod skeletons are extremely rare in the fossil record, the lot is likely to sell for around £600,000 GBP ($960,000 USD).

The Diplodocus is one of a number of rare fossils and other artefacts being sold by Summers Place Auctions, based in West Sussex (England), on November 27th as part of an auction entitled “Evolution”.  Other lots include Dodo remains, a specimen of the Jurassic marine reptile Ichthyosaurus communis from Dorset, which itself is estimated to fetch up to £80,000 GBP ($128,000 USD) and a rare, stuffed Tarpan.  The Tarpan is an extinct sub-species of the Eurasian Wild Horse.

The Diplodocus Being Prepared for Auction Surrounded by Other Auction Lots

Sauropods under the hammer!

Sauropods under the hammer!

The fossils, especially the Diplodocus exhibit will attract a great deal of interest no doubt.  However, we at Everything Dinosaur remain concerned when such specimens are offered up for sale in this way.  The specimen was excavated from the privately owned Dana Quarry in Wyoming, whilst there are restrictions placed on the movement and sale of fossils found on Bureau of Land Management land within the United States, as the Diplodocus fossils come from private property, these restrictions do not apply.

The concern is that specimens such as this would end up in the hands of a wealthy individual or corporation, who subsequently, may not permit the specimen to be used in further research.  Therefore, a potentially scientifically valuable fossil is lost to the scientific community.  Sales of this kind, may also indirectly encourage illegal excavations and the smuggling of fossils.  High profile sales of dinosaur fossils, ones that fetch hundreds of thousands of pounds, could motivate individuals to break existing laws in a bid to exploit the situation and to profit from the high prices paid for such specimens.

The counter argument to this is that a large number of  important specimens would never been found at all, if it were not for the activities of professional fossil dealers.  Many significant fossils could erode away if it were not for the commercial companies and individuals that constantly explore fossil bearing strata in a bid to discover potentially valuable specimens.

The Diplodocus, believed to represent a female, was found in 2009 by Benjamin and Jacob, the sons of palaeontologist Raimund Albersdoerfer, who were exploring the Dana Quarry site.  It took the dinosaur hunters a total of nine weeks to excavate all the fossil material representing the Diplodocus from the dig site.  The fossil material was then sent to a specialist laboratory in Holland for further preparation before being offered for sale.

Errol Fuller, one of the people responsible for managing the exhibits to go into the auction commented:

“It’s perfectly legal to bring it from America and legal to move it to any country in the world.  Museum workers will sometimes try to stop these things… but almost every great fossil discovery was made by fossil collectors or dealers.”

The auction of specimens such as this have proved controversial.  In May of last year, Everything Dinosaur reported on the seizure of a Tarbosaurus fossilised skeleton that had been auctioned in New York.  Allegations that the fossil had been illegally removed from Mongolia were later proven.  The fossil was recently repatriated to its country of origin.

To read more about the Tarbosaurus skeleton being seized: Tarbosaurus Fossil Seized by U.S. Authorities

Another high profile auction of fossils is due to take place just a few days before the Diplodocus goes under the hammer.  Bonhams (New York), on the 19th November will be overseeing the auction of a Chasmosaurine dinosaur and a suspected Nanotyrannus, a lot which has been entitled the “duelling dinosaurs”.  In this case, the fossils originate from Montana.

To read more about the “duelling dinosaurs” auction: “Duelling Dinosaurs” likely to set World Record at Auction

Let’s hope that whatever, the outcome, the fossils and other artefacts that are part of this auction are made available for further study should the need arise.

15 10, 2013

WIN! WIN! WIN! with Everything Dinosaur – Name a Dinosaur Competition!

By | October 15th, 2013|Press Releases|0 Comments

Win a Super Spinosaurus Soft Toy with Everything Dinosaur

WIN! WIN! WIN! with Everything Dinosaur!  (Please note this competition is now closed)

We have got a super, dinosaur giveaway.  Our new Spinosaurus soft toy needs a name and we are going to give one lucky winner their very own soft and cuddly Spinosaurus.

Win a Super Dinosaur Soft Toy in our Name a Dinosaur Competition
Please give me a name!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur 

All you have to do is “Like” Everything Dinosaur’s FACEBOOK page, then comment on the picture including a suggestion for the name for our very cute, sail-backed reptile soft toy.  He’s big, measuring a whopping 44cm long and bright red, but he needs a name!

Everything Dinosaur on FACEBOOK: “LIKE” Our Facebook Page and Enter Competition

We will draw the lucky winner at random and the name caption competition closes on October 31st 2013.  Good luck!

Super Spinosaurus Soft Toy
Win me by giving me a name.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of super prehistoric animal soft toys: Dinosaur Soft Toys

Terms and Conditions of Dinosaur Name Caption Competition

Automated entries are not permitted and will be excluded from the draw

Only one entry per person

The prize is non-transferable and no cash alternative will be offered

The Everything Dinosaur name a dinosaur caption competition runs until October 31st 2013.

Winner will be notified by private message on Facebook.

Prize includes postage and packing

For full terms and conditions contact: Contact Everything Dinosaur


15 10, 2013

Last Recommended Posting Dates for Christmas 2013

By | October 15th, 2013|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Press Releases|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur Publishes Christmas Post Information to Help Customers

It is that time of year again, the evenings are drawing in, Halloween is nearly upon us and Everything Dinosaur team members are complaining that the warehouse is getting cold – we must be on the run up to Christmas.  So once again, we are putting in place plans to assist our customers with their Christmas gift choices.  Team members are on hand to advise telephone callers and help where they can.  Our staff are working as hard as ever in the warehouse to pack and despatch orders promptly and we have checked with Royal Mail in the UK as to the last recommended posting dates around the world with regards to Christmas orders.
Information on the Last Recommended Posting Dates for Christmas Orders (2013)
Post early for Christmas
Table Credit: Everything Dinosaur
Everything Dinosaur recommends that customers consult their local mail provider for further details about recommended posting dates for Christmas gifts.
The table above shows that for surface mail deliveries to the United States, for example, today, Tuesday 15th is the last recommended posting date.
As always our efficient staff quickly respond to emails sent to them and we have produced a chart providing information on the last safe posting dates for Christmas parcels and gifts sent from the UK overseas.
Whilst staff at Everything Dinosaur do all they can to promptly despatch goods, and to provide accurate information on posting dates, it may be worthwhile checking with Royal Mail to obtain the latest postal information.
Remember, the dates provided in the table above, are the last recommended posting dates.  Postal staff and postal services get very busy in the run up to Christmas, posting early is recommended and rest assured our helpful staff will be on hand to assist customers with any queries that they may have.  We strongly recommend that customers post early in order to avoid disappointment.
14 10, 2013

Stone Age Man Excavation Set Reviewed

By | October 14th, 2013|Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur Products, Product Reviews|0 Comments

Stone Age Man Excavation Kit Reviewed

The latest excavation kit has just been added to Everything Dinosaur’s range.  Time to excavate a trio of troglodytes with this new addition to the company’s educational excavation kits.  The “Stone Age Man Excavation Kit” consists of a plaster block in which three models of cavemen have to be found.  Digging tools and a handy magnifying glass are also included.  Most kits of this kind contain objects that once excavated can be put together to form a dinosaur skeleton, but in a twist, this dig kit has hidden cavemen for the young palaeontologist (or should that be young palaeoanthropologist) to excavate.

The Stone Age Man Excavation Kit

Kit includes digging tools and magnifying glass.

Kit includes digging tools and magnifying glass.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the packaging and the kit’s contents (large plaster block, digging tools including a brush and a magnifying glass).

Our testers put plenty of newspaper down to help minimise the debris left by the enthusiastic excavators, the block is sealed in a plastic cover and once this has been removed the digging tools can be used to chip and scrape away at the soft plaster until a figure is found.  The plaster is quite soft, but some parts are harder than others, fortunately, the wooden digging stick with its pick at one end and scraper at the other is more than capable of breaking up the plaster.  On of our testing teams commented that having a plastic tub close by into which some of the debris from the block could be put was helpful.  From time to time, the block was turned upside down over this tub to permit the bits that had been chipped away to be put straight into this tub before transfer to the bin.

Excavating and searching for the cavemen models was surprisingly therapeutic.  Mums and dads also joined in the hunt too.  The block is quite substantial and it took over an hour to expose the figures.  The children were excited and got very involved with the excavations, they loved scratching around with the digging tool, and brushing off the debris.

Using the Tools to Dig Around the Plaster 

Digging away.

Digging away.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture shows one of the grown-ups helping out by picking away at a piece of plaster close to one of the bases of the cavemen figures.  It is a good idea to put newspaper down or as one tester suggested, to excavate the blocks outside.  Another tester recommended rolling up the children’s sleeves before starting, this ensured that cuffs did not get dusty.

A Part Finished Block with the Models Exposed

Cavemen slowly being revealed.

Cavemen slowly being revealed.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The models were easy to spot (pink models against an off-white coloured plaster), once spotted, a little bit of care and patience is required to complete the job of digging out the models.  Testers found that once they had located the figures, the block could be turned upside down and excavated from the other side down to where the models were located.  Each block contains three cavemen figures, the contents of the kits does vary and nobody was sure what cavemen they had got until the models had nearly been dug out.   A panel on the side of the box shows pictures of the six available figures, which proved to be extremely helpful when trying to identify the replicas and think of where to excavate next.  It took over two hours for the models to be excavated, but the time flew by and the children were so busy concentrating on the job in hand that they did not notice how long (or how quietly) they had been working.  As the plaster is quite brittle and pliable, the children could easy make progress and see where they had been digging.  There was little effort involved although we would recommend that this item is for children from 8 years and upwards.  However, younger children can certainly have a go and many of the Mums and Dads enjoyed helping out as supervisors and extra excavators for the slightly younger children.  The figures have spears and clubs in their hands so care is required to dig around these items, but once a figure is nearly exposed the relevant piece of block can be broken off and then placed in a small bowl of water to allow the last bits of plaster to be washed off.

It is inadvisable to pour the plaster remains down the sink, this could result in a blocked pipe, best thing to do was to use a paper towel to catch the bits of plaster and these could then be safely placed in the bin.

Typical Cavemen Models Excavated from the Kit

A trio of troglodytes (Stone Age Man Figures).

A trio of troglodytes (Stone Age Man Figures).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The models stand about 5cm tall and they are great for creative, imaginative play.  The six models show Stone Age people in various poses, one making flint tools, one about to throw a boulder, whilst another depicts a person chipping away at some rock, rather in the same way that we chipped away at the plaster block as one young person pointed out.

To view the range of excavation kits, including the Stone Age Man Excavation Kit: Stone Age Man and Dinosaur Excavation Kits

This is an interesting and novel addition to the Everything Dinosaur dig kits range and is a great exercise, with the children using the same tools that real palaeontologists and archaeologists use when they are excavating specimens.


The Results of our Efforts – Three Cavemen Models

The models excavated from one of the kits.

The models excavated from one of the kits.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

It was noted that this kit makes a super addition to a home educator’s set of resources and that project work could be undertaken around the subject of what palaeontologists/archaeologists do, what the Stone Age was like etc. using this excavation kit as a basis for the study.

13 10, 2013

Ancient Mosquito Fossil with Blood from its Victim Preserved

By | October 13th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

A First for Biology – Blood Meal of an Insect Found Intact in a Fossil

In the steamy swamplands of what was to become the north-western part of the United States forty-six million years ago a tiny, insignificant event took place.  An event which had been replicated in that area hundreds, perhaps thousands of times that day.  A tiny mosquito used its needle-like proboscis to penetrate the skin of a vertebrate and took a meal of blood from its victim.  Nothing remarkable about that you might say, but what happened next gave the opportunity for scientists to comment on this incident forty-six million years later.

The tiny midge, for some reason stalled in its flight over a body of water.  Perhaps a sudden gust of wind forced the insect to crash land onto the surface of a pond.  The mosquito quickly sank to the bottom, remarkably its body remained intact and it was quickly buried, preserving it and its distended abdomen filled with blood.  The insect was fossilised and researchers exploring these Palaeogene deposits that now make up part of a mountainside in the state of Montana (USA), were able to view the tiny fossilised insect and postulate that the distended body contained the remains of its last meal.

A Window into the Past, The Preserved Mosquito Fossil

Mosquito fossil with potentially preserved blood in its abdomen.

Mosquito fossil with potentially preserved blood in its abdomen.

Picture Credit: Smithsonian Institute/Dr. Dale Greenwalt

It might sound like something that the author Michael Crichton would have written about.  Mr Crichton wrote “Jurassic Park”,  a story of the failed attempt to open a dinosaur theme park with the Dinosauria being resurrected by genetic manipulation of blood preserved in the bodies of insects trapped in amber.  Fanciful stuff perhaps, but a paper in the academic journal “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science” outlines the study of this beautifully preserved fossilised insect, potentially evidence of the oldest blood yet found in the fossil record.

Retired Dr. Dale Greenwalt collects and studies insect fossils from the Montana deposits on behalf of the Smithsonian institute.  The fossils, were discovered in fine grained shales that had been collected many years before and placed in storage.  The female mosquito (only females feed on blood), had been trapped and nearby the remains of a second mosquito, this time most probably a male, was discovered.  Using two different types of light-refracting x-rays that determine what chemicals are present along with advanced, non-destructive mass spectrometry analysis Dr. Greenwalt and his colleagues determined that the female mosquito’s abdomen was full of iron, a major feature of blood that gets oxygen to the rest of the body.  Iron levels were higher than elsewhere in her body and no significant levels of iron were identified in the non-biting male mosquito fossil that was used as a control.  The scientists also found evidence of porphyrins, organic compounds that play an important role in blood formation and helping to bind the iron within the blood.  These two substances found together makes a “definitive case for blood” according to the researchers.

If this is proven to be true, the tests being verified, then this little mosquito preserves the oldest sample of blood known to science.

But where did the blood come from?  Could it be a dinosaur?  Sadly, most definitely not, the last of the Dinosauria became extinct some twenty million years before the mosquito hatched.  The blood will have come from a vertebrate, most likely a bird according to Dr. Greenwalt.

Dr. Mary Schweitzer (North Carolina State University), a leader in the research to find microscopic soft tissues preserved in fossils, including the possibility of blood remnants associated with dinosaur fossils from the Hell Creek Formation of Montana, commented that whilst the study was exciting and significant, the research was in its preliminary phase and more work needs to be done to prove the conclusion by ruling out all other possibilities for the unexpected results showing iron concentrations and the possibility of other preserved organic compounds such as the suspected porphyrins.

Dr Greenwalt stated:

“The existence of this rare specimen extends the existence of blood-feeding behaviour in this family of insects 46 million years into the past.”

Blood feeding, otherwise known as haematophagy, occurs in approximately 14,000 living insect species including fleas, ticks and modern mosquitoes.  These fossils are so well preserved that the scientists have been able to name them as two new species of insect.  The female has been named Culiseta lemniscata, the male mosquito has been named as Culiseta kishenehn.  Next time you get bitten by a midge, think on, that incident might, just might, lead to your blood being preserved for forty-six million years or so.

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