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/Geology

Articles, features and stories with an emphasis on geology.

9 06, 2021

Fossil Collecting on the East Dorset Coast

By | June 9th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Book Reviews, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The third and final part of a series of guides to fossil hunting on the Dorset coast has been published by Siri Scientific Press. A guide to “Fossil Collecting on the East Dorset Coast” by Steve Snowball and Craig Chivers, provides an up to date and very informative guide to fossil collecting from the beautiful coast near Durdle Door eastwards ending at the Eocene-aged deposits to be found at Hengistbury Head.

The front cover of a Guide to Fossil Collecting on the East Dorset Coast
The front cover “A Guide to Fossil Collecting on the East Dorset Coast” by Steve Snowball and Craig Chivers published by Siri Scientific Press.

A Highly Acclaimed Guidebook

“Fossil Collecting on the East Dorset Coast” is aimed at amateur as well as the more serious fossil hunter and it is required reading if you want to visit some of the more remote parts of the Dorset coast. Access to some of the locations can be tricky and the authors have ensured that plenty of useful information has been included such as advice about tide times, avoiding the dangers of rock falls (which can be frequent along this stretch of the coastline), along with details about accessing quarries and which ones require visitor permission.

This highly acclaimed guidebook is beautifully illustrated with lots of colour photographs not only showing fossil finds but also highlighting the stunning landscape and geology of this part of the southern coast of England.

Fossil collecting on the East Dorset Coast
The book is packed with beautiful photographs showing typical fossil finds at each location as well as stunning shots of the Dorset coast. Often typical fossil finds are shown against a backdrop of the magnificent scenery of this part of England’s southern coast.

Stunning Images of Fossils

The authors provide an introduction to the UNESCO World Heritage site known as the “Jurassic Coast” before outlining the Dorset fossil collecting code of conduct and focusing on the unique geology of east Dorset. The book is then sub-divided into different sections taking the reader on fossil hunting excursions starting at the majestic Bat’s Head and St. Oswald’s Bay in an easterly direction to Worbarrow Bay and Gad Cliff through to Peveril Point and Swanage. The final excursion visits the Studland Bay and the Hengistbury Head area. Each part of the book contains stunning images of the fossils associated with each location.

A block containing bones and scales of a fish (Lepidotes)
A block containing the fossilised remains of a prehistoric fish found on the east Dorset coast. Fossil found by Nicola Parslow. A “Guide to Fossil Collecting on the East Dorset Coast” contains full colour images highlighting fossils that can be found at the various locations.

Highlights include information and photographs showcasing the remarkable Etches Collection Museum of Jurassic Marine Life at Kimmeridge and the contribution made by Steve Etches, extensive information on the types of ammonites to be found and details on the different types of vertebrate fossils including trace fossils such as dinosaur footprints along with body fossils such as the bones from ancient crocodiles.

Crocodile vertebra found at Durlston Bay (Dorset)
A crocodile vertebra found on the east Dorset coast (Durlston Bay) found by Julian and Vicky Sawyer.

Highly Recommended

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“This book has over 200 colour photographs and illustrations including wonderful prehistoric scenes created by the very talented Andreas Kurpisz, it is an extremely informative and invaluable guide to fossil hunting on this part of the beautiful Dorset coast. The detailed descriptions of the fossil locations provided by the authors are a testament to their in-depth knowledge and passion for their hobby. It completes the trilogy of books dedicated to fossil hunting on the Dorset Coast and it is essential reading for amateur fossil collectors, students as well as seasoned professionals. Highly recommended.”

Fossil Collecting on the Dorset Coast
Three excellent guides have been published about fossil hunting on the Dorset coast by Steve Snowball and Craig Chivers. All three publications are available from Siri Scientific Press whilst stocks last.

To purchase the “Guide to Fossil Collecting on the East Dorset Coast” visit the website of the publisher Siri Scientific Press: Siri Scientific Press.

2 06, 2021

Reinterpreting the Burgess Shale Deposits

By | June 2nd, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

New research suggests that the remarkable Burgess Shale deposits may not preserve the remains of a single, complex Cambrian marine ecosystem but the animals that were to become preserved as fossils may have been transported to this location from much further away.

Researchers led by Dr Nicholas Minter and Dr Orla Bath Enright (University of Portsmouth), writing in the academic journal “Communications Earth & Environment” postulate that the amazing biota associated with the Walcott Quarry could have undergone substantial transport prior to deposition. They suggest that this aggregation of fossils of primitive marine creatures might not represent the remains of a single, rich and diverse ecosystem but the accumulated remains of several prehistoric communities.

The Burgess Shale Marine community
The rich and diverse Cambrian biota associated with the Walcott Quarry (British Columbia). Picture credit: Phlesch Bubble/Royal Ontario Museum.

Ancient Lifeforms Moved by Mudflows

In late August 1909, American palaeontologist Charles Walcott was exploring an area of shale deposits exposed in the mountains of British Columbia close to Mount Burgess. He discovered a profusion of fossils in the shales, many of which had their soft parts preserved. The strata consist of fine mud which were laid down between 510 and 505 million years ago and the location, now known as Walcott Quarry, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. More than 65,000 fossil specimens have been collected representing more than 120 species. This fossil assemblage helped to support the theory of the “Cambrian explosion”, that towards the middle of the Cambrian there was a sudden burst of evolutionary activity leading to the evolution of the Phyla we have today. It had been thought that this Lagerstätte had been formed when catastrophic mudflows buried the ecosystem but the researchers, using flume experiments were able to demonstrate that the remains of delicate animals were capable of being transported tens of kilometres.

Mudflows Transporting Specimens Leading to the Burgess Shale Lagerstätte
The research team were able to plot the movement of delicate animal remains in mudflows and they concluded that they would not have deteriorated further despite significant transport. Picture credit: Orla Bath Enright et al.

Taphonomic Assessment and Analysis of the Shale Deposits

The researchers used a combination of measurements and assessments at the Walcott Quarry site with flume tank laboratory tests to mimic the mudflows and the deposition. They concluded that the delicate bodies of certain creatures could have been moved over tens of kilometres without damage, creating the illusion of this Lagerstätte representing a single prehistoric community.

Field work at the Walcott Quarry (Burgess Shale).
Field work being carried out at the Walcott Quarry located in the Burgess Shale of British Columbia. Picture credit: Orla Bath Enright.

The Deterioration of the Remains of Polychaete Worms

The University of Portsmouth was assisted in this research by scientists from University of Saskatchewan and Southampton University. They looked at one particular species of polychaete worm (Alitta virens) present in the shales, classified the degree of preservation for fossil specimens from entire/complete to degraded with just jaws and setae (bristle-like structures) left. They concluded that transport of the carcasses of these delicate animals did not significantly damage the remains further beyond what has already occurred due to normal decay processes.

Increasing states of polychaete degradation (Alitta virens)
Increasing states of polychaete degradation (Alitta virens). The researchers examined the fossilised remains of one species of polychaete worm and grouped the remains into categories related to the pristine state of the fossil material. It was concluded that the remains of soft-bodied, delicate animals could have been transported considerable distances and thus the Burgess Shale Lagerstätte might represent the preserved remains of more than one marine community. Picture credit: Orla Bath Enright et al.

Commenting on the implications this study might have Dr Bath Enright stated:

“We don’t know over what kind of overall time frame these many flows happened, but we know each one produced an ‘event bed’ that we see today stacked up on top of one another. These flows could pick up animals from multiple places as they moved across the seafloor and then dropped them all together in one place”.

Stratigraphy and interpretative line drawings from sediments associated with the Walcott Quarry
Stratigraphy and interpretative line drawings from sediments associated with the Walcott Quarry. The image (B) shows Bed A from the Greater Phyllopod Bed of the Walcott Quarry, whilst (C) shows a line drawing of the sedimentation of Bed A. Soft-bodied organisms (1, 2, and 3) from the proposed mud flows will become mixed in the deposit. Picture (D) shows a thin-section scan from Bed A showing parallel laminae, erosive, scoured bases, and “floating” quartz grains (Q). White arrows indicate transitional cohesive flow deposits. Picture credit: Orla Bath Enright et al.

A Cautionary Note

This research indicates that the transportation of the remains of soft-bodied creatures does not unduly affect their degradation. Fossils found in a single layer of sediment and assumed to represent animals living together in a single ecosystem, could actually represent the accumulation of remains that have been gathered together and that these animals may have lived far apart. The study provides a cautionary note on how palaeontologists develop views on ancient ecosystems based on the fossilised remains of the creatures they study.

Intriguingly, for what appears to be such a rich and specious community, dominated by benthic organisms (living on the seafloor), there is very little evidence of trackways, burrows or bioturbation associated with this famous fossil site. The lack of these trace fossils suggests a predominantly low oxygen or anoxic habitat and this lends weight to the idea that the sediments in which the fossils were found do not represent the habitat of these creatures.

An Ottoia fossil from the famous Burgess Shale.
An Ottoia fossil (Burgess Shale). Many different types of worm are associated with the Burgess Shale deposits but very few trace fossils such as burrows have been preserved. This lends weight to the idea that the remains of these animals were transported to the site from elsewhere.

It is not known precisely what caused the mudflows which buried and transported the animals which became fossilised, but the area was subject to multiple flows, causing well-preserved fossils to be found at numerous different levels in the shale.

Dr Bath Enright added:

“When we see multiple species accumulated together it can give the illusion we are seeing a single community. But we argue that an individual ‘event bed’ could be the product of several communities of animals being picked up from multiple places by a mudflow and then deposited together to give what looks like a much more complicated single community of animals”.

The scientific paper: “Flume experiments reveal flows in the Burgess Shale can sample and transport organisms across substantial distances” by Orla G. Bath Enright, Nicholas J. Minter, Esther J. Sumner, M. Gabriela Mángano and Luis A. Buatois published in Communications Earth & Environment.

10 05, 2021

Billion-Year-Old Fossil from Scotland

By | May 10th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A one-billion-year-old microfossil found in the Scottish Highlands has been shown to consist of two distinct cell types and could represent the earliest example of a multicellular animal ever recorded. Scientists from the University of Sheffield in collaboration with colleagues from Boston College (USA), have published a paper describing the discovery of a tiny fossil that provides a new perspective on the transition from single-celled organisms to more complex multicellular forms.

Image of Bicellum brasieri.
A highly magnified image of Bicellum brasieri preserved in petrographic thin sections. Two distinct cell shapes in the closely-packed cluster can be made out – elongate cells and more rounded ones. Picture credit: Professor Paul Strother (Weston Observatory of Boston College).

The photograph (above), shows an image of Bicellum brasieri, the cluster of cells measures around 20 microns in diameter, approximately 750 of these tiny organisms could sit on the head of a pin.

Lying Somewhere Between Single-celled and Multicellular Animals

The microscopic fossil material comes from the Mesoproterozoic-aged Diabaig Formation, which is exposed at Loch Torridon in the Northwest Scottish Highlands. It has been named Bicellum brasieri, the genus name being derived from the two types of cells (elongate and isodiametric) that were identified in the tightly grouped cell clusters.

Loch Torridon the site of the fossil discovery
The picturesque Loch Torridon a sea loch on the west coast of Scotland in the Northwest Highlands. The site of the Bicellum brasieri fossil discovery. Picture credit: Sheffield University.

Classified as a Holozoan

Writing in the academic journal “Current Biology” the researchers who include lead author Professor Charles Wellman from the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences (Sheffield University), have assigned this primitive lifeform to the Holozoa – a clade that includes all animals and their closest single-celled relatives but excludes fungi. If their interpretation is correct, then B. brasieri is distantly related to all living animals including our own species Homo sapiens.

Location map and outline of the stratigraphy of the Bicellum brasieri fossil discovery.
Location map and outline of the stratigraphy of the Bicellum brasieri fossil discovery. Picture credit: Strother et al.

A Remarkable Record of a Significant Development for Life on Earth

The shales of the Diabaig Formation were laid down at the bottom of a freshwater lake. The microfossils preserved in these rocks represent planktonic and benthic forms of microscopic life that existed around a billion years ago. The discovery suggests more complex lifeforms were evolving during this time in Earth’s history. The material could represent the earliest multicellular animal known to science.

Professor Wellman explained:

“The origins of complex multicellularity and the origin of animals are considered two of the most important events in the history of life on Earth, our discovery sheds new light on both of these. We have found a primitive spherical organism made up of an arrangement of two distinct cell types, the first step towards a complex multicellular structure, something which has never been described before in the fossil record.”

Bicellum fossil site location.
View of Diabaig Formation type section along the north shore of Loch Diabaig at the village of Lower Diabaig (B). The arrow marks the sample site. (C and D). View of dark shales (C) with lenticular, bedded phosphatic nodules in situ (D). Scale bar in (D), 5 cm. Picture credit: Strother et al.

Did the Animalia Evolve in the Sea or in Freshwater?

The exceptional preservation of the fossils enabled the research team to analyse them at both a cellular and subcellular level. The discovery of Bicellum brasieri challenges the long-held theory that complex life evolved in marine environments.

Professor Paul Strother, lead investigator of the research from Boston College stated:

“Biologists have speculated that the origin of animals included the incorporation and repurposing of prior genes that had evolved earlier in unicellular organisms. What we see in Bicellum is an example of such a genetic system, involving cell-cell adhesion and cell differentiation that may have been incorporated into the animal genome half a billion years later.”

This study has shed new light on the transition of single-celled organisms to more complex, sophisticated forms with cell specialisation.

The Boston College professor added:

“The discovery of this new fossil suggests to us that the evolution of multicellular animals had occurred at least one billion years ago and that early events prior to the evolution of animals may have occurred in freshwater like lakes rather than the ocean.”

The scientific paper: “A possible billion-year-old holozoan with differentiated multicellularity” by Paul K. Strother, Martin D. Brasier, David Wacey, Leslie Timpe, Martin Saunders and Charles H. Wellman published in Current Biology.

20 03, 2021

Utahraptor State Park Proposed

By | March 20th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fossils of the large dromaeosaurid Utahraptor (U. ostrummaysorum) were put on display as legislators and campaigners lobbied for the creation of a state park named after the iconic theropod dinosaur.

Utahraptor dinosaur model
Legislators have proposed a new state park in Utah which would conserve and protect the famous Dalton Wells quarry (Yellow Cat Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation), which has yielded numerous important dinosaur fossils including the first fossils of the giant dromaeosaurid Utahraptor (U. ostrummaysorum).

A New State Park for Grand County, Utah

A bill has been proposed that would create the Utahraptor State Park, if passed this would be the 45th such park designated within the “Beehive State”. The park would cover an area of Grand County in eastern Utah, close to the town of Moab and it would include the Dalton Wells Quarry where the first fossils of the giant raptor Utahraptor were discovered.

As well as providing camp sites and trails the park would protect and preserve the Dalton Wells Quarry site. Although the park’s current plans do not include provision for a museum, it has been suggested that if funding could be found, then a small museum documenting the extensive Lower Cretaceous strata that are exposed in this area and their contribution to palaeontology could be constructed.

It has been speculated that a 1:1 scale replica of the skeleton of a Utahraptor could be erected within the park’s boundary.

The fossilised remains of a Utahraptor jaw (slab and counter slab)
Slab and counter slab of a Utahraptor jaw (dentary). This fossil was collected from the Arches National Park, the proposed Utahraptor State Park will border it. Picture credit: James Kirkland/St George News.

The proposals involve the conversion of approximately 6,500 acres (2,630 hectares), into a park. Responsibility for conservation would be undertaken by either Utah’s Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands or the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.

Rebor Wind Hunter (Utahraptor model).
A replica of the fearsome Early Cretaceous predator Utahraptor. The model is “Wind Hunter” the Rebor Utahraptor replica which has been out of production for some time.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“We do appreciate how tight budgets are right now, but if the funding could be found to establish this new park and to protect the famous Dalton Wells location, that would be fabulous. So much of the world’s open spaces and important scientific sites are under threat it would be wonderful to see this exceptionally important fossil site protected.”

26 02, 2021

Concentrated Levels of Iridium Found at Chicxulub Impact Site

By | February 26th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

High levels of the rare Earth element iridium have been found in drill cores taken from the peak-ring sequence of the Chicxulub impact site located on the Yucatan peninsula (Mexico). This evidence further supports the theory that the extra-terrestrial space object that smashed into our planet some 66 million years ago is linked to the Cretaceous-Palaeogene (K-Pg) mass extinction event.

Extra-terrestrial Object Hits Earth

The day that everything changed. Scientists have found more evidence linking the Chicxulub impact event to the K-Pg mass extinction.

Picture Credit: Map from Nature Geoscience / illustration courtesy of NASA

In 2016, IODP-ICDP* Expedition 364 drilled into the Chicxulub crater’s peak ring, an irregular ring of hills that surrounds the crater’s centre bringing around 835 metres of rock to the surface for detailed laboratory analysis.

* IODP (International Ocean Discovery Program) and the ICDP (International Continental Scientific Drilling Program).

Iridium is extremely rare on Earth, although a spike in levels has been recorded at numerous sites around the world that represent deposits laid down around 66 million years ago. The researchers state that the iridium levels found in the drill cores are four times more concentrated than elsewhere. The scientists found iridium levels were highest across the transition into early Paleogene sediments (Danian faunal stage).

A Geophysical Map of the Chicxulub Impact Site

Geophysical Map of the Chicxulub Impact Crater
A geophysical map of the impact crater and the Chicxulub crater peaks from which the drill cores were taken.

Picture Credit: NASA

Writing in the academic journal “Science Advances” the researchers conclude that this evidence combined with the spike in worldwide iridium deposits at the time of the mass extinction event, constitutes indisputable evidence that the suspected dinosaur-killing bolide that created the Chicxulub crater was indeed the culprit.

Commenting on the significance of this research, co-author Professor Joanna Morgan (Imperial College London) stated:

“This asteroid was vaporised and ejected from the impact site at high speed. Iridium, and other asteroidal material, then circled the Earth above the stratosphere within a fast-moving dust cloud and may have taken up to two decades to settle through the atmosphere and ocean before being deposited at the impact site.”

Lead author of the study, Professor Steven Goderis of the Free University of Brussels-VUB added:

“It’s quite remarkable that we found concentrations this high within the impact structure itself. In the first hours to months after the impact, the crater was a highly turbulent environment affected by tsunamis and earthquakes. Luckily, the iridium layer was preserved. This unquestionably ties the formation of the crater to the mass extinction event that marked the end of the Cretaceous and confirms that the asteroid impact and dinosaur extinction are indisputably linked.”

The Iridium Clay Layer Marks the Impact Event

Identifying the K-T Boundary (Iridium Clay Layer)
Identifying concentrations of the rare Earth element iridium in a clay layer. At various locations around the world geologists have identified an iridium rich clay layer that marks the end of the Cretaceous and the beginning of the Palaeogene (K-T boundary).

Picture Credit: The Open University/Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the contribution of a media release from Imperial College London in the compilation of this article.

To read a related article looking at how palaeontologists interpret fossil evidence of a global impact event: Quarry Site Might Reveal Evidence of Cretaceous Mass Extinction Event.

The scientific paper: “Globally distributed iridium layer preserved within the Chicxulub impact structure” by Steven Goderis, Honami Sato, Ludovic Ferrière, Birger Schmitz, David Burney, Pim Kaskes, Johan Vellekoop, Axel Wittmann, Toni Schulz, Stepan M. Chernonozhkin, Philippe Claeys, Sietze J. de Graaff, Thomas Déhais, Niels J. de Winter, Mikael Elfman, Jean-Guillaume Feignon, Akira Ishikawa, Christian Koeberl, Per Kristiansson, Clive R. Neal, Jeremy D. Owens, Martin Schmieder, Matthias Sinnesael, Frank Vanhaecke, Stijn J. M. Van Malderen, Timothy J. Bralower, Sean P. S. Gulick, David A. Kring, Christopher M. Lowery, Joanna V. Morgan, Jan Smit, Michael T. Whalen and the IODP-ICDP Expedition 364 Scientists published in Science Advances.

28 12, 2020

Favourite Blog Posts of 2020 (Part 2)

By | December 28th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos, Photos/Pictures of Fossils, Press Releases|0 Comments

Favourite Blog Posts of 2020 (Part 2)

Everything Dinosaur team members conclude their review of their favourite blog articles of 2020 by looking at articles and news stories that were posted up between July and December.  With the best part of 180 posts to choose from selecting our favourite six for this period was quite tricky.  The ones we have selected demonstrate the broad range of topics we cover on the Everything Dinosaur weblog.

To view our earlier article about our favourite posts in the first half of the year: Favourite Blog Posts of 2020 (Part 1).

July – “Lizard Born of Fire”

We might have been in the middle of a global pandemic but Everything Dinosaur team members kept up their blogging reporting upon tiny theropod eggs from Japan, a revision of Dilophosaurus and a number of new dinosaurs.  Our favourite post of the month concerned the scientific description of Aratasaurus museunacionali, a basal member of the Coelurosauria from Brazil.  The genus name translates as “lizard born of fire”, a reference to the terrible fire that ripped through the National Museum of Brazil where the fossil specimen was kept.

A Life Reconstruction of the Basal Member of the Coelurosauria Aratasaurus museunacionali

Aratasaurus museonacionali illustration.

Aratasaurus museonacionali life reconstruction.

Picture Credit: Museu Nacional

To read more about A. museunacionaliAratasaurus museunacionali A Lizard Born of Fire.

August – Oculudentavis khaungraae Not a Stem Bird

The controversy over the naming of the smallest dinosaur based on a skull preserved in amber from northern Myanmar rumbled on.  In August, a paper was published that refuted claims that the tiny skull of the animal named Oculudentavis khaungraae was that of an archosaur.  A month earlier (July 2020), the original scientific paper describing this remarkable fossil was retracted.

The Tiny Fossil Skull Preserved in Amber from Myanmar – But is it a Dinosaur?

Oculudentavis khaungraae skull in amber.

Tiny fossil skull preserved in amber (Oculudentavis khaungraae).

 

Picture Credit: Lida Xing et al (Nature)

To read more about O. khaungraaeSmallest Dinosaur Preserved in Amber a Lizard.

September: Doctor Who Meets a Trilobite

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History celebrated its 160th birthday, the Monsters of the Deep exhibition opened in the midst of the chaos caused by COVID-19 and Euparkeria got a makeover. Our favourite post of September concerned a new species of trilobite (Gravicalymene bakeri) from Tasmanian that was named after Doctor Who actor Tom Baker.

A Photograph of a Gravicalymene bakeri Trilobite Fossil with Line Drawing

Gravicalymene bakeri trilobite fossil.

Gravicalymene bakeri trilobite fossil with line drawing.

Picture Credit: Australian Museum

To read more about “Doctor Who and the Trilobites”: Newly Described Species of Trilobite Named after Doctor Who Actor.

October – It’s a Dog’s Life

In October we reported on the mapping of the genome of the Scimitar-toothed cat Homotherium latidens, discussed a new species of mosasaur from Morocco and the diet of pterosaurs, but our favourite article concerned the research into ancient dog DNA.  The study suggested that the diversity observed between dogs in different parts of the world today originated when all of mankind were hunters and gatherers.

Mapping Ancient Doggy DNA

Mapping ancient dog DNA.

Mesolithic dog skull (left) compared to wolf skull (right).

Picture Credit: E. E. Antipina (Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences)

To read the article: DNA Study Highlights Ancient Relationship Between Humans and Dogs.

November – Dinosaurs from the Emerald Isle

In November, Everything Dinosaur celebrated publishing its 5,000 blog post, discussed Kholumolumo a dinosaur from an African rubbish dump, looked at seal evolution and got to grips with the earliest Paranthropus robustus skull described to date.

Our favourite post concerned the first dinosaur remains reported from Ireland, not just one dinosaur but two!

First Evidence of Dinosaurs from Ireland

Dr Mike Simms holds the two precious fossils.

Dr Mike Simms (National Museums Northern Ireland) holds the theropod tibia on the left and the thyreophoran femur on the right.

Picture Credit: The University of Portsmouth

To learn more about the Irish dinosaurs: The First Dinosaur Remains from Ireland.

December – Thalassodraco etchesi Swims into View

As the year closed, in the final month of 2020 we looked at how interactive “I-books” were helping to explain archaeology, examined a very flashy new dinosaur (U. jubatus), the first sauropod dinosaur from Switzerland (Amanzia greppini) and studied Parasaurolophus pathology.

Our favourite post concerned the establishment of a new species of Late Jurassic ichthyosaur after the discovery of fossil bones by the wonderful Dr Steve Etches MBE, the founder of the amazing Etches Collection museum in Dorset.

A Life Reconstruction of the Newly Described Thalassodraco etchesi

Thalassodraco etchesi life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of the newly described Late Jurassic ichthyosaur Thalassodraco etchesi.

Picture Credit: Megan Jacobs/University of Portsmouth

To read more about Thalassodraco etchesi: A New Taxon of Late Jurassic Ichthyosaur is Described.

This concludes our review of the blog posts that we have researched and written up over the last twelve months.  Which one is your favourite?

27 12, 2020

Favourite Blog Posts of 2020 (Part 1)

By | December 27th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos, Photos/Pictures of Fossils, Press Releases|0 Comments

Favourite Blog Posts of 2020 (Part 1)

At Everything Dinosaur, we try and post up an article on this blog site every single day.  This can be quite a challenge considering all our other activities and projects.  However, as a result of our work on this weblog we have managed to compile a huge amount of information, articles and features chronicling (for the most part), advances in the Earth sciences and new fossil discoveries along with research into the Dinosauria.

This year, Everything Dinosaur’s blog has passed the 5,000 articles benchmark.  Here is a selection of our own favourite news stories that we have covered in the first six months of 2020 (January to June).

January – A New Allosaurus Taxon

In January, a new species of North American Allosaurus was added to the pantheon of dinosaurs known from the famous Morrison Formation of the western United States.  Allosaurus jimmadseni honours the sadly departed James H. Madsen Jr. Utah’s inaugural state palaeontologist.  The famous Allosaurus specimen MOR 693 “Big Al” was reassigned to this new species.

A Pack of Allosaurus (A. jimmadseni) Attack a Luckless Juvenile Sauropod

Allosaurus jimmadseni a new Allosaurus taxon is described.

A pack of allosaurs (A. jimmadseni) attacking a juvenile sauropod.

Picture Credit: Todd Marshall

The January Allosaurus article: A New Species of Allosaurus.

February – The “Father of Argentinian Palaeontology” – José Bonaparte

On the 18th February José Bonaparte, regarded by many as the most influential vertebrate palaeontologist of the 20th Century passed away.  Respected and admired, José helped to develop and train a whole new generation of Earth scientists.  He was also responsible for naming and describing a large number of new dinosaurs including Abelisaurus, hence our illustration of that South American theropod (below).

José Bonaparte and a Drawing of One of the Many Dinosaurs He Named and Described (Abelisaurus comahuensis)

Lamenting the death of José Bonaparte (February 2020).

José Bonaparte (inset) and a drawing of one of the dinosaurs he named in his long and distinguished career Abelisaurus (A. comahuensis).

Picture Credit: Télam/Everything Dinosaur

To read more about José Bonaparte: José Bonaparte – The Founding Father of Palaeontology in Argentina.

March – Telling the Time Back in the Cretaceous

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, team members at Everything Dinosaur were distracted by some remarkable research undertaken by scientists from the University of Ghent and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

A study of the growth rings preserved on the fossilised shells of Cretaceous bivalves permitted the researchers to calculate that 70 million years ago, the day length was approximately thirty minutes shorter and a year on Earth was around a week longer than it is today.

To read this article: Telling the Time Back in the Cretaceous.

April – Homo erectus at Home in Africa

The remarkable Drimolen fossil hominin site in South Africa, provided palaeoanthropologists with likely confirmation that the hominin H. erectus did indeed evolve in Africa and not Asia.  A carefully and painstakingly reconstructed fossil skull (DNH 134), found in this area – regarded as the “Cradle of Humankind”, suggests that Homo erectus existed some 100,000 to 200,000 years earlier than previously realised.

We still have a lot to learn about our own evolution.

Homo erectus Evolved in Africa

Partial H. erectus cranium from the Drimolen Fossil Hominin site.

The partial H. erectus cranium from the Drimolen Fossil Hominin site.

Picture Credit: La Trobe University (Australia)

To learn more about the origins of Homo erectusH. erectus Originated in Africa.

May – Lots of Pterosaurs

A jawbone found on the Isle of Wight was identified as a new species of tapejarid pterosaur.  The flying reptile, named Wightia declivirostris which translates as “slanting beak from the Isle of Wight” was one of several new pterosaur species described in 2020.

A Life Reconstruction of the Early Cretaceous Pterosaur Wightia declivirostris

Wightia declivirostris from the Isle of Wight

A life reconstruction of the newly described tapejarid from the Lower Cretaceous of the Isle of Wight (Wightia declivirostris).

Picture Credit: Megan Jacobs (University of Portsmouth)

To read more about Wightia declivirostrisA New Terrific Tapejarid.

We have a lot more to learn about the Pterosauria too.

June – Fossilised Stick – Provides a Surprise

A fossil discovered more than fifty years ago and regarded as little more than a “fossilised stick” has proved to be a new species of Late Devonian plant and it will help scientists to better understand the flora of the ancient landmass of Gondwana.

The specimen was found by amateur geologist John Irving whilst exploring the banks of the Manilla River in Barraba (New South Wales, Australia).  A study in the open-access journal PeerJ identifies the newly named Keraphyton mawsoniae and proposes that it has a similar structure to primitive horsetails and ferns.  The fossil which looks so unremarkable on the outside, once studied in cross-section, has provided a unique window into the plant life on Earth around 360 million years ago.

Not Much to Look at on the Outside but Inside a Treasure Trove of Information for Palaeobotanists

Keraphyton mawsoniae fossil.

The newly described Keraphyton mawsoniae a fern-like land plant from the Late Devonian of Australia.

Picture Credit: Champreux et al (PeerJ)

To read more about K. mawsoniaeFossil Stick Proves to be New Species of Ancient Plant.

This selection represents some of our favourite blog posts from the first six months of 2020, which one is your favourite post?

We will conclude this review of the news stories we have covered on this blog in part 2.

1 12, 2020

The First Sauropod from Switzerland

By | December 1st, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Amanzia greppini – The First Sauropod Described From Switzerland

Badly distorted and disarticulated dinosaur bones found in the 1860’s in north-western Switzerland have led to the establishment of a new genus of European sauropod.  Amanzia greppini, described from an assortment of fragmentary fossil material, representing four individuals is the first sauropod to be described from fossil remains found in Switzerland.  The fossils come from Upper Jurassic strata which form part of the Reuchenette Formation, they were discovered in a limestone quarry in the Basse Montagne, near the city of Moutier.

Limb Bones of Amazia greppini from the Late Jurassic of Switzerland

Forelimb bones associated with Amanzia greppini and interpretative drawings.

Forelimb bones associated with Amanzia greppini and interpretative drawings. Right humerus in (a) posterior and (b) anterior view with line drawings showing preserved cartilage outlined in grey.  Left radius in (c) anterior and (d) posterior view.  Left ulna in anterior view (e) and posterior view (f).  Right ulna in anterior view (g) and anterior view (h).  Views of an ungual phalanx.  Note scale bar = 5 cm.

Picture Credit: Schwarz et al (Swiss Journal of Geosciences)

The bones had been sold to a private collector, but the Swiss geologist Jean-Baptiste Greppin was notified of the find and identified the assortment of distorted and crushed bones as the remains of dinosaurs. In the early 20th these remains were associated with the English sauropod Cetiosauriscus stewarti known from fossils found in Cambridgeshire.  However, an extensive review of the Swiss fossil material conducted by Daniela Schwarz (Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin) and co-workers resulted in a new genus being erected earlier this year.

Kimmeridgian versus Callovian

The researchers who re-visited the Swiss sauropod remains identified a number of unique autapomorphies (distinctive traits) to distinguish their fossils from those of C. stewarti.  In addition, the Swiss dinosaur was much smaller, with an estimated maximum length of around ten metres compared to the proposed fifteen metres for Cetiosauriscus.  The scientists, which included Philip Mannion (University College London), Oliver Wings (University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany) and Christian Meyer (University of Basel), found differences in the caudal vertebrae (tail bones) as well as difference in the shape and proportions of the femur, humerus and coracoid.

A discrepancy in the geological age between C. stewarti and the Swiss fossil material was also noted.  Fossils of Cetiosauriscus stewarti come from strata associated with the Callovian faunal of the Middle Jurassic, whilst the fossils of Amanzia greppini come from geologically younger deposits laid down during the Kimmeridgian faunal stage (Late Jurassic).

Skeletal Reconstruction of Amanzia greppini and Size Comparison with the Geologically Older Cetiosauriscus stewarti

Amanzia skeletal drawing and size comparison with Cetiosauriscus stewarti.

Skeletal reconstruction of A. greppini.  Known fossil elements shown in blue.  As much information is missing from the incomplete skeletal material, the dorsal vertebrae, the proportions and morphology of the cervical vertebrae and the skull were modified from Camarasaurus.  Scaled silhouette drawings (b) of Cetiosauriscus stewarti (in black) and A. greppini (in grey) demonstrating the significant size difference between the two taxa.  Note scale bar = 1 metre.

Picture Credit: Schwarz et al (Swiss Journal of Geosciences)

Honouring a Famous Swiss Scientist

The genus is named in honour of the well-known Swiss geologist Amanz Gressly (1814–1865) who introduced the term “facies” to describe rock types with different characteristics and discovered the first dinosaur fossil from Switzerland in 1856.  The trivial or specific name pays tribute to Jean-Baptiste Greppin, who was the first person to identify the jumbled remains from the quarry as coming from a member of the Dinosauria.

In addition, to the sauropod bones, a single, worn tooth from a sauropod was discovered.  This tooth (specimen number NMB M.H. 451), has been assigned to A. greppini.  Bones from an ancient marine crocodylomorph and a broken theropod tooth were also found in association with the sauropod remains.  Based on the matrix material and the study of ostracod fossils found at the quarry, the scientists concluded that the carcass of Amanzia, was buried in a shallow, temporary lake close to the sea.

Middle and Posterior Caudal Vertebrae with Accompanying Line Drawing (A. greppini)

Middle and posterior caudal vertebrae of A. greppini.

Middle and posterior caudal vertebrae of A. greppini with interpretative line drawing.  Note scale bar = 5 cm.  Differences in the length : height ratios between these bones and those tail bones associated with Cetiosauriscus stewarti helped to identify the Swiss fossil material as that of a new genus.

Picture Credit: Schwarz et al (Swiss Journal of Geosciences)

More European Sauropods to Come

When this research was published in the Swiss Journal of Geosciences earlier this year (February 2020), the researchers concluded that the first Swiss sauropod taxon helped to demonstrate the diversity of the sauropods known from the Late Jurassic of Europe.  The exact placement of Amanzia greppini within the Sauropoda remains controversial, the authors speculated that it might be a sister taxon to the Neosauropoda or a member of the Turiasauria, a geographically and temporally widespread group of sauropods with a number of European genera such as Cardiodon, Losillasaurus, Zby and Turiasaurus.

They concluded that more fossil discoveries and the reassessment of sauropod fossils held in museum collections would lead to the naming of many more European sauropod genera.

The scientific paper: “Re-description of the sauropod dinosaur Amanzia (“Ornithopsis/Cetiosauriscus”) greppini n. gen. and other vertebrate remains from the Kimmeridgian (Late Jurassic) Reuchenette Formation of Moutier, Switzerland” by Daniela Schwarz, Philip D. Mannion, Oliver Wings and Christian A. Meyer published in the Swiss Journal of Geosciences

17 09, 2020

Carnian Pluvial Episode – Late Triassic Mass Extinction

By | September 17th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Getting to Grips with a Mass Extinction Event – Carnian Pluvial Episode

The fossil record of the Phanerozoic (the Eon of visible life), indicates that there were five major mass extinction events.  The fossil record marks huge and very rapid (at least in geological terms anyway), reductions in the diversity of life on a world-wide scale.  Our planet might well be going through a mass extinction event at the moment, but for one team of scientists their attention has been on the Late Triassic (Carnian faunal stage), plotting a time of extensive terrestrial and marine faunal turnover.  The researchers, which include scientists from Bristol University, the University of Ferrara (Italy), the University of Vienna and the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan Province, conclude that around 233 million years ago about a third of all marine genera disappeared.

Terrestrial Fauna in the Late Triassic – Did a Major Extinction Event Help to Trigger the Rise of the Dinosaurs

Late Triassic terrestrial fauna.

Life in the Late Triassic, an explosion in dinosaur diversity.  Did the Crocodylomorpha and the Dinosauria benefit from the Late Triassic Carnian Pluvial Episode?

Picture Credit:  Davide Bonadonna

Many types of land-living animal did no better.  The herbivorous rhynchosaurs and dicynodonts were greatly reduced in diversity during the Carnian, but intriguingly crocodylomorphs and those other archosaurs, the Dinosauria seem to have benefitted from the extinction of other types of tetrapod, with both the Crocodylomorpha and dinosaurs diversifying towards the end of the Carnian.  The scientists postulate that the rise of the dinosaurs to dominance might have been a direct consequence of the Carnian Pluvial Episode (CPE).

To read an earlier blog article that links the CPE with dinosaur diversification: Out with a Bang! In with a Bang! The story of the Dinosauria.

 A Time of Immense Global Environmental Change

The Carnian Pluvial Episode took place from around 234 to 232 million years ago.  There was a marked rise in rainfall (at least four episodes of increased rainfall have been deduced from sedimentary and palaeontological data).  The Earth got warmer and more humid.  This led to extensive environmental changes and the subsequent demise and then collapse of many ecological systems.  Writing in the academic journal “Science Advances”, the scientists throw their collective weight behind the theory that enormous volcanic eruptions in the Wrangellia Province of western Canada, that resulted in the deposition of vast amounts of basalt, were probably the cause of the global environmental changes.

Co-author of the paper Jacopo Dal Corso (China University of Geosciences), explained:

“The eruptions peaked in the Carnian.  I was studying the geochemical signature of the eruptions a few years ago and identified some massive effects on the atmosphere worldwide.  The eruptions were so huge, they pumped vast amounts of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and there were spikes of global warming”.

This warming resulted in the increased humidity and higher levels of rainfall, a phenomenon first detected by geologists Mike Simms and Alastair Ruffell in the 1980s.  The climate change caused major biodiversity loss in the ocean and on land, but just after the extinction event new groups took over, forming more modern-like ecosystems.

Environmental and Geochemical Changes of the CPE

Environmental and geochemical changes associated with the Carnian Pluvial Event.

(A) Calculating the age of the CPE based on geochemical indicators and (B) Palaeogeography during the Carnian, the map showing where sedimentary and palaeontological data has been obtained documenting changes in environmental conditions.

Picture Credit: Jacopo Dal Corso et al/Science Advances

The environmental changes had a profound effect on life on our planet.  As well as a diversification of the dinosaurs, many other modern groups of animals and plants appeared at this time, including lizards and the first mammals.  When mapping the losses of marine fauna at the genus level, the team concluded that whilst the CPE was not as devastating as the either the end-Triassic or end-Cretaceous extinction events, some 33% of all marine genera died out.

A Comparison of Marine Faunal Turnover During Major Extinction Events

Plotting marine extinctions and faunal turnover over the Carnian Pluvial Event.

(A) Comparison of extinction rates of all marine genera during the CPE with those of major Phanerozoic mass extinction events.

Picture Credit: Jacopo Dal Corso et al/Science Advances

The Effect on Plant Life

The shifts in climate encouraged substantial changes in global flora too.  Many new types of plants emerged that were more suited to the humid climate.  Several modern fern families emerged and the Bennettitales (cycad-like plants), diversified.  Extensive coal deposits formed once again, the first substantial coal seams being produced since the Permian.  Conifers seem to have benefitted and the researchers, which include Professor Mike Benton (Bristol University), remark that the CPE provides the first major finds of amber in the fossil record.  As tree resin is usually produced when plants are under stress, this suggests that terrestrial ecosystems were in a state of flux during this period in Earth’s history.

Professor Benton stated:

“The new floras probably provided slim pickings for the surviving herbivorous reptiles.  I had noted a floral switch and ecological catastrophe among the herbivores back in 1983 when I completed my PhD.  We now know that dinosaurs originated some 20 million years before this event, but they remained quite rare and unimportant until the Carnian Pluvial Episode hit.  It was the sudden arid conditions after the humid episode that gave dinosaurs their chance.”

Terrestrial Extinctions and Originations During the Carnian (Late Triassic)

Mapping the major biological changes amongst plants, insects and vertebrates during the Carnian.

Plotting the major biological changes amongst plants, insects and vertebrates during the Carnian.  Trackmaker assemblages from the Southern Alps suggest a faunal turnover within the Archosauria with the dinosaurs replacing the crocodylomorphs as a significant component of terrestrial ecosystems.

Picture Credit: Jacopo Dal Corso et al/Science Advances

The researchers conclude that the CPE may not have been as significant as the big five Phanerozoic mass extinctions but it did have a dramatic impact on terrestrial and marine environments and helped to bring in a variety of new types of plants and animals, marking an important step towards the origins of the types of ecosystems we see around us today.

The scientific paper: “Extinction and dawn of the modern world in the Carnian (Late Triassic)” by Jacopo Dal Corso et al published in Science Advances.

9 09, 2020

What was Panthalassa?

By | September 9th, 2020|Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

What was Panthalassa? Where was it?

At Everything Dinosaur, we get lots of enquiries and questions emailed to us.  For example, we recently received an query about Panthalassa, the sender had heard the name but was not sure what this referred to, other than that it had something to do with ancient life.  Panthalassa is the name of the huge, super-ocean that was created with the convergence of the world’s landmasses into a single block, known as Pangaea (sometimes also referred to as Pangea).  Panthalassa was formed in the Late Palaeozoic Era it persisted for much of the Mesozoic.  It was sub-divided in the Late Triassic into Pacific and Atlantic regions as the geological process of rifting led to the formation of the Atlantic Ocean Basin.

A Map Showing the Approximate Location of Pangaea and the Surrounding Panthalassa Ocean (circa 200 mya)

The super-ocean Panthalassa.

The location of the super-ocean Panthalassa around 200 million years ago.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

An Enormous Body of Water

The Panthalassa Ocean at its largest size covered more than 70% of the entire planet’s surface.  The term “Panthalassa” is derived from the Greek and means “all sea”.  This enormous body of water was so vast, that if you had observed our planet from certain viewpoints in outer space, no trace of any land on planet “Earth” could be observed.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

” We get contacted by all sorts of people asking all kinds of questions, students at university, pupils at school, parents contacting us on behalf of a curious child who has asked a question which they themselves have been unable to answer and we do our best to respond to all the queries that we receive.  It might take a while for our team members to reply, but we do genuinely, try to help as many people as we can.”

Hopefully, the information we provided on Panthalassa will permit smooth sailing for the emailer when it comes to looking at prehistoric oceans from now on.

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