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/Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

Fossil finds, new dinosaur discoveries, news and views from the world of palaeontology and other Earth sciences.

6 04, 2020

Homo heidelbergensis Younger Than Previously Thought

By | April 6th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Dating the Broken Hill Skull – H. heidelbergensis Younger than Previously Thought

Palaeoanthropologists have long recognised that the evolution of the hominins and our own species (Homo sapiens), was complicated and not simply a linear transgression from one species to another.  Human fossil remains are exceptionally rare and sometimes, a new study can upend previously assumed concepts and ideas.  For example, a team of scientists including researchers from the Natural History Museum (London), Australian National University (Canberra), University College Dublin, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (Paris), University of the Free State (South Africa), University of Wollongong (Queensland), University of Southampton and Griffith University (Queensland), have published new dating information for a hominin skull discovered in 1921.

The skull representing Homo heidelbergensis turns out to be much younger than previously thought.

The Famous Broken Hill Skull (Kabwe 1) Homo heidelbergensis

The famous H. heidelbergensis skull (Kabwe 1).

Views of the Broken Hill Skull (Kabwe 1).  Left lateral view (A) and anterior view (B).

Picture Credit: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum

Writing in the academic journal “Nature”, the researchers conclude that this skull, previously thought to be around half a million years old, was much younger with an estimated date of between 274,000 and 324,000 years of age.  This result suggests that in the later stages of the Middle Pleistocene of Africa (Chibanian stage), there were many different types of hominin living at the same time.  Homo sapiens, H. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis and Homo naledi were all contemporaneous.

The Broken Hill Skull

The skull studied, referred to as the Broken Hill specimen, currently resides in the collection of the Natural History Museum (London) and is on display in the Human Evolution gallery, but there are ongoing discussions about the return of this fossil to Africa.  The skull was discovered in 1921 by an African miner and his Swiss co-worker Tom Zwigelaar at the lead and zinc mine located at Broken Hill, which at the time was in northern Rhodesia but is now Kabwe in Zambia, hence the reference to the fossil skull as Kabwe 1.  Other fragmentary human remains were also found at the mine (partial upper jaw, tibia, sacrum and two elements from a femur from another individual).  The fossils were donated by the mining company to the then British Museum (Natural History Museum), at the time of their discovery anthropologists regarded these fossils as the most significant hominin fossils found on the African continent.

Early Photographs of Kabwe 1 (Broken Hill Skull)

Original photographs of the Broken Hill skull (Homo heidelbergensis).

Original photographs of the Broken Hill skull (H. heidelbergensis).

Picture Credit: Griffith University (Queensland)

Problems Dating the Skull and Fossil Bones

Nearly a hundred years ago, data recording surrounding such an important fossil discovery was nowhere near as thorough at it is today.  Mining work continued in the area where the skull and other bones had been found so any evidence to help accurately date the fossils was subsequently lost.  Assigned to Homo heidelbergensis, the skull was originally dated to around 500,000 years ago.  However, these researchers, led by Professor Rainer Grün (Environmental Futures Research Institute at Griffith University), subjected the skull and the other hominin fragments from the site to radiometric dating and determined that these people lived between 274,000 and 324,000 years ago.

Commenting on the importance of this research, Professor Grün stated:

“The new best age estimate of the fossil impacts our understanding of the tempo and mode of modern human origins”.

One of the co-authors of the scientific paper, Professor Chris Stringer (Natural History Museum), added:

“Previously, the Broken Hill skull was viewed as part of a gradual and widespread evolutionary sequence in Africa from archaic humans to modern humans.  But now it looks like the primitive species Homo naledi survived in southern Africa, H. heidelbergensis was in Central Africa, and early forms of our species existed in regions like Morocco and Ethiopia.”

Homo rhodesiensis and Piltdown Man

It was Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, the curator of the Geology Department at the British Museum who proposed the new species Homo rhodesiensis to describe the Kabwe 1 skull as “Rhodesian Man”.  However, most scientists now consider H. rhodesiensis to be junior synonym of H. heidelbergensis or possibly an African sub-species of it.  Despite a prestigious academic career, Sir Arthur is best remembered for his association with the Piltdown Man hoax of 1912.  Even on his deathbed, he still believed that the fossil remains found in a Sussex gravel bed at Barkham Manor, near to Piltdown Common, represented a species of archaic human, unlike any other species of early hominin known to science.  Unfortunately, for Sir Arthur, five years after he died, new dating techniques proved the human skull bones from the site to be less than 500 years old.

The new, younger date for the Kabwe 1 skull also casts a cloud over the provenance of stone tools associated with hominin fossils from the late Middle Pleistocene.  As scientists have evidence to indicate Homo heidelbergensis present in Africa as recently as 300,000 years ago, stone tools from this date may not have been crafted by our species.

Not All the African Stone Tools Around 300,000 Years of Age Can be Ascribed to our own Species

Heidelbergensis flint spear.

Crafted with considerable skill – a flint spear point associated with Homo heidelbergensis.  The much younger age of the Kabwe 1 specimen casts doubts about which species made the stone tools associated with Middle Pleistocene hominin fossils.

Picture Credit: Dr Nicholas Conrad/University of Tubingen

The new age estimate for Kabwe 1 raises questions about our own evolution.  It casts doubts on the presumption that H. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis was a direct ancestor of our species Homo sapiens.  This research suggests that there were multiple contemporaneous hominin lineages in Africa during the later stages of the Middle Pleistocene, reflecting a similar model found in Eurasia.

  • African hominins (late Middle Pleistocene) – H. sapiens, H. nalediH. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis
  • European/Asia hominins (late Middle Pleistocene) – H. neanderthalensis, H. luzonensis, H. floresiensis, the Denisovans and perhaps also H. heidelbergensis and H. erectus

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from Griffith University in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Dating the skull from Broken Hill, Zambia, and its position in human evolution” by Rainer Grün, Alistair Pike, Frank McDermott, Stephen Eggins, Graham Mortimer, Maxime Aubert, Lesley Kinsley, Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Michael Rumsey, Christiane Denys, James Brink, Tara Clark and Chris Stringer published in Nature.

To read an article about the presence of H. heidelbergensis in Kent: Giant Prehistoric Straight-tusked Elephant Butchered by H. heidelbergensis.

4 04, 2020

That Fourth New Moroccan Pterosaur – Afrotapejara

By | April 4th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Afrotapejara zouhrii – Illustrated

Back at the end of March (2020), Everything Dinosaur team members published news of the discovery of four new taxa of flying reptile from the remarkable Kem Kem beds of south-eastern Morocco.  Three of the pterosaurs (all members of the Ornithocheiridae), were dealt with in one scientific paper, which was published in the academic journal “Cretaceous Research”, whilst the fourth, a tapejarid named Afrotapejara zouhrii, was described in a subsequent paper also published in Cretaceous Research.

Aware of the publication of these scientific papers, Everything Dinosaur was able to put up a blog post, prior to illustrations of the newest member of the Tapejaridae being released.  However, thanks to a media release from the University of Portsmouth, we can show a life illustration of Afrotapejara zouhrii in all its glory.

An Illustration of the Recently Described North African Pterosaur Afrotapejara zouhrii 

Afrotapejara zouhrii life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of the newly described Moroccan pterosaur Afrotapejara zouhrii.

Picture Credit: University of Portsmouth

The colours chosen by the artist are speculative, but tapejarids, characterised by their oversized and elaborate head crests, are regarded as some of the “flashiest” and flamboyant of all the Pterosauria, their crests probably played a role in visual communication, so why not make their crests bright and colourful.

The First Tapejarid Known from Africa

Tapejarids were geographically widespread in the Lower Cretaceous.  Fossils are known from China, Brazil and Europe.  It had long been suspected that these types of pterosaurs would be found in the famous Kem Kem beds, but the fragmentary remains associated with these strata delayed positive identification.

Professor David Martin (School of the Environment, Geography and Geosciences, University of Portsmouth), a co-author on the ornithocheirid paper and lead order on the Afrotapejara study, commented:

“The study of Moroccan material shows that we are still far from having found all the paleontological treasures of North Africa.  Even fragmentary fossils, like the jaw piece of the new pterosaur, can give us important information about the biodiversity of the past.”

Honouring Professor Samir Zouhri

In our earlier blog post, we stated that the specific or trivial name chosen for this flying reptile honoured Moroccan palaeontologist Professor Samir Zouhri.  We can now confirm that this is correct, the professor is being honoured for his contribution to field work over many years and for helping to develop the science of palaeontology in Morocco.  Pleasingly, the fragmentary remains of the newest member of the Tapejaridae family are staying in Morocco, they are now part of the collection of the Faculty of Sciences Aïn Chock, Casablanca Hassan II University.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Portsmouth in the compilation of this article.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s earlier post about the four pterosaurs: Pterosaurs, Pterosaurs, and even more Pterosaurs.

The scientific paper: “A new tapejarid (Pterosauria, Azhdarchoidea) from the mid-Cretaceous Kem Kem beds of Takmout, southern Morocco” by David M. Martill, Roy Smith, David M. Unwin, Alexander Kao, James McPhee and Nizar Ibrahim published in Cretaceous Research.

30 03, 2020

Pterosaurs, Pterosaurs and Even More Pterosaurs

By | March 30th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

The “Golden Age” of Pterosauria Research

In the last few weeks, a number of scientific papers have been published detailing new pterosaur discoveries and fossil finds.  We really do seem to be living in a “golden age” of flying reptile research.  For example, researchers have identified the fragmentary fossil remains of three types of pterosaur from the famous Cretaceous Kem Kem beds of Morocco (Anhanguera, Coloborhynchus and Ornithocheirus).  Even before the dust had settled on that publication, another scientific paper, published this week, describes Afrotapejara zouhrii, the newest member of the Tapejaridae, fossils of which also come from the enigmatic Kem Kem beds.

The “Golden Age” of Pterosaur Research – Illustration of Three of the New Pterosaur Types Described

New pterosaur genera described from the Kem Kem Beds of Morocco.

The pterosaur Anhanguera soars over the skies of North Africa with Coloborhynchus and Ornithocheirus to keep it company.

Picture Credit: Megan Jacobs (Baylor University, Texas)

Cretaceous Fossils Mixed Up in a Blender

The Kem Kem Formation is exposed in south-eastern Morocco and neighbouring Algeria.  The extensive deposits represent an inter-tidal, estuarine environment with large, wide lagoons and a broad floodplain criss-crossed by numerous rivers.  These sediments were laid down in the Albian to Cenomanian faunal stages of the Cretaceous, approximately 100 to 95 million years ago.  The terrestrial landscape was dominated by dinosaurs, surprisingly, there seems to have been an overabundance of big theropods present – Spinosaurus, Rugops (other abelisaurs), Sauroniops, Deltadromeus, Carcharodontosaurus, potential dromaeosaurids and a wealth of other fossil bones and isolated teeth that represent indeterminate species.

Trouble is, the transport of material due to river and tidal action has resulted in a mixing up of fossil material.  Fossil beds contain a vast array of jumbled up, disarticulated material, much of which may also have been re-deposited from its original stratigraphic layer.  These deposits have been colourfully described as representing fossils that have been put in a blender, such is their mixing and depositional status.

Typical Isolated and Fragmentary Vertebrate Fossil Remains from the Kem Kem Beds

Fossil remains (Kem Kem beds).

Assorted vertebrate fossil remains from the Kem Kem beds of Morocco.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Pterosaurs as Piscivores

In the first scientific paper, researchers from the University of Portsmouth, Baylor University (Waco, Texas), the University of Detroit Mercy (Detroit), Leicester University, the Laboratoire Santé et Environnement (Morocco) and the University of Bath report on the discovery of fragmentary jaws and associated teeth that led to the identification of three new types of pterosaur.  The remains suggest three ornithocheirid pterosaurs, a second species of Coloborhynchus and an Ornithocheirus reminiscent of Ornithocheirus fossil material known from the Cambridge Greensand deposits of southern England.  In addition, a portion of a lower jaw (mandibular symphysis), closely resembles that of the South American ornithocheirid Anhanguera piscator, fossils of which are known from the roughly contemporaneous Romualdo Member of the Santana Formation (Brazil).

An Illustration of Anhanguera (Ornithocheiridae Family)

An illustration of Anhanguera.

A typical member of the Anhanguera genus.  Note the large and very prominent, conical teeth in the jaw.  All three newly described genera are believed to have been primarily fish-eating (piscivores).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

As well as representing a turbulent depositional environment, the fossiliferous beds of south-eastern Morocco provide an additional challenge for scientists.  Local residents mine the sedimentary rocks, often using only rudimentary tools and materials, so that they can sell their fossil finds to dealers and collectors.  Fortunately, in this case, the fragments of jaw were acquired by scientists enabling a proper academic investigation to be carried out.  The teeth of these pterosaurs suggest that they were probably piscivores, the largest of which probably had a wingspan in excess of four metres.

In the paper, the researchers conclude that the Kem Kem fossil assemblage includes at least nine species of pterosaur, of which the majority (five), are members of the Ornithocheiridae.  These strata help to support the theory that toothed pterosaurs remained diverse throughout the late Early Cretaceous, before going into decline and eventually disappearing after the Cenomanian faunal stage.

And There’s More – Another Moroccan Pterosaur This Time a Tapejarid

New pterosaur discoveries are behaving a bit like buses at the moment (prior to the coronavirus pandemic), three come along and then shortly afterwards another one turns up.  Many of the same scientists from the first academic paper, have published, albeit a little earlier than expected, another paper, this time naming a new species tapejarid pterosaur.  Unlike the other three, this flying reptile was edentulous (no teeth in the jaws).  The newly described tapejarid has been named Afrotapejara zouhrii, based on yet more fragmentary material including jaw elements.

A Typical Illustration of a Tapejarid Pterosaur

Tupandactylus illustration.

A scale drawing of the tapejarid Pterosaur Tupandactylus imperator.  A typical tapejarid – a family of pterosaurs famed for their striking and often over-sized head crests.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Fossil jaws seem to be taphonomically selected for in the Kem Kem beds.  Other pterosaur remains have been frequently reported from these deposits, but rarely are the fossils diagnostic.  Isolated mandibular material had hinted at the present of tapejarids in northern Africa in the Early Cretaceous, but Afrotapejara is the first genus to be erected.  It represents the fourth example of a toothless pterosaur taxon to have been described from the Kem Kem beds and it provides the first unambiguous evidence to support the presence of the Tapejaridae in Africa.  The genus name translates as “African tapejarid”, whilst we suspect that the specific name honours Samir Zouhri, one of the authors of the first pterosaur paper reported upon in this blog post.

Based on this evidence, it seems that we really are living in a “golden age” of pterosaur research.

The first scientific paper: “New toothed pterosaurs (Pterosauria: Ornithocheiridae) from the middle Cretaceous Kem Kem beds of Morocco and implications for pterosaur palaeobiogeography and diversity” by Megan L. Jacobs, David M. Martill, David M. Unwin, Nizar Ibrahim, Samir Zouhri and Nicholas R. Longrich published in Cretaceous Research.

The second scientific paper: “A new tapejarid (Pterosauria, Azhdarchoidea) from the mid-Cretaceous Kem Kem beds of Takmout, southern Morocco” by David M. Martill, Roy Smith, David M. Unwin, Alexander Kao, James McPhee and Nizar Ibrahim published in Cretaceous Research.

26 03, 2020

Late Cretaceous Southern United States Had “Raptors” Too

By | March 26th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Dineobellator notohesperus – A Velociraptorine with Extra Attitude!

Scientists have described a new species of “raptor” from the Late Cretaceous of New Mexico.  Described from fragmentary remains, this two-metre-long carnivore was related to Velociraptor.  It may have been roughly the same size as the Mongolian genus, but it probably was even more agile with a stronger grip.  Its discovery suggests that the dromaeosaurids were diversifying right up to the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.

Life Reconstruction Dineobellator notohesperus (Maastrichtian of New Mexico)

Dineobellator Life Reconstruction

A trio of the newly described dromaeosaurid from the Late Cretaceous of New Mexico (Dineobellator) gather at a waterhole.  The titanosaur Alamosaurus passes by in the background and in the distance a tyrannosaur is approaching.

Picture Credit: Sergey Krasovskiy

Writing in the academic journal “Scientific Reports”, the researchers from The University of Pennsylvania and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, describe a partial, skeleton excavated from the Bisti/De-na-zin Wilderness of New Mexico, found within a few metres above the base of the Naashoibito Member.  The coarse sandstone deposits are notoriously difficult to date, these sediments were deposited towards the end of the Cretaceous between 70 and 66.3 million years ago (Maastrichtian faunal stage).

Fossil material includes parts of the skull, elements from the jaws, fragments of vertebrae, tail bones (caudal vertebrae), one rib with other pieces of rib and limb bones including a nearly complete right upper arm bone (humerus) and a nearly complete right ulna (bone from the forearm).  The first fossilised remains were found in 2008, subsequent field work carried out in 2009, 2015 and 2016 yielded more fossil material, mostly very fragmentary in nature.  It is believed all the fossil material, including a claw from the right hand, represents the remains of a single dinosaur.

A Skeletal Reconstruction of Dineobellator notohesperus

Known fossil material and skeletal reconstruction of Dineobellator.

A silhouette and postulated skeleton of Dineobellator (known fossil material in white).

Picture Credit: Jasinski et al/Scientific Reports

A Small but Dangerous Dinosaur

Dineobellator notohesperus is the first dromaeosaurid to be described from the southern United States.  It would have lived in the south of the Cretaceous landmass of Laramidia.  Although no evidence of feathers has been found, the ulna shows evidence of a row of small rounded pits in the bone, interpreted as anchor points for large feathers on the arm (ulna papillae).  Analysis of the forelimbs suggest that Dineobellator had stronger arms with a more powerful grip.  A study of the tail bones suggest that the tail had greater movement which would have made this dinosaur adept at making sharp turns and agile changes of direction.  The researchers suggest these anatomical traits provide an insight into how this small theropod hunted and behaved.

The researchers, which include Dr Steven Jasinski (Department of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Pennsylvania), postulate that Dineobellator was an active predator that occupied a discrete ecological niche in the food chain whilst living in the shadow of Tyrannosaurus rex.  The newest North American “raptor” Dineobellator notohesperus is pronounced dih-nay-oh-bell-ah-tor noh-toh-hes-per-us and the genus name comes from the native Navajo word “Diné”, a reference to the Navajo Nation and the Latin word “bellator” which means warrior.  The trivial name has been erected to acknowledge the location of the fossil find.  The word “noto” is from the Greek meaning southern and “hesper” the Greek for western.  This is an acknowledgement that Dineobellator roamed the south-western part of the United States.  In addition, Hesperus is a reference to a Greek god, the personification of the evening star (Venus) and by extension “western”.

Dr Jasinski has already had a considerable impact on the Dromaeosauridae family.  Back in 2015, Everything Dinosaur reported on the formal description of Saurornitholestes sullivani, a dinosaur named by Steven Jasinski whilst a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania.  To read more about S. sullivaniSniffing Out a New Dinosaur Species.

An Illustration of Saurornitholestes sullivani

Saurornitholestes sullivani illustrated

An agile dinosaur, an illustration of Saurornitholestes sullivani.  Although the fossil material associated with this species was found in New Mexico, S. sullivani lived several million years earlier than Dineobellator notohesperus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A Tough Life for a Tough Dinosaur

A phylogenetic analysis undertaken by the research team places Dineobellator within the Velociraptorinae subfamily of the Dromaeosauridae.  Other Maastrichtian “raptors” known from North America are few and far between (Acheroraptor and Dakotaraptor – both from the Hell Creek Formation).  The discovery of Dineobellator suggests that dromaeosaurids were still diversifying at the end of the Cretaceous and as an velociraptorine, its fossils lend further weight to the idea that faunal interchange between Asian and North American dinosaurs took place sometime during the Campanian/Maastrichtian.

It is not known whether Dineobellator notohesperus was a pack hunter.  The fossilised remains do indicate that this was one very tough dinosaur but it did not have everything its own way.  A rib shows a deformity, suggesting that this bone was broken, but the animal suffered this trauma a while before it died as the break is healed.  Intriguingly, the scientists identified a prominent gouge mark preserved on the hand claw (manual ungual).  This gouge mark, which measures nearly a centimetre long, terminates in a small depression.  The scientists suggest that this damage was not caused by disease or by any process associated with the preservation of the fossil bones.  The team suggest that this was an injury that occurred close to, or at the time of this dinosaur’s demise.

The researchers speculate that this Dineobellator received an injury in a fight with another Dineobellator or perhaps this damage to its hand claw was inflicted upon it by another type of predatory theropod.

Views of the Hand Claw of  Dineobellator notohesperus Showing Damage Interpreted as a Wound Inflicted by Another Theropod Dinosaur

The manual ungual of Dineobellator.

Views of the hand claw of Dineobellator.  The right manual ungual of Dineobellator notohesperus (I) lateral view, with (J) a silhouette of the transverse plane of the right manual ungual near the distal end.  Image (K) shows the claw in media view with the dashed area highlighted in (K) showing the gouge mark (L).  The red arrow indicates the pathology.  Scale bars equal 1 mm, please note (L) is not to scale.

Picture Credit: Jasinski et al/Scientific Reports with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The scientific paper: “New Dromaeosaurid Dinosaur (Theropoda, Dromaeosauridae) from New Mexico and Biodiversity of Dromaeosaurids at the end of the Cretaceous” by Steven E. Jasinski, Robert M. Sullivan and Peter Dodson published in Scientific Reports.

23 03, 2020

Discovery of the Oldest Bilaterian – Ikaria wariootia

By | March 23rd, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Meet Your Oldest Ancestor – Ikaria wariootia 

A team of international scientists have identified the first ancestor of animals that show bilateral symmetry, in ancient marine sediment around 555 million years old.  Palaeontologists had predicted that such an organism would be identified in Ediacaran sediments, essentially a creature with a body plan that has been adopted by the majority of the Kingdom Animalia, now thanks to the use of sophisticated three-dimensional laser scans funded by NASA, the “smoking gun” evidence has been found.

A Life Reconstruction of the Earliest Bilaterian Known to Date (I. wariootia)

Ikaria wariootia the earliest known bilaterian.

Ikaria wariootia life reconstruction.

Picture Credit: Sohail Wasif/University California Riverside

Ikaria wariootia – The Size of a Rice Grain but a Big Discovery!

Writing in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America”, the researchers, which included scientists from University California Riverside and the South Australian Museum, examined tiny trace fossils, essentially burrows and borings into an ancient Ediacaran seabed (Ediacara Member, South Australia).  Proximal to some of these traces were very small oval impressions.  Thanks to funding from a NASA exobiology grant, the team were able to employ a sophisticated three-dimensional laser scanner to map these depressions in the ancient rock.  Computer-generated images revealed a worm-like organism with a cylindrical body and faintly grooved musculature.  A distinct head and tail were also identified.  This little animal represents the earliest bilaterian, a hugely significant step in the evolution of life on Earth.

The transition from simple, microscopic forms of life to the abundance and variety of complex creatures in the Cambrian remains quite poorly understood.  However, the beautifully preserved remains of soft-bodied organisms, many of which look like nothing alive today, associated with the ancient strata of the Ediacara Hills of South Australia have permitted palaeontologists the opportunity to learn about life on our planet prior to the evolution of hard body parts such as shells and exoskeletons.  Many of the creatures identified from their fossils had bizarre body forms such as the circular Dickinsonia (below), but scientists had predicted that animals with bilateral symmetry would be present in this ecosystem, it was just a question of finding them.

A Circular Impression of an Organism from the Ediacara Hills (South Australia) – Dickinsonia costata Fossil

Dickinsonia costata fossil.

The Ediacaran fossil Dickinsonia costata, specimen P40135 from the collections of the South Australia Museum.

Picture Credit: Dr Alex Liu (Cambridge University)

The development of bilateral symmetry was a critical step in the evolution of animal life, giving organisms the ability to move purposefully and a common, yet successful way to organise their bodies.  In the scientific paper, the research team describe Ikaria wariootia as ranging in size between 2 and 7 millimetres in length and being around 1 to 2.5 millimetres wide.   The largest specimens were about the size of a grain of rice, just the right size to have made the burrows and borings (trace fossils).

The discovery of Ikaria wariootia is consistent with predictions based on modern animal phylogenetics, that the last ancestor of all bilaterians was simple and small and represents a rare link between the Ediacaran and the subsequent record of animal life.  Put simply, I. wariootia is on the same part of the animal family tree as the majority of animals alive today and that includes us (Homo sapiens).

Ikaria wariootia Impressions Preserved in Ancient Marine Sediment

Ikaria wariootia impressions.

Ikaria wariootia impressions preserved in ancient marine sediments.

Picture Credit: Droser Laboratory/University of California Riverside

Commenting on the significance of the discovery, one of the authors of the scientific paper, Scott Evans (University of California Riverside), stated:

“We thought these animals should have existed during this interval [Ediacaran], but always understood they would be difficult to recognise.  Once we had the 3-D scans, we knew that we had made an important discovery.”

Analysis of modern animals and Ediacaran trace fossils predicted that the oldest bilaterians would be very small with simple body plans.  The research team found that the size and shape of Ikaria matched the predictions that had been made with regards to the maker of the trace fossil Helminthoidichnites, indicating sediment displacement and purposeful animal movement.  Importantly, in the Ediacara Member, Helminthoidichnites occurs stratigraphically below classic Ediacara body fossils such as Dickinsonia.  Together, these suggest that Ikaria represents one of the oldest total group bilaterians identified to date, with very little deviation from the characters and traits predicted for their last common ancestor.

In addition, these trace fossils persist into the Phanerozoic Eon (from the Cambrian Period onwards),  providing a critical link between the Ediacaran and Cambrian biota.

A Three-Dimensional Laser Image of a Scan of a Rock Depression Revealing the Body Plan of Ikaria wariootia

Three-dimensional laser scan of an Ikaria wariootia impression.

A three-dimensional laser scan of an Ikaria wariootia impression.

Picture Credit: Droser Laboratory/University of California Riverside

What’s in a Name?

The genus name comes from Ikara, which means “meeting place” in the local Adnyamathanha dialect.  It is the Adnyamathanha term for a grouping of mountains known as Wilpena Pound.  The trivial name comes from Warioota Creek, which runs from the Flinders Ranges to Nilpena Station in the Ediacara Hills.  It may look a fairly simple animal to us, but back in the Ediacaran Ikaria was one of the most complex organisms around.  It burrowed in thin layers of well-oxygenated sand on the ocean floor in search of organic matter, indicating rudimentary sensory abilities.  The depth and curvature of Ikaria represent clearly distinct front and rear ends, supporting the directed movement found in the burrows.  The walls of the burrows preserve evidence of “v-shaped” ridges, which indicate that Ikaria moved by contracting muscles across its body like an earthworm.  This is known as peristaltic locomotion.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of California Riverside in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Discovery of the oldest bilaterian from the Ediacaran of South Australia” by Scott D. Evans, Ian V. Hughes, James G. Gehling and Mary L. Droser published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

20 03, 2020

Everything Dinosaur Continuing to Support Schools and Home Educators

By | March 20th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page, Press Releases, Teaching|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur Continuing to Support Schools and Home Educators

At this time of uncertainty due to the coronavirus outbreak, Everything Dinosaur team members want to let you know how we are responding to the recent announcement about school closures. Our hearts go out to all those affected globally by the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.  We are doing all we can to assist the education sector.  Everything Dinosaur is currently operating as normal and we intend to provide regular updates in what is a very fluid situation.  We are working very hard to limit the disruption to schools, nurseries and other academic bodies.

Everything Dinosaur has released the following statement:

Everything Dinosaur Team Members Helping to Support the Education Sector and Home Schooling

Everything Dinosaur supporting schools and home educators.

Everything Dinosaur team members working hard to support the educational sector and home schooling at this difficult time (coronavirus outbreak 2020).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The website links to gain access to our free teaching resources and other educational materials:

In addition, this blog site has posted up news stories, information about fossils, features about dinosaurs, evolution, natural selection, new theories and articles on other science related subject areas, every day since May 2007.  This is a resource that has over 4,750 articles, which are all free to access, helping to provide additional materials for teachers, teaching assistants, academics and home schoolers.

Furthermore, our hard-working and enthusiastic staff handle numerous email enquiries each day, providing advice, free prehistoric animal fact sheets and other resources.

Everything Dinosaur is working extremely hard to help support universities, colleges, nurseries, other academic bodies and home educators.  We continue to provide free of charge, a wide range of fossil and dinosaur themed teaching resources and learning materials.

19 03, 2020

Canadian Fish Fossil Lends Palaeontologists a Helping Hand

By | March 19th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fish Fossil Helps to Demonstrate How Fins Turned into Hands

A team of international scientists including researchers from Flinders University in Adelaide (South Australia) and the Université du Québec à Rimouski (Canada), have scanned the fossilised remains of an ancient fish with tetrapod tendencies to reveal evidence of how the limbs of fish evolved into the terrestrial appendages of land animals.  The fossilised remains date from the Late Devonian and are approximately 380 million years old.  The fossil is a specimen of Elpistostege (E. watsoni), the discovery of a much more complete skeleton of this strange animal gave the researchers the opportunity to analyse the body plan of this predator in much greater detail than previously.

A Near Complete Specimen of Elpistostege watsoni with Accompanying Line Drawing

Elpistostege watsoni fossil with interpretive drawing and life reconstruction.

The near complete Elpistostege specimen with line drawing showing the outline of the skeleton and a life reconstruction.  The research was conducted on a fossil specimen that had been discovered in 2010.

Picture Credit: South Australia Leads/Flinders University

Strategic Professor in Palaeontology (Finders University), Professor John Long, announced the discovery of the near complete fossil specimen in the journal “Nature”.  Commenting on the significance of the fossil find, he stated that the specimen “reveals extraordinary new information about the evolution of the vertebrate hand.”

High Energy X-Rays to Assess Fin Structure

The research team bombarded the fossil specimen with high energy X-rays to reveal the presence of limb and wrist bones hidden in the fins.  Evidence of finger-like bones could also be made out.

The Professor added:

“This is the first time that we have unequivocally discovered fingers locked in a fin with fin-rays in any known fish.  The articulating digits in the fin are like the finger bones found in the hands of most animals.  This finding pushes back the origin of digits in vertebrates to the fish level and tells us that the patterning for the vertebrate hand was first developed deep in evolution, just before fishes left the water.”

A Life Reconstruction of the Late Devonian Elpistostege

Elpistostege life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of Elpistostege.

Picture Credit: Miguasha National Park/Johanne Kerr and François Miville-Deschênes

The high resolution scans revealed the presence of a humerus (upper arm bone), the radius and ulna (the two bones from the forearm), carpal bones from the wrist and the presence of bones that resembled digits.  The fossil specimen measures 1.57 metres in length.  It comes from exposures of the Escuminac Formation located in the Canadian province of Quebec.  The strata represent a brackish water, estuarine environment and palaeontologists have long speculated that such a habitat may have been one of the driving forces behind the evolution of limbs capable of terrestrial locomotion in certain types of ancient fish.  The teeth in the broad jaw suggest that Elpistostege was an apex hypercarnivore, but whether it fed on other fish or ventured out onto land to grab insects and arthropods on the shore (as indicated by the position of the eyes at the top of the head suggesting an ambush predator), remains unknown.

Co-author of the scientific paper Richard Cloutier (Université du Québec à Rimouski), commented that over the last ten years or so, fossils representing the fish-to-tetrapod transition had helped palaeontologists to gain a better understanding about this important stage in vertebrate evolution.

He added:

“The origin of digits relates to developing the capability for the fish to support its weight in shallow water and for short trips out on land.  The increased number of small bones in the fin allows more planes of flexibility to spread out the weight through the fin.”

In previous studies, Dr Cloutier had postulated that Elpistostege might represent the most primitive tetrapod known to science, an accolade currently held by the closely related Tiktaalik, fossils of which come from northern Canada (Ellesmere Island).

Australian Professor John Long has dedicated much of his academic career to studying Devonian fish and the early stages of the evolution of the modern tetrapod body plan.

Here are some blog articles that provide more details of his research: The Early Evolutionary History of Sharks.

A Placoderm “Platypus”: Ancient Placoderm from Australia.

15 03, 2020

Casting Doubt over Oculudentavis

By | March 15th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Is Oculudentavis a Member of the Archosauria?

On the 11th March (2020), Everything Dinosaur posted up a blog article featuring the discovery of a remarkably well-preserved fossil skull that had been found in amber from northern Myanmar.

To read our blog post: Hummingbird-sized Dinosaur from Burmese Amber.

Following publication, a number of academics have questioned the conclusions made by Xing et al with regards to this fossil representing a member of the Maniraptora.  It is certainly true that the validity of the interpretation of the fossil skull as maniraptoran has subsequently been challenged post publication (Wang Wei et al).  They comment that the shape of the skull is not unique to archosaurs, many lizards for example, show similar characteristics, the phylogenetic analysis is questioned, along with the apparent absence of an antorbital fenestra (an opening in the skull of all known archosaurs between the orbit and the naris).

The Very Bird-like Skull of Oculudentavis khaungraae But Can Appearances be Deceptive?

Oculudentavis khaungraae computer generated image of the skull.

Oculudentavis khaungraae computer generated image of the skull (left lateral view).

Picture Credit: Xing et al (Nature)

It is suggested that the skull actually comes from a lizard and that the specimen is not from an archosaur at all.

The original publication noted that the spoon-shaped bones that make up the sclerotic ring were reminiscent of that seen in the eye sockets of lizards.  Scleral bones of this shape have never been found in a dinosaur or a bird, it is suggested that these bones support the idea that the fossil is that of a lizard and not a member of the Archosauria.

Trouble with the Teeth

The roots of the tiny teeth do not seem to be located in sockets in the jawbone (thecodont dentition).  This was a peculiar feature remarked upon by a number of academics once this paper had been widely circulated.  Teeth located in sockets is a characteristic of toothed-archosaurs such as crocodilians and the dinosaurs.  Other types of tetrapod also show this tooth morphology, but in Oculudentavis the teeth are not in sockets but either fused to the jaw (acrodont dentition) or located within grooves that can be found along the length of the jaw bones (pleurodont dentition).

The number of teeth in the jaw far exceeds that known for any type of ancient bird.  The tooth line extending under the eye-socket (orbit), is also highly unusual.  Such anatomical traits are associated with the Squamata (lizards and snakes), not with the Archosauria.

These arguments (along with others, such as the absence of feathers), have led some scientists to question the conclusions made in the original Nature publication.  Oculudentavis might not be a bird or a dinosaur, it might represent the preserved remains of a lizard.

An Anolis Lizard (A. equestris) Displaying its Throat Sac

Is the skull that of a lizard?

An Anolis lizard, note the long snout, large eyes and the jaw that extends under the orbit.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The scramble to publish can sometimes lead to a lack of peer review opportunities and a foreshortening of pre-publication correspondence amongst academics.  When the “Nature” paper was published it certainly created a great deal of interest in the wider media.  Sadly, we suspect that any challenge to the original paper’s conclusions or subsequent revision will not attract anywhere near as much publicity.

We shall await developments.

Perhaps, in future we could refer to such controversies as “Oculudentavism”

13 03, 2020

Telling the Time in the Late Cretaceous

By | March 13th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fossil Clam Helps Scientists to Tell the Time

Researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the University of Ghent have used 70 million-year-old fossil bivalves to gain information about day length and seasonal variations during the Late Cretaceous.  Tyrannosaurids and duck-billed dinosaurs had days that were approximately 30 minutes shorter than ours, as a consequence of this their year was about a week longer.

Writing in the academic journal Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, the researchers conducted a series of tests on the fossilised shells of a type of bivalve (Torreites sanchezi).  The fossil was found on a mountainside in Oman, but back in the Campanian stage of the Late Cretaceous, this area was a shallow, subtropical sea.

Daily Growth Rings Preserved in Fossil Bivalves Can Provide Scientists with Data About Ancient Planetary Systems

Fossil bivalves can help scientists understand planetary systems.

The growth rings laid down by rudist bivalves can help scientists to better understand ancient planetary systems.  An example of a bivalve fossil (Spondylus) from the Cretaceous.  This type of bivalve evolved in the Early Jurassic and can still be found today in tropical seas.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Laser Used to Bore a Hole in the Shell

Many types of molluscs grow quickly and they lay down discernible growth rings on their shells every day.  Scientists can conduct a series of tests on these markers and identify useful information about the climate and the environment in which the mollusc lived.  For example, using the growth rings, the researchers were able to determine that the fossil specimen died when it was around nine years of age.

A laser was used to bore a series of tiny holes in the shell, samples were taken and analysed for trace elements.  Using this information, the scientists were able to gain information on the temperature and the chemistry in the sea water in the reef environment where the mollusc lived.  The marine temperatures fluctuated between summer and winter, with a peak of around 40 ˚ Celsius in summer and 30 ˚ Celsius in winter.  The average annual sea temperatures were warmer than previously thought.

The Rings on the Bivalve Shell Can Provide a Lot of Information

Fossil Bivalves provide dating data.

Microscopic analysis of the fossil shell can help scientists work out day length and seasonal variations in the past.

Picture Credit: Niels de Winter et al

In addition, the scientists determined that the bivalve grew much faster during the day than it did at night.  This phenomenon is not uncommon with bivalves today, some species form symbiotic relationships with algae, it is thought that the Cretaceous species was in a similar relationship.  A combination of counting layers, spectral analysis of chemical cyclicity and chemical layer counting shows that the mollusc laid down 372 daily laminae per year, demonstrating that length of day has increased since the Late Cretaceous, as predicted by numerous astronomical models and previous studies of fossil molluscs.  However, this study represents the most accurate assessment of seasonal growth, day length and annual environmental changes recorded in a fossil from the Late Cretaceous.

The Earth’s orbit around the sun does not alter that much, the extra 7 days recorded in a year, are not really a record of the Earth taking longer to make its orbit, but a reflection of the fact that the Earth was spinning faster on its axis 70 million years ago.  With the Earth turning faster, a day was slightly shorter compared to what we experience in the 21st century.  A day in the Cretaceous would have lasted approximately 23 1/2 hours.

An Explanation – Why is the Rotation of the Earth Slowing Down?

The Earth’s orbit around the sun does not change a great deal, but the length of a day on Earth has been steadily increasing since our planet and its moon were formed.  The moon’s gravity is acting on our planet, it creates friction from ocean tides and this is gradually slowing the Earth’s rotation.  At the same time, Earth’s own gravity is having an effect on the moon.  The pull of the tides accelerates the moon, so the satellite is being pushed away from our planet.  When the Torreites sanchezi bivalve was alive, a dinosaur on the beach at night would have seen a moon that looks bigger than the one we see today, it was several thousand metres closer to Earth.

The research team conclude that as bivalve shell calcite preserves quite well, this study permits further work using other fossils to determine seasonality, marine temperatures and day length.  This should help to document environmental change in warming ecosystems and widen our understanding of the magnitude of short‐term changes during greenhouse climates.

The scientific paper: “Subdaily-Scale Chemical Variability in a Torreites sanchezi Rudist Shell: Implications for Rudist Paleobiology and the Cretaceous Day-Night Cycle” by Niels J. de Winter, Steven Goderis, Stijn J.M. Van Malderen, Matthias Sinnesael, Stef Vansteenberge, Christophe Snoeck, Joke Belza, Frank Vanhaecke, and Philippe Claeys published in Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology.

12 03, 2020

Scottish Stegosaurs

By | March 12th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Scottish Island – A Dinosaur Stomping Ground Complete with Stegosaurs

Scientists led by researchers from Edinburgh University have reported the discovery of dozens of dinosaur footprints preserved in exposed mudstones at two locations on the Isle of Skye.  The trace fossils preserve evidence of a variety of different types of dinosaurs, which helps palaeontologists to gain a better understanding of dinosaur distribution and diversity during the Middle Jurassic.

The tracks indicate a variety of dinosaur trackmakers, including bipedal theropods of various sizes, possible ornithopods and a quadrupedal ornithischian dinosaur, the tracks of which show a resemblance to the ichnotaxon Deltapodus, which is believed to represent a stegosaur.  If these prints do represent a member of the Stegosauria, then this is the first time that evidence for this type of armoured dinosaur has been discovered on the Isle of Skye.

Dinosaurs Congregating Around Mudflats on the Isle of Skye (Middle Jurassic)

Dinosaurs on a mudflat (Isle of Skye).

Life reconstruction of the Isle of Skye mudflat.  Note no sauropod tracks have been identified to date at the two sites described in the newly published scientific paper.

Picture Credit: Jon Hoad

Globally Important Fossil Discovery

During the Middle Jurassic the Dinosauria rapidly diversified and many new types evolved.  Unfortunately, the fossil record for terrestrial vertebrates from the Middle Jurassic is particularly poor.  The abundant trace fossils associated with the Isle of Skye are globally important, providing scientists with an opportunity to plot which types of dinosaurs are associated with this location.  Since the first dinosaur footprint in Scotland was found in the 1980’s numerous tracksites representing several ichnotaxa have been recorded.

Writing in the academic journal PLOS One, the researchers describe two new tracksites from Rubha nam Brathairean (Brothers Point).  The sites are referred to as BP1 and BP3, site BP2, which revealed sauropod and theropod prints has already been reported upon: Isle of Skye Steps into the Jurassic Spotlight (2018).

An Aerial View and Line Drawing of BP1 Showing the Distribution of the Dinosaur Tracks

BP1 site of dinosaur tracks (

Isle of Skye dinosaur tracks (BP1).  All three sites BP1, BP2 and BP3 were discovered between 2015 and 2017.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

An Insight into the Fauna Around a Subtropical Coastal Area

The trace fossils at both BP1 and BP3 were formed when mudflats were exposed and dinosaurs walked over them.  Today, the mudstones comprise part of the Lealt Shale Formation of the Great Estuarine Group.  The dinosaurs inhabited a coastal environment in what was a subtropical climate.  The fossil bearing rocks might be exposed on the coast today, but the climate on the Isle of Skye today is very different to what it was like around 170 million years ago.  The notorious Scottish weather prevented the researchers from using drones on several occasions in their attempts to photograph and map the sites.

An Aerial View of BP3 and Accompanying Line Drawing Showing the Various Dinosaur Tracks

Isle of Skye dinosaur tracks (BP3).

Skye dinosaur tracks (BP3).

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The tracks at both sites are preserved as impressions (concave epirelief) and the signs of mud cracks associated with the trace fossils suggest that the surfaces of both sites were briefly exposed before being quickly reclaimed by the return of brackish water.  Whilst the dinosaur tracks at BP3 were being mapped, an articulated pterosaur skeleton was found in the overlying limestone layer.  The state of the bones (largely unfractured) and the articulated skeleton suggest that the overlying limestone was deposited in a relatively low energy environment.  The pterosaur is currently being studied and will be covered in a future scientific paper.

Evidence of a Stegosaur

One of the tracks at location BP1 (BP1_Twy-01) shows a series of prints made by a quadrupedal dinosaur.  Although the tracks are a little distorted, distinctions between the pes (rear foot) and the manus (front foot) can be made.  The researchers conclude that these prints and other, single prints from this site are similar to the ichnotaxon Deltapodus.  Evidence of a potential armoured dinosaur from the Isle of Skye adds to the diversity of dinosaur types known from this location.

Mapping the Ornithischian Tracks (Potential Stegosaur – Ichnotaxon Deltapodus)

The quadrupedal trackway (BP1_Twy_01).

Potential Stegosaur tracks from the Isle of Skye.  The photograph (above) shows (a) an aerial overview of the site, (b) a line drawing showing the position of the tracks and (c), a false colour rendering of the tracks showing topography.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Together these two new tracksites demonstrate the wide variety of different types of dinosaur present in the area and will help palaeontologists gain more data on the early evolution and radiation of the Dinosauria.  As the researchers conclude, essentially BP1 and BP3 provide a snapshot of a “day in the life” of a Middle Jurassic ecosystem.

A Palaeontological Puzzle

No sauropod tracks have been described to date from BP1 or BP3, although they have been found at BP2.  The absence of sauropod evidence could be coincidental or perhaps an indication that during the time the mudflats were exposed, these large herbivores were not present in the area.  Environmental factors could help to explain the absence of sauropods.  Site BP2 represents a shallow lagoon, whilst BP1 and BP3 represent mudflats.  The sauropods may have preferred to occupy the lagoons.

The scientific paper: “Novel track morphotypes from new tracksites indicate increased Middle Jurassic dinosaur diversity on the Isle of Skye, Scotland” by Paige E. dePolo, Stephen L. Brusatte, Thomas J. Challands, Davide Foffa, Mark Wilkinson, Neil D. L. Clark, Jon Hoad, Paulo Victor Luiz Gomes da Costa Pereira, Dugald A. Ross and Thomas J. Wade published in the journal PLOS One.

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