fossil news

a collection of fossil snippets from around the world

a regular feature

A study of ancient mammal relatives called synapsids has discovered that the creatures developed nocturnal activities probably 100 million years early than once thought. Finding and examining fossils from 315 - 200 million years ago researchers focused on scleral ossicles the tiny bones involved with eyesight. Even the infamous Dimetrodon is now thought to have been a night stalker.

rockngem magazine issue 65
rockngem magazine issue 65

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Another biggie, Ohio palaeontologists have added to the titanosaurians with a find in Tanzania, old school and modern database methods were used to identify where the giant sauropod now called Rukwatitan bisepultus sat in the family tree. Most titanosaur examples are from South America so an African discovery is rare especially considering Rukwatitan bisepultus is a different relative from Malawisaurus dixeyi another African find.

Disappointingly a damaged and part extracted sauropod humerous bone has been discovered within the 1.2-mile Fossil Discovery Trail at the Dinosaur National Monument in the USA, a reward is being offered for further information that may lead to a conviction.

Yet more Mongolian fossils are being smuggled into the USA, French company Geofossilies presented fake export documents and a bill of sale for $250,000 for a skull and vertebrae of an Alioramus, no doubt there’s more to follow...

Over 200 years of study and information from geologists and the British Geological Survey which have gone towards establishing the fossil record of the UK have been under review by Dr Alex Dunhill of Leeds University to try and improve confidence in the data. Co-author, Bjarte Hannisdal from the University of Bergen says “We can learn more by analysing old data in new ways, than by analysing new data in old ways.” Professor Michael Benton from the University of Bristol “Some recent work on ‘correcting’ the fossil record by using formation counts may produce nonsense results.”

We always like to ‘drone’ on about technology and how it helps with fossil hunting and particularly when fossils can be left intact, well a Purdue archaeologist is using a small remote controlled flying copter with a camera to search for bronze age settlements in Armenia. It’s a collaborative effort, data and detail can be added to the information captured. The device available from just a few hundred pounds is more detailed and a lot more cost effective than satellite imagery.

After field trips to Ain and Rhône in France, French researchers have recently named a new insect especially significant because its now the oldest known water treader (Mesoveliidae). Also discovered was rare evidence of insect feeding on Zamites leaves (linear fronds). With these finds it’s hoped the area will also provide further Upper Jurassic insect fauna examples.

If you’d like to see some old human bones circa 5500 to 4000 B.C. get over to the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Museum. Staff rediscovered the lost 6,500 year old man from Iraq whilst digitising their collection. First thought to have been excavated in 1930 the near complete example is pretty rare.

A find in China’s Liaoning Province has been re-examined by Museum and university professors. The approximately 2ft wide rock slab contains 25 Psittacosaurus lujiatunensis, most likely 24 hatchlings with a ‘dino babysitter’ looking after them.
After X-ray diffraction to determine the mineral composition it was found that the fossils were from volcanic material so they were probably caught in a lava flow. The larger psittacosaur’s skull was just over 4 inches and indicates that it was probably 4-5 years old. Further research may help to identify it’s exact location origin which wasn’t recorded properly by the original discoverers.

Perhaps a USA trip is in order this autumn, well head to the north of Moab Utah to visit one of the largest to date areas of Cretaceous period dinosaur footprints and tracks; it also has 17 foot prints (consecutive) from a theropod, other tracks include ancient crocodile movements.

430+ million years ago, if you were beach combing you might have come across Thylacares brandonesis an ancient crab & lobster relative found in Wisconsin. The new species would’ve captured it’s prey in its claws prior to feeding.

Oxford University archaeologist Thomas Higham set out to determine more information regarding the demise of the Neanderthals. Researchers examined around 200 examples from sites between Russia and Spain using carbon dating techniques, they found that areas of Neanderthals lived on until between 41030 and 39260 years ago. The results narrow the overlap time from 2600 - 5400 years but confirm the actual overlap with humans.
Other researchers stress that testing of more bone remains would help confirm the research which relied heavily on testing stone tools.

200 million years ago South Wales was a shallow sea populated by islands; hosts for shrew-sized Jurassic mammals, by studying these mammal types Morganucodon and Kuehneotherium with hi tech methods including synchrotron X-rays and CT scanning researchers can link early evolution and adaptation to surroundings with similarities to modern mammals.

Imagine 10-12m wingspan pterosaurs gliding above you, well the Late Cretaceous airspace was dominated by Azhdarchidan pterosaurs some of the largest flying animals of all time. Interestingly and currently still puzzling researchers is that these pterosaurs were the last to fly and are known to be toothless. Most probably this is due to changes in the habitat and ecosystem of the time.

Ongoing marine mammal research has discovered that the earliest dolphin now appeared 2-7 millions prior to common conjecture. Due to fossil specimen from 1977 thought to be Stenella kabatensis actually belongs to the Eodelphis kabatensis species.

Keeping it in the family, Alaskan local Andrew Harrelson wasn’t having too much luck salmon fishing at Fish River so he went fossil hunting and discovered an approximately 4m long fossil mammoth tusk weighing 73kg, coincidently 22 years previously his parents found one as well.
The area is thought to have been a mud hole in the past which led to animals being trapped. Possibly worth over £7500 the family are hoping to fund a new house.

All this talk of dinosaurs and the jury is still out on where they first appeared and when, some folk think North USA 212 million years ago others South America 230 million years ago, well we do know that they didn’t just materialise, however fossils are only created under specific conditions so it’s very difficult to find examples that can be studied from certain time periods.

MIT researchers studies the age of rocks in the locations, in North USA the Chinle Formation which contains tiny zircons and comprises of uranium whose decay can be measured after the stone is formed by volcanic processes. The results led to the Northern USA fossil being at least 223 million years old and coexisting with further evolved dinosaurs for another 12 million years. In South American the evidence for the evolutionary process is more accessible with pre dinosaur like creatures around prior to the dinosaurs.
The question of where first is still open for theories!

26m head to tail is the size of Dreadnoughtus schrani one of the most complete sauropod specimens found to date. The remains were discovered in Patagonia and evidence suggests the creature, still growing at 60 tonnes was caught in a flood. To date 70% of its bones have been recovered.

To mark the recovery of an excellently preserved mammoth (Mammuthus trogontheri) from West Runton Norfolk in the early 1990’s, aircraft engineer Jeremy Moore has created a life size replica which will stand alongside the original excavation site.

It’s true animals did exist prior to the Cabrian period, Haootia quadriformis classified as a type of cnidarian(aquatic sea animal) survived attached to the sea bed and had a sheet like body with fibrous bundles of supposed muscles. All determined from a Canadian fossil, likened to a stalked jelly fish. Cambridge university researchers suggest the fossil is approximately 560 million years old.

80 million years ago in Brazil an odd flying reptile with a wing like head which appears to resemble a butterfly from the side could be seen. Caiuajara dobruskii was found in the south of Brazil in an area not previously known for it’s abundance of fossil material.
The find was part of many specimens all in the same area suggesting that the creature was a social animal.

A physicist from California realised one day that the chunk of petrified wood collected on a hiking trip some 20+ years ago displayed evidence of a fire scare.
The 210 million year old Agathoxylon arizonicum tree exhibited healing curls similar to a tree trying to recover after a fire, this species of tree doesn’t have rings but the tree’s tracheids (cells) show stress and supressed growth common after a fire.
Researchers haven’t really been looking for this phenomena and expect to see further example in ancient wood fossils.

Spinosaurus aegyptiacus sits in that iconic group of dinosaurs we all knew when we were young, the giant existed 97 million years ago, university palaeontologists in Chicago are discovering a lot more about the 15m dinosaur(studying an example from Africa), they’ve called it a half crocodile and half duck, it had interlocking teeth, probable webbed feet and spent a lot of time in the water unlike any modern day creature. A lot more is to be known about this creature not least why did it have a sail like structure on its back.

Another of the ‘group’ is Chuanqilong chaoyangensis a member of the Ankylosaurs, discovered in Liaoning province China from the Cretaceous Period(specifically 110 million years ago) a plant eater had huge armour and this specimen wasn’t fully mature and measured 4.5m in length leading to speculation that an adult could equal or exceed the largest Ankylosaurs currently known. However Chuanqilong chaoyangensis doesn’t sport the classic ‘club’ tail.

Another find from China is Ikrandraco avatar a pterosaur suspected to have fed by flying down to the water’s surface and scooping up fish the creature had pelican like features, a flat elongate skull and bone under the tip of the lower jaw and researchers suspect a throat pouch. Approximately 120 million years old researchers have found two albeit incomplete specimens to date.

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