Friday, June 27, 2014

The Scoop on Some Old Poop

 Neandertals ate their veggies, their feces reveal

Scientists excavating an archaeological site in southern Spain have finally gotten the real poop on Neandertals, finding that the Caveman Diet for these quintessential carnivores included substantial helpings of vegetables. Using the oldest published samples of human fecal matter, archaeologists have found the first direct evidence that Neandertals in Europe cooked and ate plants about 50,000 years ago.

The extinct Neandertals, who lived from about 230,000 to 30,000 years ago, have long been portrayed as uber-carnivores—humans at the top of the food chain who ate mostly meat to fuel their revved-up metabolisms in order to survive in the frigid climes of northern Europe and Asia. This image was based on evidence from butchered meat bones and hunting tools at archaeological sites, as well as from studies of carbon, nitrogen, and other chemicals in the fossilized teeth of Neandertals, which can reveal their diets. But a recent study of starches in the plaque of Neandertal teeth indicated that Neandertals in modern-day Iraq and Belgium ate grasses, tubers, and other plants, and that they also cooked barley grains in Iraq. This view of Neandertals gathering plants and cooking barley porridge challenged the old view that our burly cousins went extinct because they depended too much on meat, whereas versatile modern humans could survive on a broader range of plant and animal foods. But it was still unclear whether vegetables made up a significant part of the European Neandertal diet.

Now, at an open-air archaeological site called El Salt in Alicante, Spain, researchers have gathered fossilized feces in the sediment where Neandertals lived at different times between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago, before modern humans arrived in the region. By applying a powerful method that was developed for detecting fecal matter in drinking water, geoarchaeologist Ainara Sistiaga of the University of La Laguna in Tenerife and geobiologist Roger Summons of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge have detected the biological signature, or biomarkers, of meat and plants in the sediments containing fossilized feces from five different places at El Salt. Specifically, the team was able to detect the chemical byproducts created by bacteria in the gut in the digestion of cholesterol from meat, as well as sterols and stanols, which are lipids in plants that are similar to cholesterol. The tests revealed that the poop “clearly” contained high proportions of cholesterol and coprostanol from eating meat, but it also included significant plant sterols that “unambiguously record the ingestion of plants,” the researchers report today in PLOS ONE.

Read more here

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Kay & Dorothy's Big Adventure

 Volunteer Finds Massive Dinosaur Bone During Dig In Colorado

Think you need a fancy degree to do important scientific work? Think again.

This week scientists confirmed that a huge dinosaur bone unearthed on a dig in Colorado is the largest apatosaurus femur ever discovered -- and it was found not by professional paleontologists but by a volunteer named Kay Fredette.

"Dorothy and I were working on some bones... and came across this lump and thought, 'Oh my goodness, we found another vertebra,'" Fredette told local TV channel KREX, referring to the discovery she and a fellow digger made. "Well, then we got to the back side of it, and it swooped back up again."

The bone, which measures 6 feet 7 inches, belonged to an apatosaurus estimated to have been 80 to 90 feet long, according to Robert Gay, a paleontologist at the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita, Colorado.

Read more here

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Head too heavy? Grow wings!

Say Hello to a Horned Dinosaur With 'Wings' on Its Head

The latest name in dinosaurs is Mercuriceratops gemini — a bizarre horned dinosaur that had a frill so wide it looked the wings on the Greek god Mercury's helmet. 

At least that's what the scientists who named the beast thought. That's how they came up with the genus name, which is derived from the Greek for "Mercury horned-face." The 77 million-year-old plant-eater is described and classified in a paper published online by the journal Naturwissenschaften. 

The "gemini" refers to the fact that almost identical twin specimens of the species' skull were found in north central Montana's Judith River Formation and Alberta's Dinosaur Provincial Park. 

This year's paleontology grads in China

This is Every New Paleontologist from China's Top Research School

This is Xue Yifan. This is a group photo.  
China is home to some of the richest fossil deposits in the world, and has been the source of many of the exciting recent discoveries in paleontology. But the country is having trouble attracting new paleontology students. This "group photo of one" represents the entire paleontology graduating class at China's #1 research university, which has only graduated one new paleontology student each year for four years straight. The photo's appearance this week on Chinese social networking site Renren has sparked a mini-debate in China about the value of "searching for Godzilla" as a career, and whether paleontology is as worthwhile a pursuit as more popular degrees like business or economics.

If you're curious, the pictured "lonely paleontologist" is named Xue Yifan. She did her thesis on sexual dimorphism and growth rates in Keichousaurus (a Triassic marine reptile commonly found in China) and is now headed to the USA.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

10 Scientific Ideas That Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing

#9 "One issue I often run into is that the public lacks an understanding of geologic timescales. Anything prehistoric gets compressed in peoples' minds, and folks think that 20,000 years ago we had drastically different species, or even dinosaurs. It doesn't help that those little tubes of plastic toy dinosaurs often include cave people or mammoths."

BTW io9's comments are the best.
Read more here

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Before the -saurs, giant fish named Big Mouth.

Did Super-Sized Animals Live Long Before Dinosaurs?

It's generally believed that Earth's earliest animals were not very big, but discovery of a huge new fish that lived around 423 million years ago has scientists rethinking what life was like close to 200 million years before the first dinosaurs emerged.

The fish, named Big Mouth Blunt Tooth (Megamastax amblyodus), is described in the latest issue of Scientific Reports. For its time, the toothy and lobe-finned fish was in the number one spot on the food chain.

"At 1 meter (3.3 feet) in length or greater, it was vastly larger than any other animal," lead author Brian Choo told Discovery News, adding that Big Mouth was "likely the earliest vertebrate (backboned) apex predator in the fossil record."

Read more about Big Mouth here

Friday, June 13, 2014

I will call him Mini Me

 'Pocket' Sauropod Dinosaur Reveals More about Giant's Evolution

Sauropods were the largest animals to ever walk across the face of the Earth. At about 40 meters long and 100 tons in weight with their long necks and small heads, these creatures grazed on vegetation millions of years ago. Now, researchers have uncovered the fossil remains of a "pocket" sauropod, which reveal a bit more about the evolution of this large dinosaur.

The new "tiny" sauropod is only six meters long and weighs just .8 tons. Discovered at a quarry in northern Germany, the fossils are some of the best sauropod remains ever discovered.

In the Late Jurassic about 150 million years ago, Europe was an archipelago, and most reptile fossils from the continent were those of marine species. The few dinosaur remains discovered would have been washed into the sea from islands including the small sauropod, called Europasaurus. It would have lived on one of these islands, which explains why it evolved as a dwarf island species.

Moar RAWR here

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Guess he wasn't doing the backstroke.

Paddle Tracks On Ancient Seafloor Reveal Ancient Reptile's Swimming Style

"Trackways" on an ancient seabed provide insight into how ancient marine reptiles called nothosaurs propelled themselves through the water.

These animals were the top predators during the Mesozoic, which took place between 66 and 252 million years ago, a Bristol University news release reported.

The nothosaurs were "voracious semi-aquatic hunters with elongate bodies and paddle-like limbs," the news release reported.

Researchers have long-wondered if the animals rowed back and forth with their limbs or "flew" under water like a penguin.

The team looked at an ancient seabed from China that contained 10 to 50 swooping lines that came in pairs believed to have been left behind by the ancient animal.

The finding suggests the nothasaur moved by rowing its forelimbs in unison.

Article here

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Seared into history

Dinosaur-era forest fire evidence sheds light on ancient biodiversity

Researchers from McGill University and Royal Saskatchewan Museum recently uncovered the very first fossil-based evidence of ancient forest fire ecology, or plant regrowth after fire, during their expedition in southern Saskatchewan, Canada.

The team of researchers found the fossil that shows Earth’s ecology prior to the mass extinction of dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

“Excavating plant fossils preserved in rocks deposited during the last days of the dinosaurs, we found some preserved with abundant fossilized charcoal and others without it. From this, we were able to reconstruct what the Cretaceous forests looked like with and without fire disturbance,” Hans Larsson, Canada Research Chair in Macroevolution at McGill University, says in a statement.

Evidence indicates that ancient forests recovered from wildfires in the same manner that forests do today. It also shows that the plants at an ancient forest fire site were dominated by flora somehow similar to the kind that currently brings about recovery of forest after a fire.

Read more here

Friday, June 6, 2014

Um, we did this

Humans, Not Climate Change, To Blame For Ice Age Animal Extinction

Our last glacial period lasted from about 115,000-12,500 years ago. By the end, 177 large mammal species had gone extinct. There has been considerable debate over the last half century regarding what caused the loss of these animals, including saber-tooth cats, mastadons, and giant sloths. While many have argued that these animals simply weren’t able to adapt to the warmer climate, others blame human activity. A new study led by Jens-Christian Svenning of Aarhus University has strongly suggested that humans are squarely responsible for the disappearance of megafauna during the last 100,000 years. The results have been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

For this study, the researchers focused on megafauna, which is categorized as animals weighing at least 10 kg (22 lbs) that lived in the last 132,000 years. They also identified the regions where these animals lived, comparing the data with climate and human activity. While there are invariably going to be animals lost after a great climate change such as the ending of an ice age, the loss of megafauna that followed the most recent glacial event is an anomaly when compared to the ending of other ice ages.

“Our results strongly underline the fact that human expansion throughout the world has meant an enormous loss of large animals,” co-author Søren Faurby said in a press release.

Read it all here

New All-in-one Tiny Human Kit

New Deluxe Tiny Human kit with everything you need to make a display specimen of a tiny human skeleton.

Get one or give one here

Dinosaur Graveyard Discovered In Southern Chile

Nearly 50 Entire Fossils Found

Scientists working in the Patagonia region of southern Chile have unearthed what is being called one of the largest dinosaur graveyards to be found to date.

Located in the country's Torres del Paine National Park, the graveyard contains nearly 50 entire ichthyosaur fossils. The prehistoric creature has been described as a fast-swimming “fish-lizard" similar to a dolphin that lived during the Mesozoic Era, about 245 million to 90 million years ago. 
Read more here

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Dig? You can this summer!

Want to Join a Dinosaur Dig this Summer? You Can!

Just because you're not a professional paleontologist doesn't mean you can't help professional paleontologists on a real dinosaur dig. In recent years, a number of programs have started allowing allow non-paleontologists to assist in professional fossil excavations, usually for a fee. If you hadn't come up with a summer vacation idea yet, one of these might be for you.
The work is very hard, and dirty, and usually very hot too. But you get to help unearth scientifically valuable fossils, helping out scientists, museums and/or universities in the process. And with all that physical labor under the hot summer sun, you might be in better shape afterward, too.*
What follows is a list of public digs in the US and Canada, by province/state. I have also tried to only include programs where the fossils you uncover remain in the public trust, i.e. are given to museums, universities, etc.

Alberta, Canada

Dinosaur Provincial Park offers 1, 2, and 3 day dinosaur digs for participants ages 14 and up. Includes lodging (for multi-day digs). Cost depends on package, from $165-700.

Colorado, USA

The Museum of Western Colorado offers one-day digs at the Mygatt-Moore quarry, where for $135 per person, you assist in removing dinosaur bones and teeth from the "Jurassic Gladiator Pit". Includes lunch.

Florida, USA

If you want dinosaurs in Florida, you're probably out of luck. But you can still hunt for Cenozoic mammal fossils with the Florida Museum of Natural History. 2014 digs were over in April, but you could probably get an early start on signing up for the 2015 dig season.

Manitoba, Canada

The Canadian Fossil Discovery Center offers everything from 1/2 day to 5 day excavations, ranging in price from $50 - $525. As this area was under the Western Interior Seaway during the Late Cretaceous, you're not excavating dinosaurs, but rather mosasaurs and other marine fossils.

Montana, USA

The Great Plains Dinosaur Museum has two options: for kids aged 5-13, the Junior Paleo Field Experience gives them 3 hours in the field at a dinosaur dig site ($100 covers the child and their accompanying adult). For anyone aged 11 or older, the Adult Field Program lets you spend days in the field, with the 2014 expeditions returning to some unusual fossil material turned up last year. $200/day, or $170/day if you stay 3 days or more.
The Judith River Dinosaur Institute is likely full for 2014 (they were 95% full by April 1), but you can still sign up for a July or August 2015 spot. $1,695 for a week excavating in Montana, which includes food and gear but you bring your own tents and share the cost of transportation. This year's dig teams will be digging up stegosaurs and a (possibly new species of) mid-sized sauropod.
PaleoTrek works in Montana in cooperation with two Missouri science organizations. This year's teams will be finishing excavation of a Triceratops skull, prospecting, and working another known bonebed. $50 per day (2 day minimum) gets you transportation and food, but you're on your own for lodging.
The similarly-named PaleoWorld Research Foundation has ongoing digs all of June and July, 7 days a week, 8:30-4. $160/day ($80/day for those under 15). Lodging/meals available, but extra.

New Mexico, USA

Mesalands Community College offers summer field courses worth 4 college credits! $650 buys you a week of in the field, prospecting, documenting, and excavating 200 million year old Late Triassic fossils. Lab work is done in the hot afternoons, and the course wraps up with a barbecue at the end of the week.

North Dakota, USA

The Marmath Research Society operates in the Hell Creek formation of North Dakota (and a little bit into Montana). In 2014 they are digging for 5 weeks . . . minimum participation is 1 week at $1000 per person. Your second week is $900, each additional week is another $850, with discounts for high school teachers and students. Fee includes meals, lodging, transportation, tools, and a
The North Dakota Geological Survey has five public digs scheduled this year, ranging from mammal fossils to marine reptiles to dinosaurs to crocodiles. Excursions range in cost from free (mammals, public responsible for own transportation, lodging and food on daily excursions) to $1000 for the week-long dinosaur dig.

Texas, USA

The Arlington Archosaur Site is a rich fossil bed containing an entire coastal plain ecosystem: numerous dinosaurs, nesting crocodiles, turtles, and fish. Expeditions are open to any and all volunteers, but the schedule appears somewhat informal. Join their Facebook group to contact them about upcoming digs.

Wyoming, USA

Casper College is collecting a sauropod in June and a hadrosaur in September, both for their geological museum collection. $800 per person for six days, includes all lodging and transportation and most food.
GeoWorld Travel is offering a 10-day intensive dig for the very American price of £1995, from 18 to 27 August 2014. Includes all food, equipment and training, but you bring your own tent.
The Wyoming Dinosaur Center's "Dig-for-a-Day" program, from late spring to early fall, lets you spend a full day (8:30 - 5) traveling to and working in the field (usually on sauropod bones). $150 per adult and $80 per child.
*Field paleontology is not approved by the FDA for use in weight loss, and has not been demonstrated to be an effective weight loss program.

Dig here

Monday, June 2, 2014