Giant deer in prehistory


This 7 August 2019 video says about itself:

When Giant Deer Roamed Eurasia

Megaloceros was one of the largest members of the deer family ever to walk the Earth. The archaeological record is full of evidence that our ancestors lived alongside and interacted with these giant mammals for millennia. But what happened when they did interact, when humans met this megafauna?

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Why coyotes survived saber-toothed cats


This 2017 video from the USA says about itself:

A travel guide for visiting the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California. The La Brea Tar Pits is a collection of tar pits and museum located near downtown LA. This is one of my favorite “off the beaten path” attractions in Los Angeles… it’s neat, historic, and a natural wonder. How often do you get to see tar bubbling up from the ground anyway?

From Vanderbilt University in the USA:

Intense look at La Brea Tar Pits explains why we have coyotes, not saber-toothed cats

August 5, 2019

The most detailed study to date of ancient predators trapped in the La Brea Tar Pits is helping Americans understand why today we’re dealing with coyotes dumping over garbage cans and not saber-toothed cats ripping our arms off.

Larisa DeSantis, a Vanderbilt University paleontologist, grew up visiting the one-of-a-kind fossil site in Los Angeles, which contains fossils of predators that tried to eat horses, bison and camels stuck in the tar over the past 50,000 years and themselves became trapped, offering the best opportunity to understand Ice Age animals facing climate change. The Pleistocene Epoch spanned 2.6 million years ago to about 10,000 years ago, encompassing multiple glacial and interglacial periods and the arrival of humans, one or both of which forced predators to adapt their diets or die.

DeSantis spent the last decade visiting La Brea, studying the teeth of extinct species such as American lions, saber-toothed cats and dire wolves; and teeth from ancient animals whose offspring are still alive today, such as gray wolves, cougars and coyotes. Her work revealed that competition for prey among carnivores wasn’t a likely cause of the Pleistocene megafaunal extinction as formerly believed, because, like dogs and cats of today, one preferred running after herbivores in the open fields, while the other preferred stalking them in forested areas.

“Isotopes from the bones previously suggested that the diets of saber-toothed cats and dire wolves overlapped completely, but the isotopes from their teeth give a very different picture,” said DeSantis, an associate professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt. “The cats, including saber-toothed cats, American lions and cougars, hunted prey that preferred forests, while it was the dire wolves that seemed to specialize on open-country feeders like bison and horses. While there may have been some overlap in what the dominant predators fed on, cats and dogs largely hunted differently from one another.”

To study these ancient predators, she employs dentistry — taking molds of the teeth and shaving off tiny bits of enamel for chemical analysis. Information about everything the animal ate lies within the isotopes, she said. Further, the microscopic wear patterns on teeth can clarify who was eating flesh or scavenging on bones.

It’s likely that those giant predators went extinct due to climate change, the arrival of humans to their environment or a combination of the two, she said, and her team is working to clarify the cause of the extinction with multiple colleagues across six institutions as part of a separate on-going study.

What they know is predators alive today in the Americas were better able to adapt their diets. Instead of only feeding on large prey, they could effectively hunt small mammals, scavenge what they could from carcasses or do both.

“The other exciting thing about this research is we can actually look at the consequences of this extinction,” DeSantis said. “The animals around today that we think of as apex predators in North America — cougars and wolves — were measly during the Pleistocene. So when the big predators went extinct, as did the large prey, these smaller animals were able to take advantage of that extinction and become dominant apex-predators.”

An even more detailed picture of ancient life at La Brea is contained in the paper “Causes and consequences of Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions as revealed from Rancho La Brea mammals,” published today in the journal Current Biology.

The work was supported by National Science Foundation grant EAR1053839.

Big flightless Pleistocene bird discovery in Crimea


This 27 June 2019 video says about itself:

CNN: Inside a Crimean cave was a gigantic ancient mystery just waiting to be uncovered: a bird so large that it weighed nearly as much as an adult polar bear.

Giant birds once roamed Madagascar, New Zealand and Australia. The latest fossil find, an intriguing fossilized femur, was recently found in Taurida Cave on the northern coast of the Black Sea. It was discovered along with other fossils, including bison bones, that helped researchers date the now-extinct giant bird to between 1.5 million and 2 million years ago.

When the first early human ancestors arrived in Europe, they might have encountered these birds. The researchers think the bird probably reached the Black Sea region by crossing Turkey and the Southern Caucasus.

From Gizmodo.com, 26 June 2019, by George Dvorsky:

Ancient Bird Weighed Nearly 1,000 Pounds but Could Still Haul Ass Like an Ostrich

Paleontologists working in Crimea have uncovered evidence of the largest bird ever found in Europe. Standing taller than an elephant and weighing nearly 1,000 pounds, this enormous bird could still run at a fast pace when threatened.

Big birds have been discovered in Eurasia before, but nothing quite on this scale. In fact, the only birds that really compare are the extinct elephant birds of Madagascar and the extinct moas of New Zealand. The research paper associated with the discovery—published today in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology—claims it’s the biggest bird ever found in the northern hemisphere.

Assigned the name Pachystruthio dmanisensis, this animal’s nearly complete femur was found within the Taurida cave network of Crimea. This lone bone, dated to around 1.8 million years ago, was found alongside other animal remains, including a mammoth, bison, and some large carnivores.

Intriguingly, this time period coincided with the introduction of early humans to the region. A similar collection of fossils was previously uncovered at a nearby site in Dmanisi, Georgia, which happens to be the oldest hominin site outside of Africa. Consequently, these large birds “might have been a source of meat, bones, feathers, and eggshell for early hominin populations,” wrote the authors in the new study, which was led by Nikita Zelenkov from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

That early humans may have hunted these birds is a distinct possibility. Recent evidence suggests humans hunted elephant birds in Madagascar around 6,000 years ago.

“When I first felt the weight of the bird whose thigh bone I was holding in my hand, I thought it must be a Malagasy elephant bird fossil because no birds of this size have ever been reported from Europe. However, the structure of the bone unexpectedly told a different story,” said Zelenkov in a press release. “We don’t have enough data yet to say whether it was most closely related to ostriches or to other birds, but we estimate it weighed about 450 kg (992 pounds). This formidable weight is nearly double the largest moa, three times the largest living bird, the common ostrich, and nearly as much as an adult polar bear.”

Zelenkov’s team used a well-established formula, which took various measurements of P. dmanisensis’s femur, to estimate body mass. Further analysis pointed to a flightless bird that stood 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) tall.

Due to the femur’s long and slim shape—which bore a striking resemblance to the modern ostrich—it’s likely this creature was able to move fast. “Pachystruthio dmanisensis was a good runner, which may be explained by its coexistence with large carnivoran mammals,” the authors wrote in the study. And by large carnivores, the researchers weren’t kidding; the femur was found alongside the remains of giant cheetahs, giant hyenas, and saber-tooth cats.

As to why this creature evolved such a big size, the researchers said it likely had something to do with the arid environment in which it lived. Its large mass and efficient metabolism meant it could make better use of the low-nutrition foods found in the open steppes.

Christopher Torres, a graduate student of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin, said this report is “super exciting” for a lot of reasons.

“It expands known occurrences of gigantic birds into a new hemisphere,” he told Gizmodo. “It highlights a third case of gigantism among a rather closely related group of birds that also includes elephant birds and moa. Conventional thought was that birds could afford to lose flight and get really large only if there were no terrestrial mammals to compete with or hide from. This new report of giant birds coexisting with large mammals is forcing us to rethink those assumptions,” said Torres, who wasn’t affiliated with the new research.

To which he added: “This report raises some fascinating evolutionary and ecological questions that I cannot wait to see answered.”

Neanderthal hominins, new research


This 2017 video says about itself:

Neanderthals 101 | National Geographic

Who were the Neanderthals? Do humans really share some of their DNA? Learn facts about Neanderthal man, the traits and tools of Homo neanderthalensis, and how the species fits into our evolution story.

From the University of Colorado at Boulder in the USA:

Neanderthals used resin ‘glue’ to craft their stone tools

June 26, 2019

Archaeologists working in two Italian caves have discovered some of the earliest known examples of ancient humans using an adhesive on their stone tools — an important technological advance called “hafting”.

The new study, which included CU Boulder’s Paola Villa, shows that Neanderthals living in Europe from about 55 to 40 thousand years ago traveled away from their caves to collect resin from pine trees. They then used that sticky substance to glue stone tools to handles made out of wood or bone.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence that suggests that these cousins of Homo sapiens were more clever than some have made them out to be.

“We continue to find evidence that the Neanderthals were not inferior primitives but were quite capable of doing things that have traditionally only been attributed to modern humans”, said Villa, corresponding author of the new study and an adjoint curator at the CU Museum of Natural History.

That insight, she added, came from a chance discovery from Grotta del Fossellone and Grotta di Sant’Agostino, a pair of caves near the beaches of what is now Italy’s west coast.

Those caves were home to Neanderthals who lived in Europe during the Middle Paleolithic period, thousands of years before Homo sapiens set foot on the continent. Archaeologists have uncovered more than 1,000 stone tools from the two sites, including pieces of flint that measured not much more than an inch or two from end to end.

In a recent study of the tools, Villa and her colleagues noticed a strange residue on just a handful of the flints — bits of what appeared to be organic material.

“Sometimes that material is just inorganic sediment, and sometimes it’s the traces of the adhesive used to keep the tool in its socket”, Villa said.

To find out, study lead author Ilaria Degano at the University of Pisa conducted a chemical analysis of 10 flints using a technique called gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. The tests showed that the stone tools had been coated with resin from local pine trees. In one case, that resin had also been mixed with beeswax.

Villa explained that the Italian Neanderthals didn’t just resort to their bare hands to use stone tools. In at least some cases, they also attached those tools to handles to give them better purchase as they sharpened wooden spears or performed other tasks like butchering or scraping leather.

“You need stone tools to cut branches off of trees and make them into a point,” Villa said.

The find isn’t the oldest known example of hafting by Neanderthals in Europe — two flakes discovered in the Campitello Quarry in central Italy predate it. But it does suggest that this technique was more common than previously believed.

The existence of hafting also provides more evidence that Neanderthals, like their smaller human relatives, were able to build a fire whenever they wanted one, Villa said — something that scientists have long debated. She said that pine resin dries when exposed to air. As a result, Neanderthals needed to warm it over a small fire to make an effective glue.

“This is one of several proofs that strongly indicate that Neanderthals were capable of making fire whenever they needed it,” Villa said.

In other words, enjoying the glow of a warm campfire isn’t just for Homo sapiens.

Other coauthors on the study included researchers at Paris Nanterre University in France, University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, University of Wollongong in Australia, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, Istituto Italiano di Paleontologia Umana and the University of Pisa.

The research was funded by a National Science Foundation grant to Paola Villa and Sylvain Soriano.

DNA reveals a European Neandertal lineage that lasted 80,000 years. Fossils from caves in Belgium and Germany provided DNA from these extinct hominids. By Bruce Bower, 2:00pm, June 26, 2019.

The archaeological site of ‘Ein Qashish in northern Israel was a place of repeated Neanderthal occupation and use during the Middle Paleolithic, according to a study released June 26, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Ravid Ekshtain of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and colleagues: here.

Abnormal bony growths in the ear canal were surprisingly common in Neanderthals, according to a study published August 14, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Erik Trinkaus of Washington University and colleagues: here.

Arctic Ice Age hyenas discovery


This 17 January 2019 video says about itself:

Chasmaporthetes, also known as hunting or running hyena, is an extinct genus of hyenas distributed in Eurasia, North America, and Africa. It lived during the Pliocene-Pleistocene epochs, from 4.9 million to 780,000 years ago, existing for about 4.12 million years.

The genus probably arose from Eurasian Miocene hyenas such as Thalassictis or Lycyaena, with C. borissiaki being the oldest known representative. It was a fast runner and an important carnivore on 4 continents during the Pliocene.

At least nine species are currently recognised. The genus type species is Chasmaporthetes ossifragus. It was assigned to Hyaenidae by Hay (1921), Geraads (1997), and Flynn (1998).

The species C. ossifragus was the only hyena to cross the Bering land bridge into the Americas. C. ossifragus ranged over what is now Arizona and Mexico during Blancan and early Irvingtonian Land Mammal ages, between 5.0 and 1.5 million years ago.

Chasmaporthetes was one of the so-called “dog-like” hyenas (of which the aardwolf is the only survivor), a hyaenid group which, in contrast to the now more common “bone-crushing” hyenas, evolved into slender-limbed, cursorial hunters like modern canids.

The genus has entered the popular culture lexicon as a result of cryptozoologic claims, having been proposed as the likely origin of the American Shunka Warakin and the Cuitlamiztli.

Chasmaporthetes was named by Hay (1921), who noted the name to be a reference to the possibility that the beginning of the Grand Canyon was witnessed by the North American species, C. ossifragus.

The limb bones of Chasmaporthetes were long and slender like those of cheetahs, and its cheek teeth were slender and sharp-edged like those of a cat. Chasmaporthetes likely inhabited open ground and was a daytime hunter.

In Europe, the species C. lunensis competed with the giant cheetah Acinonyx pardinensis, and may have preyed on the small bourbon gazelle (Gazella borbonica) and the chamois antelope (Procamptoceras brivatense).

The North American C. ossifragus was similar in build to C. lunensis, but had slightly more robust jaws and teeth. It may have preyed on the giant marmot Paenemarmota, and competed with the far more numerous Borophagus diversidens.

A study on the genus’ premolar intercuspid notches indicated Chasmaporthetes was likely hypercarnivorous rather than durophagous as its modern cousins (excluding the aardwolf) are.

Like most of the animals of the time, reasons for its extinction are not known.

By Nicoletta Lanese, 6:00am, June 18, 2019:

Hyenas roamed the Arctic during the last ice age

Newly identified fossils confirm how the carnivores migrated to North America, researchers say

Modern hyenas stalk the savannas of Asia and Africa, but the animals’ ancient relatives may have had snowier stomping grounds: the Arctic. Two fossilized teeth, collected in Canada in the 1970s, confirm a long-held hunch that ancient hyenas ventured into North America via the Bering land bridge, scientists say.

The teeth belonged to members of the extinct genus Chasmaporthetes, also known as the “running hyena” for their unusually long legs, researchers report June 18 in Open Quaternary. Like wolves, the creatures could sprint over long distances. That ability that may have enabled the hyenas to make the long trek to America from Asia. Running hyena remains crop up across the southern United States and central Mexico. But before the Arctic discovery, a more than 10,000-kilometer gap lay between them and their closest relatives in Mongolia.

“This new Arctic find puts a dot right in the middle of that”, says paleontologist Jack Tseng of the University at Buffalo in New York. “It actually confirms previous hypotheses about how hyenas got to the New World.”

The teeth date to between 850,000 and 1.4 million years ago, Tseng says, placing the hyenas in the Arctic during the Pleistocene Ice Age, which began roughly 2.6 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago. The large carnivores may have hunted ancient caribou, horses, camels and the occasional juvenile mammoth (SN: 4/6/13, p. 9).

Paleontologists originally dug up the teeth in the Old Crow Basin in the Yukon at a site nicknamed the “supermarket of fossils”. There, rushing water dislodges fossils from their soil beds and drops them along bends in the river. The spoils can be reached only by boat or helicopter, but it’s worth the effort — over 50,000 known mammal fossils have been collected in the basin to date.

For decades, the hyena teeth lay buried among fossil specimens in the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. Few field notes referenced the finds, and an unpublished manuscript by archaeologist Brenda Beebe provided the only photographs. Tseng and his colleagues finally tracked the fossils down; they were a mere six-hour drive from his home base in Buffalo.

“Hyena are one of the groups with a really patchy fossil record in North America. This finding adds to our knowledge of how the species came over,” says paleontologist Julie Meachen of Des Moines University in Iowa, who was not involved in the study. The finding opens the door for further research on the migration of carnivores across the Bering land bridge (SN: 1/31/09, p. 5), Meachen says, and may help clarify which species competed for the same kills during the Pleistocene.

See also here.

Woolly rhinos and ice ages, video


This 30 May 2019 video says about itself:

The History of Climate Cycles (and the Woolly Rhino) Explained

Throughout the Pleistocene Epoch, the range of the woolly rhino grew and shrank in sync with global climate. So what caused the climate — and the range of the woolly rhino — to cycle back and forth between such extremes?

Pleistocene wolf discovery in Siberia


This 11 June 2019 video says about itself:

Russia: Immaculately-preserved wolf head found in Siberia

The head of a giant Pleistocene wolf was discovered in the Abyisky district in the north of Yakutia in July 2018 as footage released on Monday shows.

Video made in July 2018 shows the site of the discovery and the wolf’s head immediately after the glacial-age creature was excavated by local mineral developers. It is reportedly the first ever remains of a fully grown Pleistocene wolf with tissue this well preserved.

“We have already found wolves’ heads without soft tissues or fur, but this one even has ears and a tongue. The brain was perfectly preserved, which was confirmed by a CT scan”, Chief researcher of the Department of Mammoth Fauna Study of the Republic of Sakha Academy of Science Valery Plotnikov said, speaking in an interview on Monday.

According to a study conducted by Japanese scientists, the two to four-year-old wolf, whose fangs and fur are intact, is estimated to have died over 30,000 years ago. “The finding is unique,” Plotnikov said.

In 2015 and 2017, the remains of three cave lions were uncovered by the same group.