fossil news

If only for examining nearly 500,000 “10,000 year old” fish bone remains we have to mention Simon Fraser University staff that commenced a project in order to help with the future management of fisheries. Studying predominately herring bones, the study has shown a sizeable depreciation of herring stocks available in the Pacific.

rock and gem magazine issue 63


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A 12,600 year old grave discovered at the ‘Clovis people’ burial site in Montana has helped provide more evidence for the theory that they are the ancestors of modern native American people, the skeleton of a child helped researchers with a sample of DNA. Tests indicate almost 80% of the current Native American population descend from them, results also indicate that the Clovis themselves descend from Siberian races.
“This discovery basically confirms what the tribes have never doubted: we’ve been here since time immemorial, and the objects in the ground are from our ancestors,” said Shane Doyle, Crow tribe, historian at Montana State University.

Last time you walked along the Norfolk coast did you bump into a 1.2 million year old wanderer, well with all the storm activity (last year) along the coast researchers discovered footprints left behind. 3D scans were recorded but no attempt at preservation was undertaken due to their position. Also tools and fossil remains of rhinos, hyenas, and mammoths were uncovered. (Who knows what will be uncovered this year - Ed)

Neanderthals are modern mans closest fossil relative, they began to disappear when ‘man’ started to arrive and research on Western European, Asia and Middle East DNA samples has shown that 50,000+ year old Neanderthals were genetically as varied as humans today, proving their mobility, however younger examples from Europe display a dramatically reduced genetic variation which timewise has been linked to radical climate conditions, perhaps the influence of modern man wasn’t the only factor in the disappearance of the Neanderthals.

Lucina, goddess of childbirth was the inspiration for the named new species Luprisca incuba, the find by a team led by the University of Leicester confirms that the 450 million year old sea crustacean (ostracods only 2-3 mm in size) looked after its eggs like its modern relatives. One of the few examples in the fossil record. The discovery was made in New York state.

Up to 5 million ‘ish years ago it might have been a little tricky to find a good meal, a relative of the porpoise of the time called Semirostrum ceruttii had an extended jaw that reached over 80cm. Evidence from only a few fossil examples discovered in California suggest the ancient relative rooted for food among the sea bed. Modern porpoises favour fish and bottom dwelling creatures for sustenance.

Mines are a great place for discovering fossils and the lignite-mine pit Na Duong in Vietnam seems to be quite prolific, recent finds include 6m crocodiles, carp and an ancient rhinoceros, Epiaceratherium naduongense which suggests that the European version originated from Asia and populated parts of Europe including Italy approximately 33 million years ago.

Another prolific fossil rich site is in ‘Inner Mongolia’ China, named the Daohugou Biota (term for a collection of items from the same time period) contains a wide range of mid to late Jurassic finds, from feathered dinosaurs, salamanders and gliding mammals. This diverse range of creatures and finds is also helping researchers understand the evolution of feathered dinosaurs.

Many fossil remains of whales and other marine creatures have been uncovered in a Chilean tidal flat, it’s thought the mass ‘stranding’ or die off could’ve been caused by harmful algae blooms that we also experience today, occurring some 6-9 million years ago evidence suggests the creatures died at sea and were washed up on the flat. With a range of creatures being affected it’s unlikely to be caused by a virus. Colour patches on rock have been examined and contain similar features to dinoflagellates found in today’s harmful red algae blooms.

Sadly we often hear of fossils being stolen, faked and misrepresented for greed and money, recently a Moab resident has admitted to taking a rare Allosauraus (a carnivore 3 toed dinosaur) footprint from the Hell’s Revenge trail in Utah. A local tour company representative who included it on his itinerary reported it missing. The suspect is thought to have pried it out of the sandstone and later tossed it into a river, where the authorities are now searching for it. He faces up to 20 years in jail.

Tarbosaurus and Tyrannosaurus gain a cousin after comparisons with known tyrannosauride specimens a smaller tyrannosaur found in Alaska has joined the family, it’s skulls size is less than half of a T - rex and obviously the environment was a lot warmer then.

Lisbon in Portugal was the site for the discovery of a new huge Jurassic dinosaur, first thought to be a species found in North America but now a species in it’s own right, Torvosaurus gurneyi had flat style teeth up to 100mm in size and a skull measuring up to over 1m not the largest carnivore but one of them!

Previously we had mentioned about determining the colour of fossil dinosaur feathers by examining the melanosomes or pigment sacs within the fossil. however a NC State candidate in palaeontology has questioned this procedure because the form of the melanosomes (round or oblong shapes) could also be mis-identified bacteria present and therefore not representative of the actual feather colour. More research will develop other tests that can accurately determine the difference between the melanosomes and bacteria.
However another research team looking at melanosomes have determined that investigation into the creature’s colours, fuzz & feathers is less obvious in ‘cold blooded’ animals, also a relative acceleration in colour diversity occurred prior to the emergence of flying creatures.

Confused archaeologists had always considered that the collection of woolly mammoth & rhino bones found over the cliff on Jersey were due to Neanderthal man driving the beasts to their death, further examination of the fossil bones shows use marks and evidence of burning which suggests the remains were left there after the beasts remains were eaten.

Further research on the emergence of birds studying the change in body mass and limb length suggests that these adaptations occurred up to 20 million years prior to evidence of the 1st bird, Archaeopteryx.

Initially mistaken for an old pipe a 20-60,000 year old probable Columbian mammoth tusk was discovered on a building site in downtown Seattle, the find and extraction of the 9m tusk delayed the construction of the proposed apartment building on the site during the overnight excavation. Possibly one of the largest and best preserved tusks found in the area, the landowner has subsequently donated it to a local natural history museum.

A find in China could be the earliest fossil embryos of a Mesozoic marine reptile ever discovered, the Ichthyosaurs parent had 3 embryos, one inside, one part delivered and another outside her body. Ichthyosaurs were large marine reptiles that had evolved from land based creatures; this fossil suggests that the Ichthyosaurs returned to land to give birth.

A Romundina fossil fish from the French National Natural History Museum was closely examined by researchers using micron resolution X-ray imaging in order to gain insight between jawless and jawed vertebrates and the steps in between. The Romundina seemed to be an intermediate fossil with features from both types with now only 2 jaw-less vertebrates the research gained valuable information into the transition of over 50,000 vertebrate species.

Curiously Peruvian sloth fossils from 4-8 million years ago decided to return to the sea reversing the trend of the majority of other creatures, fossil evidence suggests changes in bone structure and density (measured by CT scans) in theory allowing the creatures to swim down to the sea bed to search for food.

Further research into the Cretaceous-Palaeogene mass extinction event which occurred 66 million years ago by Japanese researchers suggest that enormous quantities of acid rain was created and covered the earth. Some of the fresh water areas weren’t quite as impacted due to the acid being neutralised by ‘local minerals’, but it’s thought that 75% of life ceased, researchers fired lasers into anhydrite to recreate the event, measuring the results with quadruple mass spectrometers, the results show that more sulphur trioxide was created than first thought which would quickly turn to acid rain the levels of sulphur dioxide from previous theory’s was a lot less. A period followed where ferns flourished, being a plant that’s less susceptible to the effects of acid.

Echolocation is the term for the creation of sound beams by whales & dolphins etc. Examination of a new whale species fossil called otylocara macei which had been previously discovered 10 years ago has similar features to creatures that are known to produce the sound beams. This suggests that this ability existed a lot earlier than first thought possible to 32 million years earlier.

The latest research into why the Jehol fossils (northern China) are in such a good preserved state suggests that it’s due to the creatures being not only killed by volcanic activity but also preserved by smothering it with volcanic material, opinion is divided regarding remains being transported to nearby lakes because it’s difficult to suggest that this action would leave the remains structural intact.

As part of the research comparisons were made with other fossils found at volcanic sites around the world, obviously this also points to there being perhaps other very well preserved fossil sites adjacent to volcanic locations.

Finally it’s worthy of a mention that scientists are trying to create a ‘checklist’ to decide whether or not to try and de-extinct animals as technology evolves it could just be few years before some species are ‘returned’...


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