Neanderthals ate vegetables, new research says


This video is called Neanderthals Decoded (full documentary).

From PLOS One:

The Neanderthal Meal: A New Perspective Using Faecal Biomarkers

Ainara Sistiaga, Carolina Mallol, Bertila Galván, Roger Everett Summons

Published: June 25, 2014

Abstract

Neanderthal dietary reconstructions have, to date, been based on indirect evidence and may underestimate the significance of plants as a food source. While zooarchaeological and stable isotope data have conveyed an image of Neanderthals as largely carnivorous, studies on dental calculus and scattered palaeobotanical evidence suggest some degree of contribution of plants to their diet.

However, both views remain plausible and there is no categorical indication of an omnivorous diet.

Here we present direct evidence of Neanderthal diet using faecal biomarkers, a valuable analytical tool for identifying dietary provenance. Our gas chromatography-mass spectrometry results from El Salt (Spain), a Middle Palaeolithic site dating to ca. 50,000 yr. BP, represents the oldest positive identification of human faecal matter. We show that Neanderthals, like anatomically modern humans, have a high rate of conversion of cholesterol to coprostanol related to the presence of required bacteria in their guts.

Analysis of five sediment samples from different occupation floors suggests that Neanderthals predominantly consumed meat, as indicated by high coprostanol proportions, but also had significant plant intake, as shown by the presence of 5β-stigmastanol. This study highlights the applicability of the biomarker approach in Pleistocene contexts as a provider of direct palaeodietary information and supports the opportunity for further research into cholesterol metabolism throughout human evolution.

New horned dinosaur discovery in North America


This video is called Meet Mercuriceratops gemini.

From Tech Times:

Meet Mercuriceratops gemini, a horned-dinosaur with a Roman god’s helmet

By Alexander Saltarin, Tech Times

June 19, 11:13 AM

Scientists have discovered and named a new type of horned dinosaur. Due to the frills on the dinosaur resembling the wings usually found on the helmet of Mercury in depictions of the Roman god, the scientists decided to christen the dinosaur as Mercuriceratops gemini.

The discovery was made after a team of scientists analyzed and studied fossils found in two locations in North America. Some of the fossils were found in Alberta, Canada while the others were found in the state of Montana. Analysis of the fossils showed that the new horned dinosaur would have weighed as much as 2 tons and would have grown to a length of around 20 feet. However, the most distinct feature of the Mercuriceratops is its unique frill. The later part of the scientific name “Gemini” is a reference to the fact that two similar fossils were found in two different locations.

“Mercuriceratops took a unique evolutionary path that shaped the large frill on the back of its skull into protruding wings like the decorative fins on classic 1950s cars,” said Cleveland Museum of Natural History curator of vertebrate paleontology Michael Ryan. “It definitively would have stood out from the herd during the Late Cretaceous.”

Ryan is also the lead author of a paper on the subject published in the online journal Naturwissenschaften.

Scientists believe that the Mercuriceratops thrived during the Late Cretaceous Period approximately 77 million years ago. The name the scientists have chosen literally means “Mercury horned-face,” which aptly described the way the dinosaur’s face would have appeared. The fossil samples found in Canada were discovered in the Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta. The park is considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many discoveries have been made in the area. The American fossil on the other hand was found in the north central part of Montana.

The new dinosaur was of particular interest to paleontologists due to the fact that the shape of its skull was unlike any other dinosaur previously known. A dinosaur’s frill, which is often referred to as a neck shield, protects the necks of some dinosaurs like the Triceratops and the newly discovered Mercuriceratops from predators during attacks. The butterfly shaped frill found on the Mercuriceratops shows that evolution had numerous tricks up its sleeves in terms of dinosaur morphology.

Diplodocid dinosaur discovery in Argentina


This video is called Long-Necked Dinosaur Found In Argentina.

From Associated Press:

Dinosaur find tests theories on extinctions

By MICHAEL WARREN

Saturday, June 14, 2014 8:27pm

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Dinosaur fossils found in Patagonia provide the first evidence that long-necked, whip-tailed diplodocid sauropods survived well beyond the Jurassic period, when they were thought to have gone extinct, Argentine paleontologists said.

Pablo Gallina, a researcher at Buenos Aires’ Maimonides University, described the find as the first definitive evidence that diplodocids reached South America and the most recent geologic record of this branch of sauropod anywhere.

“It was a surprise, because the first remains we found were very deteriorated, and we didn’t think much of them, but later through careful laboratory work, cleaning rock from the bones, we could see that they were from a diplodocid, something unthinkable for South America.”

Gallina’s team says the fossils show that diplodocids roamed South America during the early Cretaceous era, well after scientists thought these kinds of dinosaurs became extinct. They also suggest that the diplodocid clade, or family group, evolved from other dinosaurs before the Earth’s continents split apart, which is earlier than previously thought.

“Diplodocids were never certainly recognized from the Cretaceous or in any other southern land mass besides Africa,” the authors wrote. “The new discovery represents the first record of a diplodocid for South America and the stratigraphically youngest record of this clade anywhere.”

Explaining the find after the conclusions were published in the PLOS ONE scientific journal, they said the eight vertebrae they recovered belong to a new species they named “Leinkupal laticauda.” That’s a combination of native Mapuche words for “vanishing” and “family,” and Latin words for “wide” and “tail.”

The remains were found in rocky outcrops of the “Bajada Colorada,” a Cretaceous-era formation south of the town of Picun Leufu in Neuquen province.

Paleobiologist Paul Upchurch at University College London, a sauropod expert who was not involved in the study, said it suggests that not all diplodocids succumbed to a mass extinction about 140 million years ago at the end of the Jurassic period.

“Here’s evidence that one or two groups got through. Rather than a total extinction, that it was devastating, but it didn’t completely kill them off,” Upchurch said.

As for the conclusion that the South American find shows diplodocids evolved from a common ancestor earlier than previously thought, Upchurch said “there’s certainly a possibility that this would push the origin back a bit,” given that Africa and South America separated during the Jurassic period. “I’ve been arguing for a long time that these species developed in the middle Jurassic, so for me this isn’t a problem, but others think it happened a bit later,” Upchurch said.

Upchurch also expressed confidence in the claim of a new species, saying “we know enough about sauropods now to get a fairly good idea of what stands out as a diagnosing feature for a new species.”

The research was partly funded by The Jurassic Foundation, formed by producers of the Jurassic Park films.

Sebastian Apesteguia, paleontology director at Maimonides University, noted that the characters in Jurassic Park II ride a motorcycle under a diplodocid’s legs.

“Until now the diplodocids were thought to be North American dinosaurs. They were the classic dinosaurs from all the Hollywood movies,” he said.

Huge fish discovered from long before dinosaurs


This video is called Fish of the Silurian Period.

By Jennifer Viegas:

Did Super-Sized Animals Live Long Before Dinosaurs?

June 12, 2014 11:00 AM ET

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.”

Choo, a paleontologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Flinders University, and his colleagues analyzed Big Mouth’s remains, which were unearthed at the Kuanti Formation in Yunnan, southwestern China. During the fish‘s lifetime, a period known as the Silurian, this region was part of the South China Sea. It is where the marine ancestors of all jawed animals, including humans, first evolved.

Equipped with both piercing and crushing teeth, Big Mouth likely preyed upon hard-shelled moving species, such as mollusks and armored fishes. The second largest animal at the time, Guiyu onerios — aka Ghost Fish, was a mere one-third of Big Mouth’s size.

Why then was Big Mouth so big?

One reason, according to the researchers, is that competition among fish appears to have been fierce.

Co-author Min Zhu explained, “During the Silurian period, the South China Sea, then at the equator, was the cradle of early jawed vertebrates, thus the ecological competition among these creatures was very intense.”

Another reason is that Big Mouth probably had plenty of oxygen. Modern fish are generally worse off in low oxygen conditions, and big fish require more oxygen than small ones, Choo said. Big Mouth therefore could not have existed unless sufficient oxygen was present.

See also here.

Ice age vole teeth discovery on Texel island


Ice age vole teeth discovered on Texel

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands:

08-06-14

Midas found this special teeth on the Texel beach

A water vole molar from perhaps more than half a million years old and a younger one, possibly two hundred thousand years old! These are the main components of the extraordinary discovery which the 13-year-old Midas Verbeek made last month, going to Ecomare with it. Just above the tide line at beach post 17 he found some small molars and teeth. Because such small molars are difficult to name mouse molar specialist Francine Dieleman was told about it. She had her first research results last week.

Oldest mice

The discovery by Midas, she discovered, included vole molars from the last ice age, incisors of voles, a tail vertebra of a water vole, a strange skull fragment, fish vertebrae and teeth. Francine Dieleman has named them provisionally and will continue to investigate them further still. She will publish about the molars in a specialist magazine. Such old rodents had in fact never before been found in the Wadden Sea area. The mice molar specialist works at Naturalis museum in Leiden.

Canadian dinosaur age forest fire discovery


This video is called Canadian Amber, A Snapshot of a Late Cretaceous Forest and its Inhabitants.

By Rebekah Marcarelli:

Prehistoric Forest Fire Could Help Researchers Understand Biodiversity Before Dinosaur Extinction

Jun 06, 2014 04:04 PM EDT

Researchers found evidence of a wildfire that occurred 66-million years ago.

The findings were made in Saskatchewan, Canada, which was believed to be much warmer and wetter before the extinction of the dinosaurs, a McGill University news release reported.

“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, said in the news release.

The plant-life present at the site was similar to those that would pop up in an area that was recovering from a fire. Researchers believe ancient forests recovered from fires similarly than they do today. Plants such as “alder, birch, and sassafras “would have grown in the early stages of recovery and sequoia and ginkgo would have appeared as the recovery progressed.

“We were looking at the direct result of a 66-million-year old forest fire, preserved in stone,” Emily Bamforth, of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and the study’s first author, said in the news release. “Moreover, we now have evidence that the mean annual temperature in southern Saskatchewan was 10-12 degrees Celsius warmer than today, with almost six times as much precipitation.”

“The abundant plant fossils also allowed us for the first time to estimate climate conditions for the closing period of the dinosaurs in southwestern Canada, and provides one more clue to reveal what the ecology was like just before they went extinct,” Larsson, who is also an Associate Professor at the Redpath Museum said.

Forest fires can have a huge effect on biodiversity in both the plant and animal kingdoms. This type of research could help researchers gain insight into the state of biodiversity directly before the extinction of the dinosaurs. “We won’t be able to fully understand the extinction dynamics until we understand what normal ecological processes were going on in the background.” Larsson said.

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New pterosaur species and their eggs discovered in China


This video is called First 3D Flying Reptile Eggs Discovered in China.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Getting ahead: the new crested pterosaur Hamipterus has researchers aflutter

The newly discovered Chinese flying reptile is preserved in huge numbers and with rarely found eggs

The pterosaurs have often been the poor cousins of their relatives when it comes to the public’s understanding of them. Incorrectly called flying dinosaurs, mixed up as bird or even bat ancestors, and considered leathery-winged gliders that could barely fly, let alone walk, they remain a relic of the ‘animals are extinct because they failed’ idea of the 1800s. In fact pterosaurs were remarkably good fliers and many were also superb on the ground, and their real limitation is that their fossil record is generally so poor.

Pterosaurs had incredibly thin bones and while this may have helped make them relatively light, it means they did not fossilise well. As a result, we don’t have many good pterosaur skeletons (and rarely have multiple individuals of one species), and the ones we do have tend to come from a few restricted places where the preservation at that time was exceptional. Pterosaur eggs are even more rare, with all of none turning up between 1784 (when the first pterosaur was described) and 2004, and in the last decade that number has reach a grand total of four.

So the announcement of a discovery of a whole pile of pterosaurs, and with several eggs as well, is clearly a tremendous find. The newly named Hamipterus tianshanensis (its name roughly means ‘the wing of Hami, in the Tianshan mountains’) is from Xinjiang of northwestern China, and dates to around 100-120 million years ago. The fossils uncovered in this arid region include bones of at least 40 different individuals (and estimates of the number of pterosaur bones in the area run into the thousands) and so far five eggs. That is quite a haul and immediately makes this one of the better represented pterosaurs and makes the area a prime spot for pterosaur research. Moreover, all previously described pterosaur eggs had been flattened into two dimensions, but the ones preserved here are the first even that are available in 3D (if a little squished).

Hamipterus was a medium sized pterosaur with a wingspan of up to 3.5 m. It is referred to a group of pterosaurs called the pteranodontoids which include the famous toothless Pteranodon, but also numerous other pterosaurs including many with large teeth. Members of this group are generally considered to be primarily fish eaters and excellent fliers, catching their food on the wing by snatching fish from the surface of the water. The anatomy of the new find matches this interpretation with a series of long teeth in the thin jaws, and the bones were buried around the margin of a large lake. However, it is in the shape of the top of the head that the real interest lies, with specimens bearing a bony crest that runs along the top of the skull and is much larger in some individuals.

Pterosaurs are in part famous for the wild variety of head crests seen on various species. These include those composed of bone, others of soft tissues and some that combined the two. Over the years various hypotheses have been brought forwards for their function, but the main prevailing idea is that in most forms they likely functioned in some forms of sexual display and / or as social dominance signals. In the case of Hamipterus it is suggested that the different sizes may represent males and females (with the males bearing the larger crest) which is very much a reasonable starting hypothesis, but one that requires a degree of further testing. There’s a huge variation in the size and shape of crests in various things that have them (look at the horns in sheep and antlers in deer) and telling male from female, or young male from old male and so on, can be very difficult.

The data is naturally limited at the moment, but the fact that already numerous different individuals and eggs have turned up together is the first on record. There is obviously the potential here for many more animals to be found, and comparable big aggregations of nesting animals are already known for both ancient birds and non-avian dinosaurs. It would not at all be a surprise if pterosaurs did something similar, and indeed this has been suggested in various quarters a number of times, so thepossibility is there, even if it is currently very tentative. Such a haul of specimens though provides an excellent starting point and there is certainly much more to come from this amazing collection.

Wang et al., Sexually Dimorphic Tridimensionally Preserved Pterosaurs and Their Eggs from China, Current Biology (2014), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014.04.054 (Current paywall, but open access in 2 weeks).

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Tyrannosaurus rex fragments pieced together by museum visitors


This is a Dutch TV video about the Tyrannosaurus rex discovery in Montana, USA, in 2013.

Last year, an expedition from Naturalis museum in Leiden, the Netherlands, discovered a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in Montana. If there will be enough money, this dinosaur will become part of the Naturalis collection.

Some of the bones of this tyrannosaur are very fragmented. Small pieces were found among lots of sand.

The museum wants to piece cervical vertebrae and cervical ribs of the dinosaur together.

To do that, they need many people.

The museum asks visitors to help.

On 7,8 and 9 June, paleontologist Anne Schulp will tell them about the discovery of this Tyrannosaurus rex. Then, visitors will try to fit bone fragments together.

Sessions will be at 11am, noon, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm; with a maximum of 24 people per session.

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New prehistoric crocodile discovered, named after Tolkien’s balrog


This video is called Lord of the Rings – Gandalf vs Balrog.

From Sci-News.com:

Anthracosuchus balrogus: Giant Prehistoric Crocodile Discovered

June 4, 2014

Paleontologists have discovered a new species of crocodile-like reptile that swam in the rivers of what is now Colombia during [the] Paleocene, about 60 million years ago.

The newly discovered prehistoric monster has been named Anthracosuchus balrogus.

The specific epithet, balrogus, derives from the Balrog, the name of a ferocious fictional creature that appeared in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and dwelled deep in the middle-Earth ‘Mines of Moria.’

Anthracosuchus balrogus belongs to Dyrosauridae, a family of now-extinct crocodyliforms that lived from Late Cretaceous to the Eocene.

Originating in Africa, these crocodile-like reptiles swam across the Atlantic Ocean to South America about 75 million year ago. The family somehow survived the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs and persisted to become a top predator.

Four specimens of Anthracosuchus balrogus were unearthed in the Cerrejon coal mine, northern Colombia.

“It quickly became clear that the four fossil specimens were unlike any dyrosaur species ever found,” said Dr Alex Hastings from Martin Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg, who is the lead author of a paper published in the journal Historical Biology.

The crocodyliforms that lived in the Cerrejon ecosystem during the Paleocene, when temperatures were higher than today, thrived and grew to enormous sizes.

“This group offers clues as to how animals survive extinctions and other catastrophes. As we face climates that are warmer today, it is important to understand how animals responded in the past. This family of crocodyliforms in Cerrejon adapted and did very well despite incredible obstacles, which could speak to the ability of living crocodiles to adapt and overcome,” Dr Hastings said.

Anthracosuchus balrogus was about 5 meters long, weighed 410 kg, and had an unusually blunt snout for species in the dyrosaurids family.

“The species’ short snout paired with large jaw muscles typical of dyrosaurids, would give it an incredibly powerful bite,” Dr Hastings said.

It lived in freshwater rivers alongside the famous giant Titanoboa snake (measured up to 18 meters long), ate turtles and fish.

“We couldn’t believe it had such a boxy, short skull and that it was still a dyrosaur. It really busts the mold for these animals. It is such a completely different looking beast than we’ve seen for these crocodile-like animals,” said co-author Dr Jonathan Bloch of Florida Museum.

“The study of dyrosaurids in Cerrejon is providing a better understanding of the early history of crocodiles in the Neotropics,” concluded senior author Dr Carlos Jaramillo of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

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Lyme disease ticks discovery, 15 million years old


This video is called The amber fossils secret – Dominican Republic.

From LiveScience:

Ancient Lyme Disease Bacteria Found in 15-Million-Year-Old Tick Fossils

By Megan Gannon, News Editor | May 30, 2014 05:18pm ET

The oldest known evidence of Lyme disease may lie in ticks that were entombed in amber at least 15 million years ago, scientists announced.

The researchers investigated four fossilized ticks that had been trapped in chunks of amber found in the Dominican Republic. Inside the ticks’ bodies, the scientists saw a large population of cells that looked like the squiggly shaped spirochete cells of the Borrelia genus — a type of bacteria that causes Lyme disease today.

Bacteria, which arose on the planet 3.6 billion years ago, rarely survive in the fossil record. But amber, the hardened resin from oozing trees, can preserve soft tissues and microscopic cells that would otherwise degrade over time. In recent years, scientists have discovered the 100-million-year-old gut microbes of a termite and 40-million-year-old sperm from an insect-like springtail, both trapped in amber. [Photos: Ancient Life Trapped in Amber]

The newfound bacteria species was dubbed Palaeoborrelia dominicana. The findings suggest illnesses like Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases may have been plaguing animals long before humans ever walked Earth.

Today, ticks are more significant disease-carrying insects

They are arachnids, not insects

than mosquitos in the United States, Europe and Asia, said entomologist George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus at Oregon State University, lead author of the study detailed in the journal Historical Biology last month.

“They can carry bacteria that cause a wide range of diseases, affect many different animal species, and often are not even understood or recognized by doctors,” Poinar said in a statement. “It’s likely that many ailments in human history for which doctors had no explanation have been caused by tick-borne disease.”

Lyme disease, for example, wasn’t formally recognized until the 1970s even though it affects thousands of people each year. In 2009, there were 30,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Humans acquire the disease when bitten by ticks that carry Borrelia bacteria. But because it has symptoms that overlap with many other disorders — including rash, aches, fatigue and fever — Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed.

The oldest documented case of Lyme disease in humans comes from the famous 5,300-year-old ice mummy dubbed Ötzi, discovered in the Eastern Alps about 20 years ago. In a 2012 study detailed in the journal Nature Communications, scientists said they found genetic material for the Borrelia bacteriain the iceman.

“Before he was frozen in the glacier, the iceman was probably already in misery from Lyme disease,” Poinar said. “He had a lot of health problems and was really a mess.”

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