What were snakes doing before they lost their legs? A new fossil discovery of an early snake with four tiny, stubby legs might shed some light on that question. Assuming it really is a snake, of course. However, the status of this fossil as a specimen from a private collection raises ethical questions. This is likely to be an illegally obtained specimen, like 2012's controversial Tarbosaurus bataar (previously, previously). Is it ethical for Science to promote findings from unethically sourced fossils when these are an increasing problem for paleontology? (Previously, previously.)
She got off to an inauspicious start when she was born in poverty and then was struck by lightning as a small child. But when her father died when she was ten, leaving her family without any means of support, Mary Anning made her own luck with her skill at fossil finding. Her first big find came when she discovered the first complete skeleton of an Icthyosaur at twelve years old. She went on to discover pivotally important skeletons of plesiosaurs, pterosaurs and a fossil fish which was hailed as the "missing link" between sharks and rays. Despite being self taught, she was widely regarded as one of paleontology's greatest experts in the world when she died. Previously.
New fieldwork in West Turkana, Kenya, has identified evidence of much earlier (than 2.6 ma) hominin technological behaviour. We report (paywalled) the discovery of Lomekwi 3, a 3.3-million-year-old archaeological site where in situ stone artefacts occur in spatiotemporal association(pdf) with Pliocene hominin fossils in a wooded palaeoenvironment. Given the implications of the Lomekwi 3 assemblage for models aiming to converge environmental change, hominin evolution and technological origins (pdf), we propose for it the name ‘Lomekwian’, which predates (pdf) the Oldowan by 700,000 years and marks a new beginning to the known archaeological record. (abstract)
While scientists have long known that modern day birds are dinosaurs (a fact that is self-evident if you ever look at a cassowary), it now appears that birds were not the dinosaurs' only attempt at flight. It may have had feathers, but the recently discovered Yi qi ("Strange Wing") had wings like a bat.
"What could you possibly have in common with a mushroom, or a dinosaur, or even a bacterium? More than you might think. In this Lab, you’ll puzzle out the evolutionary relationships linking together a spectacular array of species. Explore the tree of life and get a front row seat to what some have called the greatest show on Earth. That show is evolution." Evolution Lab is a educational game created by the Life on Earth Project and NOVA Labs
Let's all give Brontosaurus a big hand to welcome it back to the community of things that actually existed! [more inside]
Troubles in Paradise is a review of the history and arguments of the creationism/intelligent design movement, written by James Downard.
British-based webforum Mumsnet (For Parents, By Parents) had a fun time this weekend, when a new member decided she was sick and tired of dinosaurs being forced on our children. [more inside]
"A remarkable international effort to map out the avian tree of life has revealed how birds evolved after the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs into more than 10,000 species alive today. More than 200 scientists in 20 countries joined forces to create the evolutionary tree, which reveals how birds gained their colourful feathers, lost their teeth, and learned to sing songs." Via iO9.
In this paper, we examine a first-year torque and angular acceleration problem to address a possible use of the forelimbs of Tyrannosaurus rex. A 1/40th-scale model is brought to the classroom to introduce the students to the quandary: given that the forelimbs of T. rex were too short to reach its mouth, what function did the forelimbs serve? This issue crosses several scientific disciplines including paleontology, ecology, and physics, making it a great starting point for thinking “outside the box..." Lipkin and Carpenter have suggested that the forelimbs were used to hold a struggling victim (which had not been dispatched with the first bite) while the final, lethal bite was applied. If that is the case, then the forelimbs must be capable of large angular accelerations α in order to grab the animal attempting to escape. The concepts of the typical first-year physics course are sufficient to test this hypothesis... Naturally, student love solving any problem related to Tyrannosaurus rex.
A nebulous trade in forged and illegal fossils is an ever-growing headache for paleontologists. [more inside]
A team of researchers, including University of Edinburgh paleontologist Stephen Brusatte and Swarthmore College Associate Professor of Statistics Steve C. Wang, cataloging 853 skeletal characteristics in 150 dinosaurs and analyzing the rate at which these characters change, and they found that "there was no grand jump between nonbirds and birds in morphospace." In other words, birds didn't suddenly come into existence, but evolved, bit by bit, or characteristic by characteristic. But when birds were finally a thing, they went crazy. "Once it came together fully, it unlocked great evolutionary potential that allowed birds to evolve at a super-charged rate."
A gigantic fish-eater (Bigger than a T. rex!) with a crocodile snout and a large sail on its back, Spinosaurus aegyptiacus has always been a strange and enigmatic creature. It may have just become something stranger: a semiaquatic, quadrupedal theropod dinosaur. [more inside]
Scientists at Drexel university have discovered and described the most complete supermassive dinosaur ever found. According to paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara, the titanosaur "weighed as much as a dozen African elephants or more than seven T. rex. Shockingly, skeletal evidence shows that when this 65-ton specimen died, it was not yet full grown. It is by far the best example we have of any of the most giant creatures to ever walk the planet." It's name? Dreadnoughtus .
Dinosaurs were lumbering, stupid, scientifically boring beasts—until John Ostrom rewrote the book on them.
"TrowelBlazers is a celebration of women archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists who have been doing awesome work for far longer, and in far greater numbers, than most people realize." [via]
Dimetrodon is not a dinosaur! Sorry to ruin your childhood yet again, but it's not even a reptile. It's a synapsid, which makes it one of our cousins. [more inside]
"The greatest challenge to 21st century paleontology: When commercialization of fossils threatens the science," a commentary by four paleontologists. [more inside]
Western Digs is a source for "dispatches from the American ancient West." Posts are sorted into three main categories: Dinosaurs & Ancient Life (Paleontology, split into Dinosars, The Ice Age, Birds and All Fossils), Prehistoric Americans (Archaeology, split into Ancient Southwest and The Mississippians [Cahokia]), and Modern Artifacts (Historic Archaeology, including the subset The 20th Century). If you're not sure where to start reading, here are Western Digs’ Top 5 Paleontology Stories of 2013 and Western Digs’ Top 5 Archaeology Stories of 2013.
Palaeocast: "An open broadcast of paleontological information, a place where the beauty, diversity and complexity of the field can be conveyed and discussed in a digital format." Every interview-centric episode is associated with a blog post, organized by era and period. [more inside]
A series of blog posts by George Washington University engineering students on the aerodynamics of pterosaur flight. [more inside]
Settling in for a long winter's nap? In need of a memento mori to guard against the unbridled jollity of the season? Just want to explore the wonderful world of 3D scans, osteology, and bioarchaeology on the internet a little further? Sad that Santa probably isn't bringing you a T-Rex for Christmas? Well, just peak inside... [more inside]
After a species goes extinct, in some cases its "ghost" may linger in the ecosystem it leaves behind in the form of evolutionary anachronisms. [more inside]
"Dinosaurs! WTF? is a blog devoted to exposing dinosaurs for the murder oriented monstrosities they were, promoting preparations for the likelihood of their return, and outing those people who support the dinosaur agenda."
Even one of the best known dinosaurs has kept some secrets. Here is what palaeontologists most want to know about the famous tyrant.
All Your Yesterdays is a sequel to All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals, by John Conway, C.M. Kosemen [deviantart] and Darren Naish. The new book is compiled from submissions to the "All Your Yesterdays Contest" (winners here) and is available as a free pdf download (although they are accepting donations).
9 things you may not know about giant azhdarchid pterosaurs, via Quetzalcoatlus: the evil, pin-headed, toothy nightmare monster that wants to eat your soul
Marguerite Humeau is an artist who has made reconstructions of extinct creatures' vocal tracts, extrapolating from extant species and fossil remains. The Extinction Orchestra. [more inside]
"One thing I was wondering is if any of these paleontologists you’ve talked to have given their argument of why paleontology is important." Fossils are "just basically rocks," he said. "It's not like antiquities, where it's somebody's heritage and culture and all that."Bones of Contention: A Florida man's curious trade in Mongolian dinosaurs. [previously]
Searching for Doggerland. "For decades North Sea boatmen have been dragging up traces of a vanished world in their nets. Now archaeologists are asking a timely question: What happens to people as their homeland disappears beneath a rising tide?"
"Pretty much everyone interested in dinosaurs, in the history of life, or in such matters as the evolution of intelligence and/or brain size, will be familiar with the various speculations on ‘humanoid dinosaurs’ that have made their way into the literature." - Tetrapod Zoology on Dinosauroids [more inside]
Paleo by Jim Lawson was a comic book series set during the Late Cretaceous and featuring dinosaurs as protagonists. It was in print between 2001 and 2004, but is now being "reprinted" as a webcomic. [more inside]
"The sale of this next lot will be contingent on a satisfactory resolution of a court proceeding dealing with this matter."
On May 20th, the fossil remains of a Tarbosaurus (aka, Tyrannosaurus bataar) were sold for $1,052,500. The auction was carried out despite objections from the President of Mongolia and a court order. The problem? The remains may have been poached.
Tipped off by an ancient poem, and supported by both historical and paleontological/geological research, Koji Minoura et al. found evidence of historic and prehistoric tsunamis[PDF] devastating north-east Japan just as that of March 2011 did -- and he had been saying for years that it could happen again. (via PRI's The World's science podcast)
A group known as the Cincinnati Dry Dredgers have uncovered an unusual fossil (since dubbed "Godzillus") which is currently the subject of investigation and debate. Among the current questions? "Is it animal or vegetable?".
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