Australian marsupial lions, new research


This 2011 video from Australia says about itself:

Our World – Bone Diggers – The Marsupial Lion | Storyteller Media

Bone Diggers: Mystery of a Lost Predator

Australia is known for its cute marsupials, the koala, the kangaroo and the wombat among others. Very few people are aware that there was once a marsupial that was a deadly “creep up and get ya” predator that was more ferocious than a sabre tooth tiger. It was Thylacoleo Carnifex — the Marsupial Lion, Australia’s lost predator.

The Nullarbor Plain is a remote treeless desert resting between the Great Australian Bight and the Great Sandy Desert. It is hard, stony country…flat and featureless.

In May of 2002 an group of cavers, in an Indiana Jones style operation, discovered three caves, which had never been entered by man. The entrance to one of the caves was mere shoulder-width, vertical tube that rapidly expanded to cathedral proportions. In the first cave their head torches illuminated a sight that caused scientific wonderment and a world-wide media frenzy. At the far end of a side tunnel the cavers discovered the pristine and complete skeleton of the fabled marsupial lion, Thylacoleo.

It lay there as if it had died only a year ago. The skeleton was bleach white against the red earth and not a speck of dust on it. Their immediate reaction was to take a photo and get out – their main concern was to preserve the site for scientific analysis.

The photo of Thylacoleo and the cave coordinates ended up on the desk of Dr John Long, vertebrate palaeontologist, a world renowned Bone Digger with the Western Australian Museum. Within a matter of weeks funding and an expedition to recover the remains had been arranged. It would prove a journey full of surprises both during the expedition and later as the remains were studied. The first surprise to take John and his team by surprise was the age of the remains. He was sure the skeleton could only be about 40,000 years old — several dating techniques later and a shattering date of at least 500,000 years suddenly propelled the find into mega-star status.

Bone Diggers – Mystery of a Lost Predator is the amazing story of the dangerous recovery mission and how the remains of the marsupial lion allowed science a unique opportunity to reconstruct the beast and it’s behaviour. From recreating its brain to morphological analysis, the life and form of Thylacoleo began to take shape – this is science at its best!

A co-production between Storyteller Media and the Western Australian Museum.

From PLOS:

First-ever look at complete skeleton of Thylacoleo, Australia’s extinct ‘marsupial lion’

New fossil finds provide insight into biology and behavior of this ancient apex predator

December 12, 2018

Thyalacoleo carnifex, the “marsupial lion” of Pleistocene Australia, was an adept hunter that got around with the help of a strong tail, according to a study released December 12, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Roderick T. Wells of Flinders University and Aaron B. Camens of the South Australia Museum, Adelaide. These insights come after newly-discovered remains, including one nearly complete fossil specimen, allowed these researchers to reconstruct this animal’s entire skeleton for the first time.

A marsupial predator with an estimated weight of over 100kg, Thylacoleo was unlike any living animal, and paleontologists have long tried to interpret its lifestyle from incomplete remains. The new fossils, discovered in Komatsu Cave in Naracoorte and Flight Star Cave in the Nullarbor Plain, include the first known remains of the tail and collarbone of this animal. The authors used this new information to re-assess the biomechanics of Thylacoleo, and by comparing its anatomy to living marsupials, reach new conclusions about the biology and behavior of the “marsupial lion.”

The tail of Thylacoleo appears to have been stiff and heavily-muscled, probably allowing it to be used along with the hind limbs as a “tripod” to brace the body while freeing up the forelimbs for handling food or climbing, as many living marsupials do. The analysis suggests that Thylacoleo had a rigid lower back and powerful forelimbs anchored by strong collarbones, likely making it poorly suited for chasing prey, but well-adapted for ambush hunting and/or scavenging. These features also add to a list of evidence that Thylacoleo was an adept climber, perhaps of trees or steep-walled caverns. Among living marsupials, the anatomy of Thylacoleo appears most similar to the Tasmanian devil, a small carnivore that exhibits many of these inferred behaviors.

The authors add: “The extinct marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex has intrigued scientists since it was first described in 1859 from skull and jaw fragments collected at Lake Colongulac in Victoria Australia and sent to Sir Richard Owen at the British Museum. Although Australia’s largest marsupial carnivore it retains many features indicative of its diprotodont herbivore ancestry and its niche has been a matter of considerable debate for more than 150yrs. Recent cave finds have for the first time enabled a description and reconstruction of the complete skeleton including the hitherto unrecognised tail and clavicles. In this study, Wells and Camens compare the Thylacoleo skeleton with those of range of extant Australian arboreal and terrestrial marsupials in which behaviour and locomotion is well documented. They conclude that the nearest structural and functional analogue to Thylacoleo is to be found in the unrelated and much smaller Tasmanian Devil, Sarcophilus harrisii, a scavenger/hunter. They draw attention to the prevalence of all age classes within individual cave deposits as suggestive of a high degree of sociality. Those ancestral features Thylacoleo shares with arboreal forms are equally well suited to climbing or grasping a prey. They conclude that Thylacoleo is a scavenger, ambush predator of large prey.”

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Africa cradle of humankind, where in Africa?


This 15 November 2016 video says about itself:

Ain El Hanech (North Eastern Algeria)

The Algerian famous archeological site. Although there is uncertainty about some factors, Aïn el-Hanech (in Algeria) is the site of one of the earliest traces of hominid occupation.

From the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH) in Spain:

The whole of Africa was the cradle of humankind

Oldest stone artifacts and cutmarked bones in North Africa contemporary with archaeological materials in East Africa

November 29, 2018

A team of scientists led by Mohamed Sahnouni, archaeologist at the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), has just published a paper in the journal Science which breaks with the paradigm that the cradle of humankind lies in East Africa, based on the archaeological remains found at sites in the region of Ain Hanech (Algeria), the oldest currently known in the north of Africa.

For a long time, East Africa has been considered the place of origin of the earliest hominins and lithic technology, because up to now, very little was known about the first hominin occupation and activities in the north of the continent. Two decades of field and laboratory research directed by Dr. Sahnouni have shown that ancestral hominins actually made stone tools in North Africa that are near contemporary with the earliest known stone tools in East Africa dated to 2.6 million years.

These are stone artifacts and animal bones bearing marks of cutting by stone tools, with an estimated chronology of 2.4 and 1.9 million years, respectively, found at two levels at the sites of Ain Boucherit (within the Ain Hanech study area), which were dated using Paleomagnetism, Electron Spin Resonance (ESR), and the Biochronology of large mammals excavated together with the archaeological materials.

Fossils of animals such as pigs, horses and elephants, from very ancient sites, have been used by the paleontologist Jan van der Made, of the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, to corroborate the ages yielded by Paleomagnetism, obtained by the CENIEH geochronologist Josep Parés, and ESR, found by Mathieu Duval, of Griffith University.

Oldowan technology

The artifacts of Ain Boucherit were manufactured of locally available limestone and flint and include faces worked into choppers, polyhedra and subspheroids, as well as sharp-edged cutting tools used to process animal carcasses. These artifacts are typical of the Oldowan stone technology known from 2.6-1.9 million-year-old sites in East Africa, although those from Ain Boucherit show subtle variations.

“The lithic industry of Ain Boucherit, which is technologically similar to that of Gona and Olduvai, shows that our ancestors ventured into all corners of Africa, not just East Africa. The evidence from Algeria changes the earlier view that East Africa was the cradle of Humankind. Actually, the whole of Africa was the cradle of humankind,” states Sahnouni, leader of the Ain Hanech project.

Not mere scavengers

Ain Boucherit is one of the few archaeological sites in Africa which has provided evidence of bones with associated marks of cutting and percussion in situ with stone tools, which shows unmistakably that these ancestral hominins exploited meat and marrow from animals of all sizes and skeletal parts, which implied skinning, evisceration and defleshing of upper and intermediate extremities.

Isabel Cáceres, taphonomist at the IPHES, has commented that “the effective use of sharp-edged tools at Ain Boucherit suggests that our ancestors were not mere scavengers. It is not clear at this moment whether they hunted, but the evidence clearly shows that they were successfully competing with carnivores and enjoyed first access to animal carcasses.”

The tool-makers

At this moment, the most important question is who made the stone tools discovered in Algeria. Hominin remains have still not been found in North Africa which are contemporary with the earliest stone artifacts. As a matter of fact, nor have any hominins yet been documented in direct association with the first stone tools known from East Africa.

Nevertheless, a recent discovery in Ethiopia has shown the presence of early Homo dated to 2.8 million years, most likely the best candidate also for the materials from East and North Africa.

Scientists thought for a long time that the hominins and their material culture originated in the Great Rift Valley in East Africa. Surprisingly, the earliest known hominin, dated to 7.0 million years, and the 3.3 million years Australopithecus bahrelghazali, have been discovered in Chad, in the Sahara, 3000 km from the rift valleys in the east of Africa.

As Sileshi Semaw, scientist at the CENIEH and a co-author of this paper, explains that the hominins contemporary with Lucy (3.2 million years), were probably roamed over the Sahara, and their descendants might have been responsible for leaving these archaeological puzzles now discovered in Algeria, that are near contemporaries of those of East Africa.

“Future research will focus on searching for human fossils in the nearby Miocene and Plio-Pleistocene deposits, looking for the tool-makers and even older stone tools,” concludes Sahnouni.

Giant rhinoceros survived Ice Age longer than thought


This 22 March 2018 video says about itself:

Elasmotherium Was A Mammoth Sized Rhino from Eurasia

Elasmotherium (“Thin Plate Beast”), also known as the Siberian Unicorn or Steppe Rhinoceros, is an extinct genus of rhinoceros endemic to Eurasia. It lived during the Late Pliocene through the Pleistocene, documented from 2.6 Ma to as late as 29,000 years ago in the Late Pleistocene.

In March 2016, the discovery of a skull in Kazakhstan granted a new estimated time period to when Elasmotherium roamed the earth. The prior estimate was 350,000 years ago, now being reduced to 29,000 years ago. Three species are recognised (some say four).

The best known, E. sibiricum was the size of a mammoth and is thought to have borne a large, thick horn on its forehead. The main difference from other rhinos was the large domed protuberance on the forehead, which was probably a 1.5 meter long and thick horn. Theories about the function of this horn include defense, attracting mates, driving away competitors, sweeping snow from the grass in winter and digging for water and plant roots.

Like all rhinoceroses, elasmotheres were herbivorous. Elasmotherium was a grazer as apparent from tooth wear and morphology. This animal specialized in feeding on grass and underground parts of plants, coastal rivers and lakes, such as highly starchy rhizomes of sedges, cattail and reed.

Unlike any others, its high-crowned molars were ever-growing. Its legs were longer than those of other rhinos and were adapted for galloping, giving it a horse-like gait.

Elasmotherium was the largest member of the family of rhinos that lived from the Pliocene to Pleistocene epochs. It was 6 metres long, 2.5 metres in height and weigh up to 5 tons.

E. caucasicum … reached at least 5 m (16 ft) in body length with an estimated mass of 3.6–4.5 tonnes (4–5 short tons), based on isolated molars that significantly exceed those known from the Siberian species.

Elasmotherium legs are sufficiently like those of the White Rhino to hypothesize a similar gait even though Elasmotherium weighed 4.5-5 ton. Various theories of Elasmothere morphology, nutrition and habits have been the cause of wide variation in reconstruction. Some show the beast trotting like a horse with a horn; others hunched over with head to the ground, like a bison, and still others immersed in swamps like a hippopotamus.

The largest of all the prehistoric rhinoceroses of the Pleistocene epoch, Elasmotherium was a truly massive piece of megafauna, and all the more imposing thanks to its thick, shaggy coat of fur (this mammal was … related to Coelodonta, also known as the “woolly rhino“) and the huge horn on the end of its snout. This horn, which was made of keratin (the same protein as human hair), may have reached five or six feet in length—and if Elasmotherium survived into historical times, it’s possible that early humans glimpsing this huge, strange beast may have been inspired to create the legend of the unicorn.

From Nature Ecology and Evolution, 26 November 2018:

Evolution and extinction of the giant rhinoceros Elasmotherium sibiricum sheds light on late Quaternary megafaunal extinctions

Abstract

Understanding extinction events requires an unbiased record of the chronology and ecology of victims and survivors.

The rhinoceros Elasmotherium sibiricum, known as the ‘Siberian unicorn’, was believed to have gone extinct around 200,000 years ago—well before the late Quaternary megafaunal extinction event.

However, no absolute dating, genetic analysis or quantitative ecological assessment of this species has been undertaken. Here, we show, by accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating of 23 individuals, including cross-validation by compound-specific analysis, that E. sibiricum survived in Eastern Europe and Central Asia until at least 39,000 years ago, corroborating a wave of megafaunal turnover before the Last Glacial Maximum in Eurasia, in addition to the better-known late-glacial event.

Stable isotope data indicate a dry steppe niche for E. sibiricum and, together with morphology, a highly specialized diet that probably contributed to its extinction.

We further demonstrate, with DNA sequencing data, a very deep phylogenetic split between the subfamilies Elasmotheriinae and Rhinocerotinae that includes all the living rhinoceroses, settling a debate based on fossil evidence and confirming that the two lineages had diverged by the Eocene. As the last surviving member of the Elasmotheriinae, the demise of the ‘Siberian unicorn’ marked the extinction of this subfamily.

Prehistoric cave bears, video


This 11 November 2018 video says about itself:

The cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) was a species of bear that lived in Europe and Asia during the Pleistocene and became extinct about 24,000 years ago during the Last Glacial Maximum.

Both the word “cave” and the scientific name spelaeus are used because fossils of this species were mostly found in caves. The cave bear‘s range stretched across Europe; from Spain and Great Britain in the west, Italy, parts of Germany, Poland, the Balkans, Romania and parts of Russia, including the Caucasus; and northern Iran. This reflects the views of experts that cave bears may have spent more time in caves than the brown bear, which uses caves only for hibernation.

Cave bear skeletons were first described in 1774. Many caves in Central Europe have skeletons of cave bears inside, for example the Heinrichshöhle in Hemer, the Dechenhöhle in Iserlohn, Germany. A complete skeleton, five complete skulls, and 18 other bones were found inside Jaskinia Niedźwiedzia in 1966 in Poland.

In Romania, in a cave called Bears’ Cave, 140 cave bear skeletons were discovered in 1983. Both the cave bear and the brown bear are thought to be descended from the Plio-Pleistocene Etruscan bear (Ursus etruscus) that lived about 5.3 Mya to 100,000 years ago.

Cave bears were comparable in size to the largest modern-day bears. The average weight for males was 350 to 600 kg (770 to 1,320 lb), with an exceptional specimen weighing 817 kg (1,800 lb) or more, while females weighed 225 to 250 kg (495 to 550 lb).

Their teeth were very large and show greater wear than most modern bear species, suggesting a diet of tough materials with evidence pointing to omnivorous diets.

Death during hibernation was a common end for cave bears, mainly befalling specimens that failed ecologically during the summer season through inexperience, sickness or old age. The presence of fully articulated adult cave lion skeletons, deep in cave bear dens, indicates the lions may have occasionally entered dens to prey on hibernating cave bears, with some dying in the attempt.

What injured saber-toothed cats ate


This April 2017 video is called Prehistoric Predators – Sabertooth.

From the Geological Society of America:

Saber-toothed cats with oral injuries ate softer foods

November 5, 2018

Saber-toothed cats with oral injuries ate softer foods than their uninjured counterparts, who may have provided injured cats with soft scraps.

Indianapolis, IN, USA: Saber-toothed cats, the large felid predators that once roamed Southern California, may have eaten softer foods after suffering oral injuries, according to a new study. Microscopic damage patterns on teeth from fossilized cats show the injured predators transitioned to seeking softer prey, like flesh instead of bone, which healthy cats may have provided for them, according to the study.

Saber-toothed cats likely suffered injuries while felling large prey, according to the study’s lead author, vertebrate paleontologist Larisa DeSantis from Vanderbilt University, Tennessee.

The cat’s prey animals were larger 10,000 to 50,000 years ago, DeSantis says, and could have easily broken jaws or kicked teeth completely free from the socket, leading to subsequent and sometimes lethal infection. It’s unlikely that cats with such severe injuries could take down large animals and consume their soft, fleshy meat, she says, or even survive long after the injury.

“The fact that they’re eating food that really shouldn’t be available to them unless they’re being provided for, and that they’re living with these injuries for prolonged periods of time suggests they’re being provisioned food by other cats”, she says. DeSantis will share her findings on Monday, 5 November, at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Microdamage patterns recorded in tooth enamel, like mountains and valleys in a topographic map, tell the history of an animal’s diet. These patterns allow researchers to glean information like whether a predator was scavenging on bone or eating tougher foods like flesh. Anthropologists have pioneered the same technique to explore the diets of early human ancestors.

DeSantis and her colleagues compared the dental microwear patterns of injured versus uninjured cats, thanks to a large pathology collection available at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in Los Angeles, California. Many of the fossils show signs of prolonged infection and bone growth associated with healing — signs that the animals survived after what would have been fatal injuries if not part of a social group.

“What’s really exciting about this,” DeSantis says, “is that you see pretty clear evidence that they’re surviving for longer. That in itself gives you evidence of potential care within the social group.”

These findings further support the idea that saber-toothed cats were social animals, being an exception to the rule of non-sociality in the lion’s share of felid species. Saber-toothed cats consumed both flesh from fresh kills and utilized carcasses.

“There is a lot of evidence that Smilodon was a social and gregarious animal”, says Christopher Shaw, Collections Manager Emeritus at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum and coauthor on the study, “which implies that they hunted together and fed at group kills. This study adds another provocative aspect to the sociability within this species and, for the first time, addresses new evidence regarding food options and feeding behaviors for injured members of the social group.”

DeSantis’s interest in this work began in an earlier study, where she found that man-eating lions may have turned to human prey, in part, because of similar oral injuries. Preserved teeth of confirmed, man-eating lions stored at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, showed patterns of wear that were similar to captive zoo lions, which ate soft foods consisting mostly of beef and horse meat.

Ice age giant deer, what did they eat?


This 2015 video is called Channel: 4 Extinct: The Irish Elk. This species is also called giant deer.

Today, Dutch Rijnmond TV reports about a 42,000 year old giant deer molar.

It is from the last ice age, a time when the North Sea was still a plain, where, eg, giant deer grazed. In the Netherlands now, North Sea sand is used to build the Zandmotor, an artificial island to prevent flooding.

In the Zandmotor sand, someone recently found that deer molar, and brought it to the natural history museum in Rotterdam. There, scientists discovered there were Ice Age plant rests on that molar.

Eg, remains of Artemisia plants were found on the molar. That is not a plant which covered a large part of the land during the Ice Age, but it does contain a lot of calcium. “That is exactly what one needs to build up enormous antlers”, says [paleontologist] Mol.

So far, paleontologists had never paid attention to plant rests on giant deer fossils. Meanwhile, 30-40 other giant deer molars with plant rests have been discovered in the Rotterdam museum collection.

Maybe other museums will start to investigate their collections as well, to find out what exactly giant deer ate.

The scientific report, Giant deer (Megaloceros giganteus) diet from Mid‐Weichselian deposits under the present North Sea inferred from molar‐embedded botanical remains, was published here.

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.