All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
2 03, 2017

Cranberry Academy Study Mary Anning

By | March 2nd, 2017|Key Stage 1/2|Comments Off on Cranberry Academy Study Mary Anning

Year 2 Study Mary Anning

Children in Key Stage 1 at Cranberry Academy have been learning all about dinosaurs and fossils this term.  For the children in Year 2, they have had the opportunity to learn about the life and times of Mary Anning.  Mary became famous for the fossils that she collected and sold at Lyme Regis.  Mary was responsible for some very important fossil discoveries, including giant marine reptiles and finding the fossilised remains of the first flying reptile to be named and described from England.

Children in Year 2 Created Portraits of Mary Anning

Mary Anning by Year 2.

Year 2 children drew portraits of Mary Anning.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur /Cranberry Academy

What a lovely collection of Mary Anning portraits on display along the Key Stage 1 corridor.   We challenged the children to have a go at a tongue twister that we gave them and prior to our morning of dinosaur and fossil themed workshops we sat down with the enthusiastic teaching team and discussed further extension activities to support the scheme of work.  One of these activities involved the children designing their very own dinosaur.  Could they label the body parts including the skull?

Ammonite Fossils

During the workshops, the children got the chance to handle all sorts of fossils, including ammonites, ancient cephalopods, fossils of which, Mary Anning would have been very familiar.  The budding young palaeontologists, many of whom, had specially dressed up for the dinosaur day, were very excited and enjoyed playing our fish catching game.  Earlier on in the term, the Year 2 children had used wax crayons and water colours to create their very own ammonite scratch drawings.  These drawings of animals, related to today’s squid and the octopus adorned a noticeboard just outside the well-appointed Year 2 classroom.

Year 2 Made Scratch Drawings of Ammonite Fossils

Year 2 draw Ammonites

Ammonite illustrations by Year 2.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur /Cranberry Academy

The story of Mary Anning makes an excellent element within a term topic exploring fossils and life in the past.  The Everything Dinosaur team member supplied a number of extension resources to the teaching team all aimed at helping support their cross curricular teaching components.

The Key Stage 1 children were fascinated when they were shown a model of what an ammonite actually looked like.   Could they work out from the clues how many eyes ammonites had?  Could they work out how many tentacles these creatures could wave?  Could they find the animal’s mouth?

A Model of An Ammonite Used to Help Explain About Life in the Past

An ammonite model.

Explaining all about ammonites.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Even the lunchtime supervisor got involved.  She explained that she had been to Lyme Regis a few weeks ago and found her own ammonite fossils on the sea shore, just like Mary Anning did!

2 03, 2017

Very Near to “Near Bird”

By | March 2nd, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Closest View Yet of Anchiornis “Near Bird”

More than 225 fossils of the Late Jurassic feathered dinosaur Anchiornis (A. huxleyi) have been found to date and this relative abundance of fossil specimens in conjunction with some very sophisticated laser technology, has enabled scientists to gain the best idea yet as to what dinosaurs actually looked like.  Anchiornis huxleyi fossils come from the Tiaojishan Formation of Liaoning (China) and the dinosaur’s name means “Huxley’s near bird”, honouring the 19th Century English scientist Thomas Henry Huxley, an early supporter of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and one of the first academics to propose a close evolutionary relationship between the birds and the Dinosauria.  How apt that the use of a relatively new technique in palaeontology, that of the production of laser-stimulated fluorescence images, has enabled palaeontologists to get closer to “near bird” than ever before.

An Illustration of the Late Jurassic Dinosaur Anchiornis (A. huxleyi) Based on the New Images

An illustration of Anchiornis huxleyi.

An illustration of Anchiornis huxleyi.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

Laser-stimulated fluorescence (LSF)

Writing in the journal “Nature Communications”, researchers from the University of Hong Kong in collaboration with scientists from Linyi University (Shandong Province), the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a number of American research institutions, report on the reconstruction of a feathered dinosaur’s body outline based on high-definition images of preserved soft tissues and their integumental covering.

The Body Plan of Anchiornis huxleyi Created from the High-Definition Images

Anchiornis reconstructed body outline.

Reconstructed body outline of the bird-like feathered dinosaur Anchiornis using laser-stimulated fluorescence images.

Picture Credit: Wang X L, Pittman M et al

The coloured areas represent different fossil specimens and the black areas are approximated reconstructions.  For the first time palaeontologists have an accurate body outline of a bird-like dinosaur.  The scale bar in the image is 1 cm and the body length of Anchiornis (head to tail) is approximately 40 cm.

Laser-stimulated fluorescence (LSF), is a revolutionary new technique using high power lasers that makes unseen soft tissues preserved alongside the bones, literally “glow in the dark” by fluorescence, until the application of this new technique, palaeontologists had to infer body plans based on the fossilised bones and evidence of muscle scars using extant animals as comparisons.  One of the corresponding authors of the scientific paper, Dr Michael Pittman (Department of Earth Sciences, the University of Hong Kong), explained how he and his co-workers reconstructed the first highly detailed body outline of a feathered dinosaur based on high-definition images of its preserved soft tissues.

A View of the Wing of Anchiornis Under Laser-stimulated Fluorescence

The wing of Anchiornis seen under laser-stimulated fluorescence.

The wing of the bird-like feathered dinosaur Anchiornis under laser-stimulated fluorescence.

Picture Credit: Wang X L, Pittman M et al

This ground-breaking research has helped palaeontologists to see just how closely, Anchiornis of the Late Jurassic, resembled modern birds.  For example, in the image above, folds of skin in front of the elbow and behind the wrist (referred to as a patagium), can be made out.  The patagium was covered in feathers, just like in modern birds.

The laser-stimulated fluorescence method was developed by collaborator Tom Kaye (Foundation for Scientific Advancement, Arizona, USA).  The technique involves scanning fossils with a violet laser in a dark room. The laser “excites” the few skin atoms left in the matrix making them glow, revealing what the shape of the dinosaur actually looked like.

Dr Michel Pittman with the Laser Scanner

Dr Pittman and the laser scanner.

Dr Pittman holding the laser scanner pictured behind is an illustration of Anchiornis.

Picture Credit: Dr M Pittman

Dr Pittman commented:

“For the last 20 years, we have been amazed by the wondrous feathered dinosaurs of north-eastern China.  However, we never thought they would preserve soft tissues so extensively.”

Over Two Hundred Specimens Examined

Dr Pittman and his colleagues examined over two hundred specimens of the feathered bird-like dinosaur Anchiornis to find the dozen or so that showed special preservation.  The quantitative reconstruction that the team developed shows the contours of the wings, legs and even perfectly preserved foot scales, providing new details that illuminate the origin of birds.  It seems that Anchiornis had “drumsticks” just like a modern bird too.

Dr Pittman at Work Checking a Specimen Using the Laser Technique

Scanning Anchiornis fossils.

Dr Pittman examines fossils using LSF in Shandong TianYu Museum of Natural History.

Picture Credit: Dr M Pittman

When first described in 2009, Anchiornis was heralded as an important transitional fossil between feathered dinosaurs and volant (flying) forms.  Using this new technique (LSF), Dr Pittman and his colleagues found that the shape of wing was in many ways similar to modern birds, but it also had some seemingly primitive characteristics like feathers arranged more evenly across the wing rather than in distinct rows.  This research suggests that Anchiornis could produce a relatively straight arm, a posture broadly found in many living gliding birds (for example, Cormorants, Albatrosses and Pelicans).  The research identifies a previously unknown aspect of arm morphology differentiation at the earliest stages of paravian evolution (at least by the Oxfordian stage of the Late Jurassic), that may even have been widespread.  These new insights provide crucial information for reconstructing how dinosaurs experimented and eventually achieved flight.

Dr Pittman Pictured with Images Created to Illustrate This New Research

Dr Pittman with a body Plan and drawing of Anchiornis.

Dr Pittman holding a drawing and a body plan of Anchiornis.

Picture Credit: Dr M Pittman

To read an article about the discovery of Anchiornis huxleyiOlder than Archaeopteryx

The scientific paper: Wang, X. et al. “Basal Paravian Functional Anatomy Illuminated by High-detail Body Outline” published in Nature Communications (Nat. Commun. 8, 14576 doi: 10.1038/ncomms14576 2017).

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of Hong Kong University in the compilation of this article.

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