Extinct North American dire wolves


This 6 September 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

This is not a Game of Thrones fan fiction episode. Dire wolves were real! And thousands of them died in the same spot in California. Their remains have taught us volumes about how they lived, hunted, died and way more about any animal’s sex life than you’d ever want to know.

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How human ancestors ate


This November 2011 video says about itself:

Part Ape, Part Human: The Fossils of Malapa | Nat Geo Live

Professor Lee Berger and his son stumble across an amazing find in South Africa — two-million-year-old fossils of an unknown species of ape-like creatures.

From the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology:

Getting to the roots of our ancient cousins’ diet

The splay of tooth roots reveals how South African hominins, Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus, chewed their food

Since the discovery of the fossil remains of Australopithecus africanus from Taung nearly a century ago, and subsequent discoveries of Paranthropus robustus, there have been disagreements about the diets of these two South African hominin species. By analyzing the splay and orientation of fossil hominin tooth roots, researchers of the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology, the University of Chile and the University of Oxford now suggest that Paranthropus robustus had a unique way of chewing food not seen in other hominins.

Food needs to be broken down in the mouth before it can be swallowed and digested further. How this is being done depends on many factors, such as the mechanical properties of the foods and the morphology of the masticatory apparatus.

Palaeoanthropologists spend a great deal of their time reconstructing the diets of our ancestors, as diet holds the key to understanding our evolutionary history. For example, a high-quality diet (and meat-eating) likely facilitated the evolution of our large brains, whilst the lack of a nutrient-rich diet probably underlies the extinction of some other species (e.g., P. boisei). The diet of South African hominins has remained particularly controversial however.

Using non-invasive high-resolution computed tomography technology and shape analysis the authors deduced the main direction of loading during mastication (chewing) from the way the tooth roots are oriented within the jaw. By comparing the virtual reconstructions of almost 30 hominin first molars from South and East Africa they found that Australopithecus africanus had much wider splayed roots than both Paranthropus robustus and the East African Paranthropus boisei. “This is indicative of increased laterally-directed chewing loads in Australopithecus africanus, while the two Paranthropus species experienced rather vertical loads”, says Kornelius Kupczik of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Paranthropus robustus, unlike any of the other species analysed in this study, exhibits an unusual orientation, i.e. “twist”, of the tooth roots, which suggests a slight rotational and back-and-forth movement of the mandible during chewing. Other morphological traits of the P. robustus skull support this interpretation. For example, the structure of the enamel also points towards a complex, multidirectional loading, whilst their unusual microwear pattern can conceivably also be reconciled with a different jaw movement rather than by mastication of novel food sources. Evidently, it is not only what hominins ate and how hard they bit that determines its skull morphology, but also the way in which the jaws are being brought together during chewing.

The new study demonstrates that the orientation of tooth roots within the jaw has much to offer for an understanding of the dietary ecology of our ancestors and extinct cousins. “Perhaps palaeoanthropologists have not always been asking the right questions of the fossil record: rather than focusing on what our extinct cousins ate, we should equally pay attention to how they masticated their foods,” concludes Gabriele Macho of the University of Oxford.

Molar root variation in hominins is therefore telling us more than previously thought. “For me as an anatomist and a dentist, understanding how the jaws of our fossil ancestors worked is very revealing as we can eventually apply such findings to the modern human dentition to better understand pathologies such as malocclusions”, adds Viviana Toro-Ibacache from the University of Chile and one of the co-authors of the study.

Pleistocene giant North American animals


This 23 June 2018 video says about itself:

Until the end of the last ice age, many giants called North America home. It has long puzzled scientists why these animals and other megafauna — creatures heavier than 100 lbs. (45 kilograms) — went extinct about 10,000 years ago.

Rapid warming periods called interstadials and, to a lesser degree, ice-age people who hunted animals are responsible for the disappearance of the continent’s megafauna, according to studies.

Both research and the debate surrounding the reasons for the extinction of these animals will undeniably continue. In the meantime, researchers continue to find fossils of these massive creatures.

Here’s a look at 14 such extinct giant animals from the last North American ice age, and what scientists know about their lives.

1. North American Horses
2. Glyptodon
3. American lion
4. Smilodon fatalis
6. Mastodons
7. Mammoths
8. Giant Short-faced bear
9. Dire wolf
10. American cheetah
11. Ground sloths
12. Giant beaver
13. North American Camels

Young Ice Age horse discovery in Siberia


This video says about itself:

12 August 2018

A 40,000-year-old baby horse has been found almost perfectly preserved in Siberia.

The foal has been kept in such good condition by the region’s permafrost, it still has its hair, tail, mane and many of its internal organs. “There are no visible wounds on its body”, reports The Siberian Times.

The discovery was made in the Yakutia region – long-known for fossils of woolly mammoths – by a joint expedition of scientists and archaeologists from Russia and Japan.

It is estimated the animal was just three months old when it died – although it has no visible wounds to suggest why.

“The extra value of the unique find is that scientists also obtained samples of soil layers where it was preserved, which means they will be able to restore a picture of the foal’s environment.

The find recovered from a depth of about 30 meters, in a vast crater known as the Batagai depression, was located by scientists from the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk and Kindai University in Osaka, Japan.

Homo erectus, extinct by laziness?


This 2016 video is called HD Documentary: Becoming Human, Episode 2, Birth of Humanity (Homo Erectus).

From Australian National University:

Laziness helped lead to extinction of Homo erectus

August 10, 2018

New archaeological research from The Australian National University (ANU) has found that Homo erectus, an extinct species of primitive humans, went extinct in part because they were ‘lazy’.

An archaeological excavation of ancient human populations in the Arabian Peninsula during the Early Stone Age, found that Homo erectus used ‘least-effort strategies’ for tool making and collecting resources.

This ‘laziness’ paired with an inability to adapt to a changing climate likely played a role in the species going extinct, according to lead researcher Dr Ceri Shipton of the ANU School of Culture, History and Language.

“They really don’t seem to have been pushing themselves”, Dr Shipton said.

“I don’t get the sense they were explorers looking over the horizon. They didn’t have that same sense of wonder that we have.”

Dr Shipton said this was evident in the way the species made their stone tools and collected resources.

“To make their stone tools they would use whatever rocks they could find lying around their camp, which were mostly of comparatively low quality to what later stone tool makers used”, he said.

“At the site we looked at there was a big rocky outcrop of quality stone just a short distance away up a small hill.

“But rather than walk up the hill they would just use whatever bits had rolled down and were lying at the bottom.

“When we looked at the rocky outcrop there were no signs of any activity, no artefacts and no quarrying of the stone.

“They knew it was there, but because they had enough adequate resources they seem to have thought, ‘why bother?’.”

This is in contrast to the stone tool makers of later periods, including early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, who were climbing mountains to find good quality stone and transporting it over long distances.

Dr Shipton said a failure to progress technologically, as their environment dried out into a desert, also contributed to the population’s demise.

“Not only were they lazy, but they were also very conservative”, Dr Shipton said.

“The sediment samples showed the environment around them was changing, but they were doing the exact same things with their tools.

“There was no progression at all, and their tools are never very far from these now dry river beds. I think in the end the environment just got too dry for them.”

The excavation and survey work was undertaken in 2014 at the site of Saffaqah near Dawadmi in central Saudi Arabia.

Extinct spectacled cormorant, new discovery


Geographic locations of Bering Island and Shiriya. The red area indicates the possible past distribution of the spectacled cormorant, eventually residing only on Bering Island. Credit: Kyoto University / Junya Watanabe

From Kyoto University in Japan:

Giant, recently extinct seabird also inhabited Japan

Spectacled cormorant‘s distribution much broader than previously believed

July 11, 2018

Scientists report that a large, extinct seabird called the spectacled cormorant, Phalacrocorax perspicillatus — originally thought to be restricted to Bering Island, far to the north — also resided in Japan nearly 120,000 years ago.

Writing in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, the team indicates that the species underwent a drastic range contraction or shift, and that specimens found on Bering Island are ‘relicts’ — remnants of a species that was once more widespread.

The global threat of human activity on species diversity is grave. To correctly assess related extinction events, it is imperative to study natural distributions before first contact with humans. This is where archaeological and fossil records play crucial roles.

The spectacled cormorant, a large-bodied seabird first discovered in the 18th century on Bering Island, was later driven to extinction through hunting, following colonization of the island by humans in the early 1800s.

“Before our report, there was no evidence that the cormorant lived outside of Bering Island”, explains first author Junya Watanabe of Kyoto University’s Department of Geology and Mineralogy.

Studying bird fossils recovered from Shiriya, Aomori prefecture, Watanabe and his team identified 13 bones of the spectacled cormorant from upper Pleistocene deposits, formed nearly 120,000 years ago.

“It became clear that we were seeing a cormorant species much larger than any of the four native species in present-day Japan“, states co-author Hiroshige Matsuoka. “At first we thought this might be a new species, but these fossils matched bones of the spectacled cormorant stored at the Smithsonian Institution.”

Changes of oceanographic conditions may be responsible for the local disappearance of the species in Japan. Paleoclimate studies show that oceanic productivity around Shiriya dropped drastically in the Last Glacial Maximum, around 20,000 years ago. This would have seriously affected the population of the cormorant.

Although it might be possible that hunting of the species by humans took place in pre-historic Japan, archaeological evidence of this has yet to be discovered. The entire picture of the extinction event of the spectacled cormorant may be more complex than previously thought.

“The cormorant was a gigantic animal, its large size thought to have been achieved through adaptation to the island-oriented lifestyle on Bering”, adds Watanabe. “But our finding suggests that this might not have been the case; after all, it just resided there as a relict. The biological aspects of these animals deserve much more attention.”

Neanderthal deer hunting, new research


This 2011 video is called Neanderthals Hunt Down A Horse – Planet Of The Apemen; Battle For Earth – Episode Two – BBC One.

The video depicts Neanderthals as brown-skinned. However, living in not so sunny Ice Age Europe, they had long along lost the black complexion of their African ancestors. After modern humans came to Europe from Africa later, they were dark-skinned even still shortly after the Ice Age, and, like Neanderthals earlier, gradually became light complexioned.

From the Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz in Germany:

Neanderthals practiced close-range hunting 120,000 years ago

July 2, 2018

An international team of scientists reports the oldest unambiguous hunting lesions documented in the history of humankind. The lesions were found on skeletons of two large-sized extinct fallow deer killed by Neandertals about 120,000 years ago around the shores of a small lake (Neumark-Nord 1) near present-day Halle in the eastern part of Germany. The study was led by Professor Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser of the Department of Ancient Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and was now published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The study constitutes a significant step forward in our knowledge of the Neandertal niche. It demonstrates how Neandertals obtained their prey, first and foremost in terms of their much debated hunting equipment while also shedding light on their hunting skills.

With an innovative experimental ballistic setup including state-of-the-art motion-sensor technology, the researchers were able to reproduce the specific form of one of the lesions. The results prove the use of a wooden thrusting spear that was impacted with low velocity. This suggests that Neandertals approached animals very closely and thrusted rather than threw their spears at the animals, most likely from an underhand thrusting angle. Such a confrontational way of hunting required careful planning and concealment as well as close cooperation between individual hunters.

The lake where the hunts took place was surrounded by a close canopy forest, a type of environment deemed particularly challenging for hunter-gatherers, even modern human ones. Interestingly, the excavations in the Neumark-Nord area have yielded tens of thousands of bones of large mammals, including red and fallow deer, horses, and bovids, as well as thousands of lithic artefacts from this uniquely rich Last Interglacial lake landscape, attesting to the success of Neandertal survival in forested environments.

“Although hominins most likely started hunting with weapons more than 500,000 years ago, actual evidence on how wooden spear-like objects like those found at Clacton-on-Sea in England as well as in Schöningen and Lehringen in German were used was absent prior to the identification of the Neumark-Nord hunting lesions”, stated Gaudzinski-Windheuser. “As far as spear use is concerned, we now finally have the crime scene fitting to the proverbial smoking gun.”

Cold climates contributed to the extinction of the Neanderthals: here.