Stone age monkeys and humans

This video says about itself:

13 October 2016

Clip of capuchin stone on stone percussion and licking of passive hammer associated with capuchin grooming.

Credit: M. Haslam and the Primate Archaeology Group (University of Oxford)

From Science News:

Wild monkeys throw curve at stone-tool making‘s origins

Unlike early hominids, capuchins don’t use sharp-edged rocks to dig or cut

By Bruce Bower

1:00pm, October 19, 2016

A group of South American monkeys has rocked archaeologists’ assumptions about the origins of stone-tool making.

Wild bearded capuchin monkeys in Brazil use handheld stones to whack rocks poking out of cliffs and outcrops. The animals unintentionally break off sharp-edged stones that resemble stone tools made by ancient members of the human evolutionary family, say archaeologist Tomos Proffitt of the University of Oxford and his colleagues. It’s the first observation of this hominid-like rock-fracturing ability in a nonhuman primate.

The new finding indicates that early hominids needed no special mental ability, no fully opposable thumbs and not even any idea of what they were doing to get started as toolmakers, the researchers report October 19 in Nature. All it may have taken was a penchant for skillfully pounding rocks, as displayed by capuchins when cracking open nuts (SN Online: 4/30/15).

Archaeologists have traditionally thought that ancient stone tools appeared as hominid brains enlarged and hand grips became more humanlike.

“Without the intention of making a stone tool, and with the right rock types, capuchins produce objects that are shaped like stone tools,” says University of Oxford primatologist and archaeologist Susana Carvalho, who did not participate in the new study. She suspects the earliest known stone tools were made either by relatively small-brained hominids or, perhaps in some cases, nonhuman primates. “This is not a wild idea anymore.”

The oldest known hominid stone artifacts — a set of pounding rocks and sharp-edged stone flakes — date to 3.3 million years ago in East Africa (SN: 6/13/15, p. 6). Those tools display more elaborate modifications than observed on sharp-edged capuchin creations, Proffitt says. But researchers suspect simpler hominid tools go back 4 million years or more.  Those implements might have looked more like what the South American monkeys make, he speculates.

Three capuchins tracked during an episode of rock pounding did not use fractured pieces of sharp stone to cut, scrape or dig up anything. Observations of nearly 100 rounds of rock pounding show that the monkeys sometimes recycled stone flakes as rock-pounding tools. They also often licked or sniffed powdered stone produced as they pounded rocks. Perhaps capuchins want to ingest the trace nutrient silicon, which assists in bone growth, or find lichens for some medicinal purpose, Proffitt suggests.

His team studied 60 stone fragments left behind by capuchins after rock-pounding episodes and another 51 capuchin-modified stones found in two excavations where rock pounding occurred. These artifacts included complete and broken pounding stones, stone flakes and stones that had been struck by rock-wielding monkeys.

Capuchin stone flakes are smaller and contain fewer fractured areas than ancient hominid tools, such as the 3.3-million-year-old East African finds, says archaeologist David Braun of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. But sharp-edged stones produced by the monkeys display “remarkable similarity” to artifacts from a nearby Brazilian site that some researchers think were made by humans more than 20,000 years ago (SN: 10/18/14, p. 14), Braun says. Researchers now must determine whether stone artifacts found at several South American sites dating to more than 14,000 years ago were made by humans or monkeys, he suggests.

Capuchin rock smashers’ inadvertently sharpened debris also raises questions about how hominids started making tools in the first place. Techniques for using one stone to pound away pieces of another stone, creating a rock with smooth faces bordered by razor-sharp edges, “could have been invented independently in different hominid species through [stone-pounding] behaviors we have yet to identify,” Proffitt says.

Those initial tools may have resembled capuchins’ accidentally sharpened stones or even rocks used by chimpanzees to crack nuts, says archaeologist Sonia Harmand of Stony Brook University in New York. But only hominids, and especially humans, went on to make more sophisticated stone tools and, later, everything from smart phones to space stations, says Harmand, who led the team that discovered the 3.3-million-year-old hominid tools.

Cave art explains European bison evolution

Various bisons in cave art, from various caves

The caption of this picture says:

(a) Reproduction from Lascaux cave (France), from the Solutrean or early Magdalenian period (∼20,000 kya—picture adapted from ref. 53). (b) Reproduction from the Pergouset cave (France), from the Magdalenian period (17,000 kya—picture adapted from ref. 54)

From Nature Communications, 18 October 2016:

Early cave art and ancient DNA record the origin of European bison

Julien Soubrier, Graham Gower, Alan Cooper


The two living species of bison (European and American) are among the few terrestrial megafauna to have survived the late Pleistocene extinctions. Despite the extensive bovid fossil record in Eurasia, the evolutionary history of the European bison (or wisent, Bison bonasus) before the Holocene (<11.7 thousand years ago (kya)) remains a mystery.

We use complete ancient mitochondrial genomes and genome-wide nuclear DNA surveys to reveal that the wisent is the product of hybridization between the extinct steppe bison (Bison priscus) and ancestors of modern cattle (aurochs, Bos primigenius) before 120 kya, and contains up to 10% aurochs genomic ancestry. Although undetected within the fossil record, ancestors of the wisent have alternated ecological dominance with steppe bison in association with major environmental shifts since at least 55 kya. Early cave artists recorded distinct morphological forms consistent with these replacement events, around the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, ∼21–18 kya).

See also here.

Valdosaurus dinosaur, well-preserved fossil found in England

This video says about itself:

2 September 2015

Dryosaurus” is a genus of an ornithopod dinosaur that lived in the Late Jurassic period. It was an iguanodont. Fossils have been found in the western United States, and were first discovered in the late 19th century. “Valdosaurus canaliculatus” and “Dysalotosaurus lettowvorbecki” were both formerly considered to represent species of “Dryosaurus”.

“Dryosaurus” had a long neck, long, slender legs and a long, stiff tail. Its arms, however, with five fingers on each hand, were short. Known specimens were about 8 to 14 feet long and weighed 170 to 200 pounds. However, the adult size is unknown, as no known adult specimens of the genus have been found.

“Dryosaurus” had a horny beak and cheek teeth and, like other ornithopods, was a herbivore. Some scientists suggest that it had cheek-like structures to prevent the loss of food while the animal processed it in the mouth.

A quick and agile runner with strong legs, “Dryosaurus” used its stiff tail as a counterbalance. It probably relied on its speed as a main defense against carnivorous dinosaurs.

The teeth of “Dryosaurus” were, according to museum curator John Foster, characterized by “a strong median ridge on the lateral surface.” “Dryosaurus” subsisted primarily on low growing vegetation in ancient floodplains.

A “Dryosaurus” hatchling found at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah confirmed that “Dryosaurus” followed similar patterns of craniofacial development to other vertebrates; the eyes were proportionally large while young and the muzzle proportionally short. As the animal grew, its eyes became proportionally smaller and its snout proportionally longer.

By Pete Buchholz in Britain:

A specimen of the dryosaurid Valdosaurus has been discovered on the Isle of Wight

The most complete specimen of the poorly known dryosaurid Valdosaurus canaliculatus has been discovered in Lower Cretaceous rocks on the Isle of Wight. This new discovery helps flesh out the anatomy of this dinosaur and is one of the most complete dinosaur specimens known from England.

The Isle of Wight off the south coast of England is a fossil-hunter’s paradise. Rocks of the Wessex Formation, deposited during the Early Cretaceous, approximately 130 million years ago, are exposed in numerous locations across the island. The Wessex Formation preserves numerous fish, turtles, crocodilians, and pterosaurs. It also has a rather famous dinosaur fauna, including the spinosaurid Baryonyx, the early tyrannosaur Eotyrannus, a number of fragmentary sauropods, and the ornithopods Iguanodon, Mantellisaurus, Hypsilophodon, and Valdosaurus.

Noisy dinosaur age bird discovered in Antarctic

This video says about itself:

Discovery of fossil “voice box” of Antarctic bird suggests dinosaurs couldn’t sing

2 October 2016

Researchers have found the oldest known fossil vocal organ of a bird … in Antarctica. The voice box is from a species related to ducks and geese that lived during the age of dinosaurs more than 66 million years ago. A National Science Foundation funded team led by the University of Texas at Austin discovered the ancient vocal organ called a syrinx–and its apparent absence from non-bird dinosaur fossils of the same age. Researchers believe the organ may have originated late in the evolution of birds after the origin of flight. Drawing on their research, team leader Julia Clarke said that other dinosaurs may not have been able to make noises similar to modern bird calls, but most likely made closed-mouth sounds similar to ostrich booms that don’t require a syrinx.

The organ was found in a fossil species called Vegavis iaai. The fossil was discovered in 1992 on Vega Island in the Antarctic Peninsula by a team from the Argentine Antarctic Institute. It was named in 2005 by Clarke and Argentine colleagues. But, it wasn’t until 2013 Clarke discovered the fossil syrinx in the new specimen and began analysis. The international team may figure out what dinosaurs sounded like, gaining insight into the origins of bird song. The findings appear in the October 12 issue of “Nature”.

See also here.

From Science News:

Birds’ honks filled Late Cretaceous air

Sounds inferred from oldest preserved avian voice box

By Meghan Rosen

3:53pm, October 12, 2016

ANCIENT VOICE BOX: A ducklike bird that lived some 68 million to 66 million years ago left behind fossilized remains of a voice box, or syrinx, on an island off the coast of Antarctica.

Some ancient birds may have sounded like honking ducks.

For the first time, scientists have discovered the fossilized remains of a voice box from the age of the dinosaurs. The sound-making structure, called a syrinx, belonged to Vegavis iaai, a bird that lived 68 million to 66 million years ago, researchers report October 12 in Nature.

“It may be a once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” says evolutionary biologist Patrick O’Connor of Ohio University in Athens, who wrote a commentary in Nature about the fossil. Now, he says, the hunt will be on to find voice boxes in other fossils.

The new work helps fill in the soundscape of the Late Cretaceous Epoch. It could also offer hints about sounds made by all sorts of dinosaurs, says study coauthor Julia Clarke of the University of Texas at Austin.

Unlike in humans, where the larynx lies below the throat, birds’ voice boxes rest inside the chest at the base of the windpipe. Stacked rings of cartilage anchor vibrating membranes that make sound when air whooshes through.

This delicate structure doesn’t typically fossilize. In fact, scientists have previously spotted just a few syrinxes in the fossil record. The oldest known, from a wading bird, was about 50 million years old. Clarke’s team examined that syrinx, which hadn’t been studied before, and the one from V. iaai.

The V. iaai fossil, a partial skeleton discovered on an island off the coast of Antarctica, was removed from a rock about the size of a cantaloupe, Clarke says. Just one small area remained encased in rocky material. Everyone thought that bit was trivial, she says. But “it was within that tiny little section that I saw the syrinx.” Three-dimensional CT scans let her peer within the rock and see the telltale rings of a voice box, a structure roughly half the size of a multivitamin pill. “It was one of the biggest, happiest days of my career,” Clarke says.

Biologist Philip Senter of Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, who was not involved in the study, echoes Clarke’s enthusiasm. “It’s quite exciting to find such a rarely preserved structure,” he says. Seeing it in 3-D will make paleontologists “chortle joyously.”

Comparing the fossil with living birds helped Clarke and her team figure out what sounds the ancient bird might have made. Both the bird’s skeleton and its syrinx suggest it squawked like today’s ducks and geese.

The find also proves that voice boxes from dinosaurs’ time can indeed fossilize. No one has found the structures in nonavian dinosaurs, Clarke says. “That suggests that most dinosaurs may not have had a syrinx.”

Instead, she proposes, dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex and Stegosaurus might have made noises like crocodiles: deep “booming” sounds generated in the back of the mouth.

Little dinosaur, belemnites, dukes in Pomeranian State Museum

This March 2016 video is about the Pommersches Landesmuseum, the Pomeranian State Museum in Greifswald town in Germany.

This 2015 video is about the Pommersches Landesmuseum as well.

As this blog has mentioned, we arrived there on 1 October 2016.

Not far from the museum entrance was the paleontology room.

There, the fossil, discovered in 1963, of Emausaurus ernstii. An ornithischian young dinosaur … well, by now about 190 million years old, so from the early Jurassic. The name refers to the Ernst Moritz Arndt University. This ornithischian, herbivorous dinosaur was about one meter in size.

Later in the Jurassic, the land of what is now Pomerania became sea; and remained so during the Cretaceous.

In the museum were fossils of Cretaceous cephalopods, belemnites, of the Belemnella genus.

Belemnella lanceolata

This picture shows a Belemnella lanceolata.

A bit further in the museum, amber, about forty million years old.

Still further, humans in the prehistory and history of Pomerania.

In the early Middle Ages, its inhabitants were Slavic tribes, practicing a polytheist religion. However, the Christian German empire attacked them. In the twelfth century, the Slavic dukes of Pomerania could only keep their dukedom by converting to Christianity, recognizing the German emperors as their overlords, and destroying the pagan temples.

In the sixteenth century, another conversion for the dukes and people of Pomerania: from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism. This is documented by an important item in the museum: the Croy Tapestry from 1544.

Croy Tapestry

In the seventeenth century, the ducal dynasty became extinct, and the kings of Sweden became the rulers. The harsh serfdom for the peasants in Pomerania became a model for the oppression of the peasantry in Sweden proper.

Stay tuned! As soon as the photos will be sorted out, there will be more blog posts here on the German Baltic Sea region, especially its birdlife.

‘Mass extinctions killed less wildlife than thought’

This video from Britain says about itself:

Catastrophe – The Permian Extinction

The Permian-Triassic extinction event, informally known as the Great Dying, was an extinction event that occurred 252 million years ago, forming the boundary between the Permian and Triassic geologic periods, as well as the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras. It is the Earth’s most severe known extinction event, with up to 96% of all marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species becoming extinct. It is the only known mass extinction of insects. Some 57% of all families and 83% of all genera became extinct. Because so much biodiversity was lost, the recovery of life on Earth took significantly longer than after any other extinction event, possibly up to 10 million years.

Presented by Tony Robinson.

Originally published in 2008 by Channel 4

That was the prevalent view in 2008. And now …

From the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America:

Estimates of the magnitudes of major marine mass extinctions in earth history

Steven M. Stanley

October 3, 2016


This paper shows that background extinction definitely preceded mass extinctions; introduces a mathematical method for estimating the amount of this background extinction and, by subtracting it from total extinction, correcting estimates of losses in mass extinctions; presents a method for estimating the amount of erroneous backward smearing of extinctions from mass extinction intervals; and introduces a method for calculating species losses in a mass extinction that takes into account clustering of losses. It concludes that the great terminal Permian crisis eliminated only about 81% of marine species, not the frequently quoted 90–96%. Life did not almost disappear at the end of the Permian, as has often been asserted.


Procedures introduced here make it possible, first, to show that background (piecemeal) extinction is recorded throughout geologic stages and substages (not all extinction has occurred suddenly at the ends of such intervals); second, to separate out background extinction from mass extinction for a major crisis in earth history; and third, to correct for clustering of extinctions when using the rarefaction method to estimate the percentage of species lost in a mass extinction. Also presented here is a method for estimating the magnitude of the Signor–Lipps effect, which is the incorrect assignment of extinctions that occurred during a crisis to an interval preceding the crisis because of the incompleteness of the fossil record.

Estimates for the magnitudes of mass extinctions presented here are in most cases lower than those previously published. They indicate that only ∼81% of marine species died out in the great terminal Permian crisis, whereas levels of 90–96% have frequently been quoted in the literature. Calculations of the latter numbers were incorrectly based on combined data for the Middle and Late Permian mass extinctions. About 90 orders and more than 220 families of marine animals survived the terminal Permian crisis, and they embodied an enormous amount of morphological, physiological, and ecological diversity. Life did not nearly disappear at the end of the Permian, as has often been claimed.