Frozen cave lion cubs discovery in Siberia

This video says about itself:

Extinct cave lions, almost perfectly preserved, discovered in Siberia

27 October 2015

The bodies of two extinct cave lion cubs from at least 10,000 years ago have been recovered in Russia’s Sakha Republic, almost perfectly preserved in permafrost, The Siberian Times reports.

From the Siberian Times in Russia:

WORLD EXCLUSIVE – Meet this extinct cave lion, at least 10,000 years old

By Anastasia Koryakina

26 October 2015

‘Sensational’ find of two cubs, the best preserved ever seen in the world, announced today.

The unprecedented discovery of the ancient predator was made this summer in the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia. The cave lions were almost perfectly preserved in permafrost and could be much older.

The Siberian Times is proud to be working with the Academy of Sciences of Yakutia which will introduce the cubs properly at a presentation to the Russian and international media in late November.

Along with the two lions, paleontologists will also show other Pleistocene animals preserved by ice in this vast region, the largest and coldest in the Russian Federation. Among these will be the famous woolly mammoth Yuka, the ‘Oimyakon‘ mammoth, the carcass of a Kolyma woolly rhinoceros, and Yukagir bison and horses.

The cave lions – Panthera spelaea (Goldfuss) – lived during Middle and Late Pleistocene times on the Eurasian continent, from the British Isles to Chukotka in the extreme east of Russia, and they also roamed Alaska and northwestern Canada. The extinct creatures were close relatives of modern Afro-Asiatic lions.

Finds of their remains are rare: today’s announcement about the existence of the pair is coupled with the confident claim that they are the best preserved ever unearthed in the world.

Full details will be given at the presentation in November, including the first results of research into the lions.

Previously, only fragments of carcasses, parts of skeletons and individual bones had been found. Until now, in Yakutia, only skulls, some teeth and bones were unearthed which has prevented scientists having more than an approximate image of the extinct creature.

Like other ancient animals, the cave lion became extinct: research on the two cubs could help to explain why they died out around 10,000 years ago, since the animal had few predators, was smaller than herbivores, and was not prone to getting bogged down in swamps, as did woolly mammoths and rhinos. One theory is a decline in deer and cave bears, their prey, caused their demise.

‘The find is sensational, no doubt,’ said a source close to the discovery. It is known the remains are free of dangerous infections such as anthrax following initial microbiological analysis, but no other significant details or pictures will be released before the presentation.

See also here.

Fossil giant barn owl discovery in Cuba

This video says about itself:

Endless Owl Evolution

8 February 2009

Owls are among the most fabulous things alive. They have long held a symbolic and even spiritual place in our history, but from an evolutionary perspective, they are just plain awesome. Note how so many have a remarkable camouflage-the white snowy owl would starve it it was too easily seen in the winter and most are grey or bark-colored so they easily blend in to their surroundings. Here I show less than a quarter of the known surviving species of owls worldwide.

From BirdWatching Daily in the USA:

Introducing Craves’s Giant Barn Owl, a new species named after Julie Craves


A new species has been added to the roster of birds that once lived in the West Indies.

It’s an owl, and an impressive one, a relative of the Barn Owl alive today but much larger. Gone for thousands of years now, it is known only from fossils unearthed in Cuba.

The discoverer, ornithologist and paleornithologist William Suárez, and Storrs L. Olson, curator emeritus in the Division of Birds of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, described the new species recently in the prestigious journal Zootaxa.

When they did, they bestowed on BirdWatching contributing editor Julie Craves an honor that few ornithologists ever live to see: They named the owl Tyto cravesae, or Craves’s Giant Barn Owl.

I interviewed Suárez and Craves about the owl, and the honor. My questions and their responses are below. — Chuck Hagner, Editor

What makes a barn owl a giant barn owl?

These extinct owls are called giant because they were much larger than living species of barn owls. In fact, at least one species was nearly twice the size of our familiar Barn Owl (Tyto alba). Their large size was the result of specialization in their mammalian prey.

Prior to the publication of Suárez and Olson’s paper, five giant barn owls from the West Indies had been described. In addition to describing Craves’s Giant Barn Owl as a new species, the paper reviewed the status of the other species, resulting in two of them being considered synonyms of others.

By the way, they shouldn’t be confused with extinct Cuban giant strigid owls, in the genera Ornimegalonyx and Bubo. (Ornimegalonyx, the Cuban Giant Owl, stood about three feet tall and is thought to be the largest owl that ever existed.)

What kind of bird was Craves’s Giant Barn Owl? How many years ago did it live? What did it eat?

Craves’s Giant Barn Owl was a nocturnal predator. It lived during the Quaternary, in the Pleistocene epoch (2.5 million to 11,700 years ago), but probably also into the Holocene, the epoch that followed and continues to the present.

Like all barn owls, it ate mostly mammals, especially rodents. While barn owls today most often eat mice and voles, the giant barn owls of the West Indies were specialists that ate larger rodents. Bones of prey found in fossil deposits formed by the predator indicate that hutias were the principal dish on the menu. Hutias are rodents endemic to the West Indies. They weigh from four to six pounds.

How was it related to the Barn Owl familiar to birders in the United States?

They are congeneric species, in same genus Tyto.

What does it tells us about Cuba (and the West Indies) in the Quaternary?

This fossil barn owl is another element in the West Indian avifauna that evolved to a gigantic form, resulting from the evolution on these islands where no predators on mammals existed, other than birds. The ecological role at the time completely relied on the raptorial avifauna, including large condors, eagles, strigid owls, and others.

What might have made it disappear? Could it have persisted into historical times?

For a highly specialized predator, it is very difficult to survive when your principal prey vanishes. This was the main cause of the disappearance of Craves’s Giant Barn Owl (and others). These barn owls probably persisted into the Holocene, after humans arrived on the islands.

William, where did you collect the fossils of Craves’s Giant Barn Owl?

I collected the material in June 1998 in a cave complex in Artemisa Province, Cuba, southwest of Havana. The bones were in a wall cavity about almost five feet (1.5 m) from the floor of the cave. This is also the type locality of several other fossil Cuban birds, including the Cuban Condor (Gymnogyps varonai) and one of the Ornimegalonyx owls.

Julie, how do you know William? You have described him as a “truly amazing person.” How so?

I met William over 12 years ago while assisting with a number of licensed bird-survey trips to Cuba. William participated as a guide and authority on Cuban birds through his position as curator at Cuba’s National Museum of Natural History. I liked him immediately — so smart, a great sense of humor, charming, and of course, a mutual interest in birds! Over the years, I grew to admire his dedication to science and West Indian bird studies. His perseverance and optimism no matter what obstacles he has faced have been sources of inspiration to me.

William, why did you name the owl after Julie?

For her dedication to avian conservation and her boundless appreciation of Cuban friends and birds.

Julie, why is having a species named after you a big deal?

Most people say it’s because it makes your name immortal. I’ve never been too concerned about my name living on, but my goal as an ecologist has always been to contribute to conservation in some way, however humble, that will make a difference in the future. William’s accomplishments far eclipse my own, so, for me, the fact that he respects my work enough to name a species after me is a true honor. That recognition means I must be doing something right, not to mention it affirms the close ties of our friendship. And yes, I will admit, the bragging rights are very cool.

Very cool, indeed. We couldn’t be happier for Julie. Please join me in congratulating, and bragging about, my dear friend on this profound honor. — C.H.

About Julie Craves

Julie is supervisor of avian research at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan Dearborn and a research associate at the university’s Environmental Interpretive Center. Her column “Since You Asked” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. She has written for the magazine since June 1994.

Read Julie’s column ‘Since You Asked.’

Read her article about the birds of Cuba.

Read Julie’s article about coffee and birds.

Julie also writes regularly at Net Results, the blog of the Rouge River Bird Observatory; at Coffee & Conservation, her acclaimed blog about coffee and the environment; and at Urban Dragon Hunters, a blog about the distribution of dragonflies and damselflies and their role as bioindicators, especially in urban systems.

Extinct human Homo naledi’s hands and feet, new study

This video says about itself:

10 September 2015

Paleoanthropologist and explorer Lee Berger has made an important new discovery in the human family tree: a new species called Homo naledi. In this interview with journalist Bill Blakemore, Berger gives the details of the find, how it came about, the difficulty in recovering the fossils, and why it’s such an important find.

From Nature Communications:

The foot of Homo naledi

6 October 2015


Modern humans are characterized by a highly specialized foot that reflects our obligate bipedalism. Our understanding of hominin foot evolution is, although, hindered by a paucity of well-associated remains.

Here we describe the foot of Homo naledi from Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa, using 107 pedal elements, including one nearly-complete adult foot. The H. naledi foot is predominantly modern human-like in morphology and inferred function, with an adducted hallux, an elongated tarsus, and derived ankle and calcaneocuboid joints. In combination, these features indicate a foot well adapted for striding bipedalism.

However, the H. naledi foot differs from modern humans in having more curved proximal pedal phalanges, and features suggestive of a reduced medial longitudinal arch. Within the context of primitive features found elsewhere in the skeleton, these findings suggest a unique locomotor repertoire for H. naledi, thus providing further evidence of locomotor diversity within both the hominin clade and the genus Homo.

Also from Nature Communications:

The hand of Homo naledi

6 October 2015


A nearly complete right hand of an adult hominin was recovered from the Rising Star cave system, South Africa. Based on associated hominin material, the bones of this hand are attributed to Homo naledi.

This hand reveals a long, robust thumb and derived wrist morphology that is shared with Neandertals and modern humans, and considered adaptive for intensified manual manipulation.

However, the finger bones are longer and more curved than in most australopiths, indicating frequent use of the hand during life for strong grasping during locomotor climbing and suspension. These markedly curved digits in combination with an otherwise human-like wrist and palm indicate a significant degree of climbing, despite the derived nature of many aspects of the hand and other regions of the postcranial skeleton in H. naledi.

Woolly mammoth discovery in Michigan, USA

This video from the USA says about itself:

Woolly mammoth skeleton unearthed by Michigan farmers

3 October 2015

Two farmers in Michigan made an astonishing discovery when they unearthed the remains of a woolly mammoth while digging in a soybean field.

Experts say it is one of the most complete sets ever found in the state.

University of Michigan researchers say there is evidence the mammoth lived 11,700-15,000 years ago.

Ancient human species discovered in South Africa?

This video says about itself:

10 September 2015

Within a deep and narrow cave in South Africa, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger and his team found fossil remains belonging to the newest member of our human family. The Homo naledi discovery adds another exciting chapter to the human evolution story by introducing an ancestor that was primitive but shared physical characteristics with modern humans.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Homo naledi: New species of ancient human discovered, claim scientists

Bones found in South African cave are Homo naledi, a new species of ancient human relative, say researchers, but some experts are sceptical of find

Ian Sample, Science editor

Thursday 10 September 2015 10.30 BST

A huge haul of bones found in a small, dark chamber at the back of a cave in South Africa may be the remnants of a new species of ancient human relative.

Explorers discovered the bones after squeezing through a fissure high in the rear wall of the Rising Star cave, 50km from Johannesburg, before descending down a long, narrow chute to the chamber floor 40 metres beneath the surface.

The entrance chute into the Dinaledi chamber is so tight – a mere eight inches wide – that six lightly built female researchers were brought in to excavate the bones. Footage from their cameras was beamed along 3.5km of optic cable to a command centre above ground as they worked inside the cramped enclosure.

The women recovered more than 1,500 pieces of bone belonging to at least 15 individuals. The remains appear to be infants, juveniles and one very old adult. Thousands more pieces of bone are still in the chamber, smothered in the soft dirt that covers the ground.

The leaders of the National Geographic-funded project (link to video) believe the bones – as yet undated – represent a new species of ancient human relative. They have named the creature Homo naledi, where naledi means “star” in Sesotho, a local South African language. But other experts on human origins say the claim is unjustified, at least on the evidence gathered so far. The bones, they argue, look strikingly similar to those of early Homo erectus, a forerunner of modern humans who wandered southern Africa 1.5m years ago.

“We’ve found a new species that we are placing in the genus Homo, which is really quite remarkable,” said Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist who led the work at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He described the slender, small-brained creatures as “long-legged”, “pinheaded” and “gangly”. The males stood about 5ft, with females a little shorter.

Measurements of the bones show that the creature has a curious blend of ancient ape and modern human-like features. Its brain is tiny, the size of a gorilla’s. Its teeth are small and simple. The thorax is primitive and ape-like, but its hands more modern, their shape well-suited to making basic tools. The feet and ankles are built for walking upright, but its fingers are curved, a feature seen in apes that spend much of their time in the trees. The findings are reported in two papers published in the online journal eLife.

The Dinaledi chamber has been visited by explorers in the past, and the soft sediments in which the bones were found have been badly disturbed. Because the remains were not encased in rock, Berger’s team has not been able to date them. They could be 3m years old, or far more modern. No other animals were found in the chamber that might hint at when the human relative got there.

“If this is an ancient species, like a coelacanth, that has come down through time and is only tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of years old, it means that during that time we had a complex species wandering around Africa, perhaps making tools. That would make archaeology very difficult, because we aren’t going to know who made what,” Berger said.

John Hawks, a researcher on the team, said that despite some of its modern features, Homo naledi probably belonged at the origins of our genus, Homo. “It’s telling us that evolutionary history was probably different to what we had imagined,” he said. Paul Dirks, another scientist involved, said that work was ongoing to establish the age of the bones. Some tests, such as carbon dating, will destroy the material, and will only be tried once the bones have been studied more closely.

Without knowing the age of the bones, some researchers see the fossils as little more than novelties. “If they are as old as two million years, then they might be early South African versions of Homo erectus, a species already known from that region. If much more recent, they could be a relic species that persisted in isolation. In other words, they are more curiosities than game-changers for now,” said William Jungers, an anthropologist at Stony Brook School of Medicine in New York.

Christoph Zollikofer, an anthropologist at the University of Zurich, said that many of the bone characteristics used to claim the creature as a new species are seen in more primitive animals, and by definition cannot be used to define a new species. “The few ‘unique’ features that potentially define the new species need further scrutiny, as they may represent individual variation, or variation at the population level,” he said. Tim White, a paleoanthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, goes further. “From what is presented here, they belong to a primitive Homo erectus, a species named in the 1800s.”

The Dinaledi chamber is extremely hard to access today, raising the question of how the creatures came to be there. They may have clambered in and become stuck, or died when water filled the cave. But Berger and his colleagues favour a more radical explanation. “We have, after eliminating all of the probable, come to the conclusion that Homo naledi was utilising this chamber in a ritualised fashion to deliberately dispose of its dead,” Berger said.

The conclusion is not widely accepted by others. “Intentional disposal of rotting corpses by fellow pinheads makes a nice headline, but seems like a stretch to me,” said Jungers. Zollikofer agrees. “The ‘new species’ and ‘dump-the-dead’ claims are clearly for the media. None of them is substantiated by the data presented in the publications,” he said. Hawks is open to other explanations, but said that disposal made sense. “The evidence really tends to exclude the idea that they entered the chamber one at a time, alive, over some time, because we have infants, small children, and very old adults who would almost certainly not have managed to get into this chamber without being deposited there.”

Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said that how the creatures reached their final resting place was a “big puzzle”.

“If we’re talking about intentional disposal, we’re talking about creatures with a brain the size of a gorilla’s going deep into a cave, into the dark, and posting bodies through a small fissure into this cave chamber. It’s remarkably complex behaviour for what we’d think of as a very primitive human-like species. Whether there are other explanations remains to be seen, but it’s one of the plausible explanations,” he said.

MEET THE NEWLY DISCOVERED HUMAN SPECIES “Acting on a tip from spelunkers two years ago, scientists in South Africa discovered what the cavers had only dimly glimpsed through a crack in a limestone wall deep in the Rising Star cave: lots and lots of old bones. The remains covered the earthen floor beyond the narrow opening. This was, the scientists concluded, a large, dark chamber for the dead of a previously unidentified species of the early human lineage — Homo naledi.” Check out this Q&A with the leader of the expedition. [NYT]

Scientists have discovered a new species of human ancestor deep in a South African cave, adding a baffling new branch to the family tree. By Jamie Shreeve, National Geographic: here.

Mysterious fossils in Dutch Oosterschelde estuary

This 1961 video is about finding fossil mammal bones with a fishing boat, from the bottom of the Oosterschelde estuary in Zeeland province in the Netherlands.

Astrid Kromhout of Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden reported on 7 September 2015 about two mysterious fossil bones, fished on 5 September 2015.

One of the bones used to belong to an aurochs, or, really, an aurochs ancestor; the other one to a mammoth.

Scratches on early Pleistocene aurochs ancestor bone

On both bones are parallel scratches. Hyena teeth or rodents’ gnawing don’t look being the causes of these scratches. Did a human ancestor cause them? But the mammoth bone is about 2.3 million year old; and the bovine bone is from the early Pleistocene as well. Then, all human ancestors still lived in Africa. The oldest traces of human ancestors in the Netherlands are 250.000 years old. So, mysterious indeed.

On 5 September, also other fossils were found, a molar and a bone of a 2,3 million year old mastodon.

Since 65 years ago, paleontologists go year after year aboard a fishing boat to use fishing nets to find fossils. During that time, 2174 fossils were found, mostly roughly 2 million years old.

Eurasian cave lion fossil discovery by seven-year-old

This video says about itself:

World Of The [Eurasian] Cave Lion

20 January 2014

Simba‘s European Cousin.

Translated from in the Netherlands:

Boy finds in Gelderland bones of prehistoric cave lion

August 16, 2015 20:20

The now ten-year-old Enzo Smink in the Gelderland town Wekerom has found an absolutely unique find. On a secluded beach nearby he found the lower jaw of a rare prehistoric cave lion.

That is reported by paleontological museum De Groene Poort in Boxtel this Sunday.

Smink made the discovery as early as the summer of 2012, but no one then realized what the boy had found. The remains landed in a box with his grandmother.

Only when the boy earlier this year got the bones out again for a speech, his mother decided to send a picture of it to specialists.

“An archaeological finding of this format is probably done once in twenty years,” says director René Fraaije of the museum to “Cave lions at that time were already rare, let alone that ten thousand years later their bones are often found.”

Cave drawings

The cave lion was the largest predator of the time of the mammoths. This animal lived in most of Europe then. The name does not refer to the lifestyle of the enormous feline, but to the place where most of the remains of the lions have been found.

The animal became extinct at the end of the last ice age, roughly ten thousand years ago. This was due to the changing climate and the extinction of the prey animals that the lions fed on. Most information about the appearance of the cave lion is derived from prehistoric cave drawings.

Enzo Smink will transfer the find officially to the prehistoric museum on Monday. There the lower jaw will get a special place in the collection.