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/Geology

Articles, features and stories with an emphasis on geology.

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.

31 08, 2020

Hunting Ammonites

By | August 31st, 2020|Educational Activities, Geology, Photos, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Hunting Ammonites

For a few hours team members at Everything Dinosaur were able to take a break from their duties and to visit the Yorkshire coast on a hunt for ammonites and other fossil remains.  It was an early start to take advantage of collecting on a low tide and to make the best of the fine weather that had been forecast.  For many fossil hunters, the hunt is almost as rewarding as the finds.  With all the problems with travel at the moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it made a pleasant change to be able to participate in a fossil hunting expedition, albeit only for a few hours.

The Spectacular and Very Beautiful Yorkshire Coast

A trip to the coast to collect fossils.

A visit to the North Yorkshire coast on fossil collecting expedition.  The beginning of the day, fine weather is forecast and the early start permitted the team to collect fossils on a falling tide.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Avoiding Cliffs

The recent heavy rains had saturated the cliffs, making the risk of rockfalls even greater.  During the team’s visit to the beach, several small rockfalls were observed, however, team members stayed away from the cliffs and were content to scour the foreshore looking for fossils.  As this location on the North Yorkshire coast is a SSSI (site of special scientific interest), hammering rocks out of the cliffs is not permitted.  There were plenty of ammonites to see, including quite large ones, preserved at numerous locations at beach level.

Large Ammonite Fossils Could be Observed on the Beach

Fossil ammonite (geological hammer provides scale).

Large ammonites preserved on the beach.  The geology hammer provides a scale.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The cliffs at this location are very dangerous and there is a steep and hazardous descent to the beach from the cliff top, this location is not for the faint hearted and not suitable for family groups.

Searching for Fossils on the Foreshore – Some Interesting Finds

Fossil hunting on the foreshore.

A Dactylioceras ammonite negative exposed in a broken “cannonball” and some brachiopod pieces collected from the foreshore.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Lower Jurassic Fossils

The strata dates from the Lower Jurassic and there were plenty of small fragments of ammonites to collect in addition to the occasional gryphaea fossil along with various bivalves and brachiopods.  Some of the large specimens were kept as when we visit schools or conduct outreach science activities, we like to give away fossils to help provide resources to the teaching team and to encourage young people to take up fossil collecting as a hobby.

An Ammonite Fossil Found on the Beach

An ammonite fossil find.

An ammonite partially eroded out of a nodule. We think this is an example of Dactylioceras commune.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

26 08, 2020

Stegosaurus Fossil Bone Found on Scottish Island

By | August 26th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Confirmation of Scottish Stegosaurs

The Jurassic-aged strata found on the coastline of the Isle of Skye in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides is recognised as one of the most globally significant locations in the world for dinosaur fossils from the Middle Jurassic.  Recently, the fossil sites on Skye received greater legal protection: Legal Protection for Isle of Skye Fossil Locations.  The vertebrate body and trace fossils confirm the presence of a rich biota of different dinosaurs and early mammals.  Footprints on Skye had hinted at the presence of stegosaurs in Scotland.  It is ironic therefore, that further evidence for the existence of armoured dinosaurs in the Middle Jurassic of Scotland has not come from Skye but from its island neighbour, the Isle of Eigg that lies to the south.

Stegosaur Limb Bone Found on a Beach on the Isle of Eigg

Stegosaur limb bone found on Scottish beach.

The stegosaur limb bone exposed on the beach (Isle of Eigg).

Picture Credit: Dr Elsa Panciroli (National Museums Scotland)

A Serendiptous Discovery

The contemporaneous Jurassic strata that outcrops on the small island of Eigg, it covers an area of just 30² kilometres (11² miles), has been well explored.  It is renowned for its fossils of marine fauna including ammonites, prehistoric sharks and marine reptiles.  This is the first time that a dinosaur bone has been found on the Isle of Eigg.  The 166 million-year-old limb bone (Bathonian faunal stage of the Jurassic), was discovered by chance by Dr Elsa Panciroli (National Museums Scotland).

Dr Panciroli explained:

“I was running along the shore on my way back to meet the rest of the team and I ran right over it.  It wasn’t clear exactly what kind of animal it belonged to at the time, but there was no doubt it was a dinosaur bone.”

The bone is highly eroded, it having been exposed on the face of a boulder for some time, it measures a little over fifty centimetres in length.  It represents a bone from the hind limb.

The Fossil Specimen Removed from the Boulder

Eroded stegosaur limb bone.

The eroded stegosaur limb bone is now in the collection of the National Museums of Scotland.

Picture Credit: N. Larkin

A Hugely Significant Find

The scientists comment that this single fossil bone represents a “hugely significant find”, albeit one found fortuitously thanks to a sharp-eyed field team member.  Dinosaur fossils from the Middle Jurassic are particularly rare and this fossil has a global significance for palaeontologists.

Palaeontologist Dr Steve Brusatte (University of Edinburgh), who has co-authored a paper on the fossil bone stated:

“This fossil is additional evidence that plate-backed stegosaurs used to roam Scotland, which corroborates footprints from the Isle of Skye that we identified as being made by a stegosaur”.

The bone now resides in the collections of National Museums Scotland (Edinburgh), the fieldwork on the Isle of Eigg was funded by the National Geographic Society with the permission of The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust.

A paper on the fossil specimen will be published in the Earth And Environmental Transactions Of The Royal Society Of Edinburgh.

Mesozoic Strata Associated with Skye, Eigg and Rùm (Inner Hebrides)

Mesozoic strata on the Isle of Skye and the Isle of Eigg.

The Isle of Eigg in relation to the Isle of Skye (Inner Hebrides), the location of Mesozoic-aged strata is highlighted in dark green.

Picture Credit: Google Maps with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The British Isles and Stegosaurs

The oldest fossils of a stegosaur described to date, also come from the British Isles, but from a location very much to the south and east of the Inner Hebrides.  The coast of North Yorkshire, notably the Saltwick Formation has yielded at least two stegosaur tracks, attributed to the ichnospecies Deltapodus brodricki.  These are the oldest fossils attributed to a stegosaur known to science (we think).  The Saltwick Formation was laid down around 175-171 million years ago (Aalenian faunal stage of the Middle Jurassic) and are therefore at least five million years older than the stegosaur body and trace fossils associated with the Inner Hebrides.

Natural Casts of Stegosaur Tracks (Deltapodus brodricki) from the North Yorkshire Coast

Stegosaur tracks (north Yorkshire coast).

Natural casts of stegosaur tracks Deltapodus brodricki from the Aalenian aged Saltwick Formation.

Picture Credit: Martin Whyte and Mike Romano

Isle Skye Middle Jurassic Fossils: Isle of Skye Steps into the Jurassic Spotlight.

23 08, 2020

Rock Fall Reveals Ancient Trackways

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

Two Ancient Trackways Discovered in Arizona

A fortuitous rock fall on the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona), has revealed two ancient trace fossils that have been interpreted as the trackways created by small vertebrates as they climbed a steep sand dune.  The sandstone blocks containing the fossils from the Manakacha Formation, a sub-unit of the extensive Supai Group, are the subject of a scientific paper published in the academic, on-line, open-access journal PLOS One.  Estimated to be around 313 million years old (Moscovian Age of the Pennsylvanian Epoch – Late Carboniferous), the tracks are thought to have been made by either basal diapsid reptile or a basal synapsid and are the first tetrapod tracks reported from the Manakacha Formation and the oldest known from the Grand Canyon region.

An Artist’s Reconstruction of the Tetrapod Ascending the Sand Dune

Basal amniote moves up a sand dune.

Crossing a sand dune.  A life reconstruction of a basal amniote moving diagonally up a dune creating a trackway similar to the one described in the scientific paper.

Picture Credit: Emily Waldman

Ascending Sand Dunes

The rocks in this region are aeolian sandstones and the discovery of the two trackways document the earliest known occurrence of dunefield-dwelling amniotes.  Lead author of the scientific paper, Steve Rowland (professor emeritus of geology at the University of Nevada), commented that these fossils demonstrate that by the Late Carboniferous, the first vertebrates capable of laying eggs out of water had adapted to desert habitats.

The Main Trackway, Line Drawing, Site of Rock Fall and Counterpart Slab

Trackway evidence at the Grand Canyon.

Main trackway block adjacent to Bright Angel Trail (Grand Canyon), with tracks in concave epirelief (impressions) at (A).  Scale is calibrated in decimeters.  Sketch of main trackway surface (B).  Note occurrence of Trackway 2 (alignments of small black spots) above Trackway 1.  The rocks (C) next to the Bright Angel Trail, including at least two rocks with amniote tracks.  Counterpart block (D) with tracks in convex hyporelief (natural casts).

Picture Credit: Rowland et al (PLOS One)

Side-stepping Ascent of a Steep Dune

The rock fall occurred close to a popular hiking trail and they were first spotted during a geology field trip to the Grand Canyon in 2016.  The leader of that trip, professor Allan Krill sent a photograph of the tracks to the Department of Geology at the University of Nevada and Professor Rowland decided to investigate further.  The tracks have been interpreted as showing the ascent of a dune slope at an angle of approximately 20 degrees, thus reducing the steepness of the climb.  The second trackway, a series of small rounded depressions in the rock suggest claw marks.  It has been postulated that these marks are a deeper undertrackway, made some hours or days after the first track was produced, possibly by an animal of the same species as the first trackmaker.

Line Drawing of Main Trackway (1) with a Plotted Three-dimensional Track Interpretation

Line drawing of main trackway surface and coloured digital elevation model.

Sketch of main trackway surface (A).  Detail of a portion of the trackway, with scale (B).  Coloured digital elevation model with explanation of colours (C).  Contour interval is 1 cm.

Picture Credit: Rowland et al (PLOS One)

The scientists conclude that to traverse over the steep slope the little animal was moving, laterally one step at a time so that it always had its three other legs to support its body and to grip the surface.  The transition across the dune may not have been particularly elegant but the 28 impressions that have been preserved may help to shed further light on the evolution of early amniotes, which are scarce in the Carboniferous/Early Permian fossil record of North America.

Not everyone is convinced of the interpretation of the fossils by the research team which included Mario Caputo (Society for Sedimentary Geology) and Zachary Jensen (College of Southern Nevada).

A spokesperson representing the palaeontology programme at the Grand Canyon commented that there was a lot of disagreement amongst the scientific community when it came to interpreting fossil tracks and inferring animal behaviours from them.  During the Late Carboniferous, this part of Arizona was a coastal-plain on the western edge of the super-continent of Pangaea.  There were extensive dunefields in close proximity, the dunes being formed by the action of the wind (aeolian), occasionally exceptional tidal conditions, storms or other flooding events interrupted the aeolian deposition burying parts of the dunefield in fine mud.

The scientific paper: “Early adaptation to eolian sand dunes by basal amniotes is documented in two Pennsylvanian Grand Canyon trackways” by Stephen M. Rowland, Mario V. Caputo and Zachary A. Jensen published in the open-access, on-line journal PLOS One.

12 08, 2020

Vectaerovenator inopinatus – “Unexpected Air Filled Hunter”

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

Vectaerovenator inopinatus – “Unexpected Air Filled Hunter from the Isle of Wight”

This week has seen the announcement of the discovery of four fossil bones from the foreshore near Knock Cliff, south of the town of Shanklin on the Isle of Wight that led to the naming of a new species of carnivorous dinosaur.  The new theropod has been named Vectaerovenator inopinatus (pronounced: Vec-tare-row-ve-nay-tor in-op-pin-ar-tus).  Most of the media outlets that have covered this story have focused on the dedicated people who found the fossils and the research team responsible for describing them.  The fossils were found over a period of several weeks in 2019 in three separate discoveries, two by individuals and one by a family group, who all handed in their finds to the nearby Dinosaur Isle Museum (Sandown).

The Carcass of Vectaerovenator inopinatus Floats Out to Sea

The Vectaerovenator inopinatus floats out to sea.

Vectaerovenator inopinatus – carcass floating out to sea.  The fossil bones come from the marine Ferruginous Sandstone Formation of the Lower Greensand Group.

Picture Credit: Trudie Wilson

A Vital Contribution to the Earth Sciences

The contribution from amateur fossil hunters cannot be underestimated, such enthusiastic and knowledgeable fossil hunters continue to make a hugely significant contribution to the Earth sciences.  The fossil material, consisting of four vertebrae (one cervical, two dorsal and one caudal), are, with the exception of some isolated teeth, the youngest non-avian theropod remains reported from Mesozoic strata from the British Isles.

The fossils come from the Aptian (Early Cretaceous), Ferruginous Sandstone Formation of the Lower Greensand Group and as these are marine deposits, it is likely that the carcass was washed out to sea and floated for some time before eventually settling on the seabed.  Most Early Cretaceous dinosaur fossil material known from the British Isles come from the Wealden Group or the older Purbeck Limestone Group.  Exposures of the generally younger Ferruginous Sandstone Formation can be found in Dorset as well as the southern part of the Isle of Wight.  These sediments were laid down during a period of rising sea levels.  The rising seas engulfed the lower lying coastal swamps, floodplains and deltas that had been home to many different types of dinosaur.  Dinosaur fossils are exceptionally rare in these strata.  For example, a single, isolated theropod tooth found at Punfield Cove, Dorset represents the very first record of a dinosaur from the Lower Greensand of Dorset.

As the four fossil bones ascribed to V. inopinatus are consistent in size and have the same adhering matrix, it is very likely the all four bones came from a single, individual dinosaur.

Silhouette of Vectaerovenator inopinatus with the Fossil Bones in Approximate Life Position

Vectaerovenator inopinatus silhouette showing placement of fossil bones.

A silhouette of V. inopinatus showing the placement of the four fossil bones. Although the material was collected on separate occasions, it is thought that they all come from a single skeleton.

Picture Credit: Darren Naish

One of the Few Valid British Greensand Taxa

What fossils that are associated with the Lower Greensand Group, are often highly fragmentary, substantially eroded and often the result of re-deposition from older strata.  The four vertebrae represent the youngest non-avian theropod remains reported from the British Mesozoic.  Described as a mid-sized tetanuran, the Vectaerovenator specimen is estimated to represent a four-metre-long animal, one that roamed Europe approximately 1115 million years ago.  It is the first diagnosable theropod taxon to be named from Aptian deposits associated with Europe.

“Unexpected Air-filled Hunter from the Isle of Wight”

The scientific name translates as unexpected, air-filled hunter from the Isle of Wight.  The neck and back bones are chambered (camerate) and full of air pockets (highly pneumatic).  These are adaptations to help lighten the skeleton and extensions to the lungs, part of an extremely efficient respiratory system seen today in living birds.  The shape of the cervical vertebra, along with the evidence of highly pneumatised bones indicate that Vectaerovenator was a member of the Tetanurae, a clade of theropod dinosaurs defined as all theropods more closely related to birds than they are to the genus Ceratosaurus.   As such, this is by far the largest clade of theropods known, it includes the tyrannosaurs, Maniraptora, megalosaurs, allosaurs, ornithomimosaurs and the Aves.  It is not possible to classify these bones any further, down to the family or the genus name for example.

The formal scientific paper is expected to be published next month in the journal Papers in Palaeontology.

The continuing transgression of the sea led to much of the land in this region becoming fully submerged.  Deposition from deltas stopped, land-derived sediments to this part of the world ceased and for millions of years the only material to accumulate on the seabed were the microscopic remains of eukaryotic phytoplankton (coccolithophoroids).  Many coccolithophorids are covered in overlapping scales made of calcium carbonate.  Their remains formed the beautiful white cliffs, (which gave the Isle of Wight its name) and formed the stunning white cliffs associated with the coast of south-eastern England and elsewhere in Europe.

White Cliffs Highlighting the Cretaceous Sea Level Rise

White cliffs formed from the remains of coccolithophoroids.

Stevns Klint chalk cliffs (Denmark).  These cliffs are formed from the fossilised remains of microscopic phytoplankton (coccolithophoroids).

Picture Credit: PLOS One

11 08, 2020

The Butchers of Boxgrove

By | August 11th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

The Butchers of Boxgrove

Not far from the location of one of the greatest anthropological hoaxes of all time, the Piltdown Man, lies Boxgrove quarry.  This site in picturesque, rural West Sussex provides evidence of the earliest known residents of the United Kingdom, some of the very first Europeans.  The gravel quarry reveals a chalk cliff and a bedding plane that represents an ancient beach.  Around 500,000 years ago this location was the gathering place for a group of Homo heidelbergensis as they butchered and processed the big game that they had brought down after a successful hunt.

Boxgrove has been meticulously studied for over forty years with the University College London Institute of Archaeology taking a prominent role.  Their work is detailed in a new book about the discoveries entitled “The Horse Butchery Site”, published by University College London Archaeology South-East’s “Spoilheap Publications”.

At Boxgrove a Number of Large Animals were Butchered including Prehistoric Horses

Butchering the horse at Boxgrove.

An artist’s impression of the social event of butchering the horse.

Picture Credit: Lauren Gibson / University College London institute of Archaeology

The book documents the activities and movements of a group of early Britons (H. heidelbergensis) as they knapped flints to make stone tools, modified bones to make implements and butchered a horse around 480,000 years ago or thereabouts.

Leader of the project, Dr Matthew Pope (Institute of Archaeology), commented:

“This was an exceptionally rare opportunity to examine a site pretty much as it had been left behind by an extinct population, after they had gathered to totally process the carcass of a dead horse on the edge of a coastal marshland”

Investigating a Site where Flint Knapping Took Place

Flint knapping site being investigated (1989).

Knapping site under excavation (1989).

Picture Credit: University College London institute of Archaeology

For over a decade from the 1980s and into the 1990s, a dedicated team of volunteers and archaeologists led by Mark Roberts (Institute of Archaeology) uncovered a treasure trove of prehistoric remains, that permitted the researchers to document the activities of these ancient people.   More than 2,000 sharp flint fragments were recovered from eight separate areas, known as knapping scatters.  These are individual workstations where humans knelt to make tools and left behind a concentrations of flint fragments.  In some places the impression made by the worker’s knees as they knelt on the sand can still be seen.

Boxgrove Knapping Site with Preserved Knee Impression

Investigating a flint knapping site (Boxgrove).

Examining a flint knapping site, note the preserved knee imprint (bottom right).

Picture Credit: University College London institute of Archaeology

At one location, the “flint shadow” of a man has been preserved.  The outline of his legs, as he sat, perhaps all day making tools and relentlessly flaking away at the flint, so that a shower of tiny fragments fell on him and around him, leaving a stencil impression of his limbs on the ground.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

” The communal activity recorded at Boxgrove, where a number of large animals were skilfully cut up, their bones broken and the marrow removed suggests a very high degree of co-ordination and co-operation.  Everything in this behaviour indicates planning and a need to communicate, this suggests that Homo heidelbergensis was using a language to explain abstract concepts, organise work and to exchange ideas.”

To read an article about Homo heidelbergensis butchering a prehistoric elephant: Giant Prehistoric Elephant Butchered by H. heidelbergensis.

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

3 08, 2020

Scotland’s Own “Jurassic Park”

By | August 3rd, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Jurassic Fossils from the Isle of Skye Globally Significant

The filming might have resumed for the next instalment in the “Jurassic Park/World” franchise last week, but in the scientific community there has been an important development in the study and protection of Scotland’s very own “Jurassic Park”.

Scientists from the University of Oxford, University College London, Birmingham University the University of Edinburgh and the National Museum of Scotland have published a new scientific paper that emphasises the importance of vertebrate fossils from the Isle of Skye.

The Isle of Skye is Heralded as One of the Most Important Places in the World for Middle Jurassic Vertebrate Fossils

Isle of Skye Sauropods.

The Isle of Skye (Bathonian faunal stage).  A newly published scientific paper heralds the vertebrate fossils from the Kilmaluag Formation on the Isle of Skye as “globally significant”.

Picture Credit: Jon Hoad

The Kilmaluag Formation

Outcrops of the Bathonian-aged Kilmaluag Formation on the Trotternish peninsula on the Isle of Skye hold vital information on how vertebrate life was evolving and changing around 167 million years ago.  The strata contain both body and trace fossils of numerous tetrapods including dinosaurs.  Since there are not that many highly fossiliferous sites around the world providing evidence of terrestrial ecosystems and biota from back in the Middle Jurassic, the Isle of Skye has long been recognised as a hugely significant.

The area was given greater legal protection last year, when the Scottish Government signed a Nature Conservation Order (NCO), to assist in the protection of the rare vertebrate fossils found in the area and to deter irresponsible fossil collecting on the island.

To read about the provision of the Nature Conservation Order: Legal Protection for Isle of Skye Fossil Sites.

In this new study, the researchers which include Scottish palaeontologist Elsa Panciroli, a research assistant in the department of Evolution and Palaeobiology at the University of Oxford, conclude that unlike other contemporaneous fossil localities from England, the strata of the Kilmaluag Formation provides partial skeletons, providing unprecedented insights and new data.  The research team state that this location has yielded predominantly small-bodied tetrapods including amphibians, many types of reptiles (including pterosaurs and dinosaurs) and non-mammalian cynodonts as well as early mammals.  An abundant fossil fish and invertebrate assemblage is also reported.

A Sauropod Track from the Isle of Skye

Sauropod track on the foreshore (Isle of Skye).

Sauropod track from the Isle of Skye.  The Trotternish peninsula provides both body and trace fossils, such as this sauropod track for example.

Picture Credit: Jon Hoad

The researchers provide a comprehensive overview of the Kilmaluag Formation, outlining the importance of its geology and the fossil discoveries made to date.  They also present evidence of several species that are being reported from the Isle of Skye for the first time.   The review places the vertebrate faunal assemblage in an international context and confirms the global significance of the region.  Although the dinosaurs grab all the headlines, the Kilmaluag Formation is most likely to provide important information with regards to the evolutionary history of early mammals, the Squamata (lizards and snakes) along with amphibians.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s blog post about damage to dinosaur footprints being reported: Dinosaur Footprints Damaged on the Isle of Skye.

The link between the fossil sites in Wyoming and the Isle of Skye: What have Wyoming and the Isle of Skye got in Common?

Evidence of Scottish Stegosaurs: Scottish Stegosaurs.

The scientific paper: “Diverse vertebrate assemblage of the Kilmaluag Formation (Bathonian, Middle Jurassic) of Skye, Scotland” by Elsa Panciroli, Roger B. J. Benson, Stig Walsh, Richard J. Butler, Tiago Andrade Castro, Marc E. H. Jones and Susan E. Evans published by The Royal Society of Edinburgh/Cambridge University Press.

29 07, 2020

New Study Supports Traditional View of Dinosaur Evolution

By | July 29th, 2020|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Study Suggests that Ornithischian and Saurischian Dinosaurs Evolved Around the Same Time

An international team of scientists from Brazil and Argentina in collaboration with a geochronologist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), have provided evidence to support the hypothesis that the Ornithischia and Saurischia diverged early on in dinosaur evolution and this supports the view of the dinosaur family tree as proposed by Seeley in 1887.

Writing in the journal “Scientific Reports”, the researchers which included Jahandar Ramezani (MIT), re-examined the fossils of Pisanosaurus mertii, dating these fossils to approximately 229 million years ago (Late Carnian stage of the Triassic).  Pisanosaurus is believed to be the earliest known ornithischian dinosaur, although some palaeontologists have concluded that this one-metre-long reptile is a dinosauriform.  This new date suggests that bird-hipped dinosaurs were evolving at around the same as lizard-hipped forms (Saurischia), this challenges the hypothesis proposed by Baron et al in their 2017 paper which re-shaped the traditional view of dinosaur taxonomy.

To read more about the 2017 scientific paper: Root and Branch Reform of the Dinosaur Family Tree.

A View of the Ischigualasto Formation (Foreground)

A view of the The famous Ischigualasto Formation (foreground) the Sierra de Famattina Mountains can be seen on the horizon.

The famous Ischigualasto Formation (foreground), the Sierra de Famattina Mountains can be seen on the horizon (La Rioja province – Argentina).

Picture Credit: Desojo et al

Accurately Dating the Ischigualasto Formation

The researchers focused their fossil finding efforts on the Hoyado del Cerro Las Lajas area, where outcrops of the Ischigualasto Formation can be found, but they are less well explored compared to contemporaneous strata within the “Valley of the Moon” geological park in San Juan Province.  Volcanic deposits yielded zircons at various levels and these minerals permitted the measurement of isotopes of uranium and lead (rate of radiometric decay).  The presence of these igneous rocks allowed the geochronologist to measure the relative proportion of isotopes present in the zircon crystals.  Radiometric dating permitted the scientists to make an estimate of the age of the bedding planes and infer the age of the fossils that they contain.  The study revealed that the Ischigualasto Formation overlaps with the deposition of another important fossil-bearing formation found in North America – the Chinle Formation.

Carefully Jacketing a Specimen Prior to its Removal

Preparing a fossil specimen for removal.

A researcher carefully prepares a field specimen for removal.

Picture Credit: Desojo et al

Overlapping with the Chinle Formation of the South-western United States

The middle layers of the Chinle Formation which outcrops in the south-western part of the USA contain a variety of vertebrate fossils, including early dinosaurs.  However, very few fossils if any, are associated with the lower levels of the Chinle Formation.   The lack for fossils, prevents palaeontologists from understanding more about the early radiation and diversity of the Dinosauria from their suspected origins in the southern hemisphere.  The rocks from which fossils of the  basal ornithischian dinosaur Pisanosaurus have been found were dated to approximately 229 million years ago.  From this data, the research team were able to conclude that the earliest bird-hipped dinosaurs evolved at around the same time as the first lizard-hipped dinosaurs appear in the fossil record.

The Scientists Proposed that Pisanosaurus was Indeed an Ornithischian and it Lived Around 229 Million Years Ago

Pisanosaurus life reconstruction.

A life reconstruction of the Triassic ornithischian Pisanosaurus.

Commenting on the contribution of the dating of the strata to the paper, Jahandar Ramezani stated:

“We can now say the earliest ornithiscians first showed up in the fossil record roughly around the same time as the saurischians, so we shouldn’t throw away the conventional family tree.  There are all these debates about where dinosaurs appeared, how they diversified, what the family tree looked like.  A lot of those questions are tied to geochronology, so we need really good, robust age constraints to help answer these questions.”

Uranium-bearing Zircon Crystals Allowed an Accurate Date for Parts of the Ischigualasto Formation to be Established

Zircon crystals help to date parts of the Ischigualasto Formation in Argentina.

Microscopic crystals of the uranium-bearing mineral zircon were identified in rock samples and these crystals permitted an accurate date for the rock layers to be calculated.

Picture Credit: Desojo et al

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences department of MIT in the compilation of this article

The scientific paper: “The Late Triassic Ischigualasto Formation at Cerro Las Lajas (La Rioja, Argentina): fossil tetrapods, high-resolution chronostratigraphy, and faunal correlations” by Julia B. Desojo, Lucas E. Fiorelli, Martín D. Ezcurra, Agustín G. Martinelli, Jahandar Ramezani, Átila. A. S. Da Rosa, M. Belén von Baczko, M. Jimena Trotteyn, Felipe C. Montefeltro, Miguel Ezpeleta and Max C. Langer published in Scientific Reports.

16 07, 2020

Ancient Mega Tsunamis Devastated Doggerland

By | July 16th, 2020|Geology, Main Page, Photos|0 Comments

Massive Tsunamis Devastated Ancient Britain

Scientists led by the University of Bradford have made a major breakthrough in the hunt for confirmation of a historic mega tsunami that is thought to have raged across the North Sea some 8,150 years ago.  Evidence of the catastrophic event has already been found in onshore sediments in Western Scandinavia, the Faroe Isles, north-eastern Britain, Greenland and Denmark but now for the first time, confirmation of the event has been identified on the UK’s southern coasts.

Map Showing the Location of the Storegga Slide

Map outlining the Storegga Slide and subsequent tsunami events.

Map showing location of Storegga Slide in 6,200 BC.

Picture Credit: University of Bradford

The giant tsunami, known as the Storegga Slide, was caused when an area of seabed the size of Scotland (measuring some 80,000 square kilometres and around 3,200 cubic kilometres), shifted suddenly off the coast of Norway.  This triggered huge waves that would have brought devastation to an inhabited ancient land bridge, which once existed between ancient Britain and mainland Europe, a region known as Doggerland, that is now submerged beneath the North Sea.

Professor Vince Gaffney (University of Bradford) explained:

“Exploring Doggerland, the lost landscape underneath the North Sea, is one of the last great archaeological challenges in Europe.  This work demonstrates that an interdisciplinary team of archaeologists and scientists can bring this landscape back to life and even throw new light on one of prehistory’s great natural disasters, the Storegga Tsunami”.

The professor from the University’s School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences in the Faculty of Life Sciences went onto add:

“The events leading up to the Storegga tsunami have many similarities to those of today.  Climate is changing and this impacts on many aspects of society, especially in coastal locations.”

Finding Traces of the Natural Disaster in the Southern North Sea

It is thought the tsunami, the largest to hit Northern Europe since the end of the last ice age, happened following a period of global climate change.  Until now no clear trace of the tsunami had been found across the southern North Sea and importantly no trace had been found on Doggerland, which was gradually swallowed by rising sea levels after the end of the last glacial maximum.  Indeed, scientists now think the tsunami may even have led to the final inundation of Doggerland.  Cores from an area south of a marine trough named the Outer Dowsing Deep provided nearly half a metre of tsunami-like deposits, stones and broken shells sandwiched between laminated estuarine sediments.  Dating indicated they were contemporary with the Storegga event, while analysis including geochemical, sedimentological, palaeomagnetic, isotopic, palaeobotany and “sedaDNA” (sedentary DNA), techniques showed the deposits could be readily interpreted as resulting from a tsunami.

Area of Ancient Tsunami Research off the Norfolk Coast

Tsumani research area off the Norfolk coast.

Area of research off the Norfolk coast.

Picture Credit: University of Bradford

The study was led by the University of Bradford and collaborators from the University of Warwick, St Andrews University and a number of other academic institutions including the Washington Smithsonian and the London Natural History Museum.

Differentiating a Tsunami Event from Periodic Storm Activity

Evidence for a tsunami event is often difficult to discern from sediment deposition that results from periodic storm activity.  Key to understanding the sequence of events was the interpretation of geochemical signatures of three major waves hitting and retreating from the land.  In a part of the research instigated by the University of Warwick team, the scientists were able to examine how biomass changes with large natural events.

Professor Robin Allaby (University of Warwick) stated:

“This study represents an exciting milestone for sedimentary ancient DNA studies establishing a number of breakthrough methods to reconstruct an 8,150 year old environmental catastrophe in the lands that existed before the North Sea flooded them away into history.”

At the time the tsunami hit Doggerland, a Mesolithic hunter-gather people could have been using the remaining archipelago and for those unfortunate enough to be caught within the tsunami runup zone, it would have been devastating.  However, the palaeo-topography and environmental modelling suggest that much of the landscape may have survived reasonably intact to rapidly return to pre-tsunami conditions.  The longer term fate of these lands was to be submerged as sea level rose to those of the present day.

Professor Vince Gaffney (University of Bradford)

Professor Vince Gaffney (University of Bradford).

Professor Vince Gaffney, 50th Anniversary Chair at the School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences in the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Bradford.

Picture Credit: University of Bradford

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

The scientific paper: “Multi-Proxy Characterisation of the Storegga Tsunami and Its Impact on the Early Holocene Landscapes of the Southern North Sea” by Vincent Gaffney, Simon Fitch, Martin Bates, Roselyn L. Ware, Tim Kinnaird, Benjamin Gearey, Tom Hill, Richard Telford, Cathy Batt, Ben Stern, John Whittaker, Sarah Davies, Mohammed Ben Sharada, Rosie Everett, Rebecca Cribdon, Logan Kistler, Sam Harris, Kevin Kearney, James Walker, Merle Muru, Derek Hamilton, Matthew Law, Alex Finlay, Richard Bates and Robin G. Allaby and published in the journal Geosciences.

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