Fossils

fossil

Marine megafaunal extinction discovered

Extinctions of large land animals during the Pleistocene are well documented. In a new study, scientists report that marine megafauna also suffered severe losses several million years ago, around the time that the first hominid ancestors were emerging in Africa.

17 Nov 2017

When agriculture went to our heads

The dawn of agriculture left an indelible mark on early human societies, and a new study finds that eating softer, cultivated foods subtly changed the shape of human skulls. Scientists have long suspected that the transition from hunting and foraging to farming and raising livestock would have affected our skulls, specifically the mandible and other anatomy involved in chewing, but quantifying such changes has proven difficult.

01 Nov 2017

Mangroves sprouted in Arctic during Eocene

Mangrove trees, which today thrive in tropical and subtropical climates in the low and midlatitudes, grew in the high Russian Arctic about 56 million years ago, scientists reported in Geology. It’s the northernmost occurrence of mangrove trees ever documented.

24 Oct 2017

Chemical clues illuminate fossil plant relationships

To reconstruct relationships among extinct plants and animals, paleontologists often compare genetic sequences from distinct organisms or analyze differences in fossil shapes. But both techniques have limitations: DNA does not last more than about a million years in the rock record, so genetic comparisons are typically limited to relatively recent species; and finding fossils intact enough to use for shape comparisons can be difficult. In a recent study, scientists describe a new technique that could help get around these issues — for some plants at least — using molecular remnants that are more robust than DNA and are preserved in fossil leaves.

17 Oct 2017

Cretaceous collagen: Can molecular paleontology glean soft tissue from dinosaurs?

In 2005, a team of molecular paleontologists reported the discovery of soft tissue from a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex femur. In the decade since that controversial find, evidence has mounted that dinosaur soft tissue — which could help paleontologists answer long-standing questions about dinosaur physiology — can be recovered.
 

16 Oct 2017

Can preserved proteins reveal paint-by-numbers plumage?

Some of the most compelling dinosaur fossils are those found with clearly defined feathers. Feathers may seem fragile and unlikely to be preserved, but in fact they’re composed of durable keratin, one of the toughest natural proteins. Additionally, some fossil feathers unearthed are speckled with tiny black dots, which, according to different studies, could be remnants of either bacteria or melanosomes. Melanosomes are organelles that produce and store melanin, the main source of pigment in feathers. If melanosomes are indeed preserved in some ancient fossils, they could reveal information about dinosaur coloration and plumage — and represent further evidence of preserved proteins in dinosaurs.
 

16 Oct 2017

Down to Earth With: Paleobiologist Gregory Erickson

As an undergraduate at the University of Washington, Gregory Erickson wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He started out as an engineering major, then dabbled with getting a degree in wildlife management. In 1986, having taken numerous science courses, he happened to compare notes with his best friend, a geology major, and realized he was just a few courses shy of obtaining a geology degree himself. Eager to finish college, Erickson signed up for a class in vertebrate paleontology focusing on dinosaurs — a decision that ultimately changed his life.

22 Sep 2017

End of ice age may have been too wet for megafauna

Between 15,000 and 11,000 years ago, dozens of ice-age megafauna species went extinct. Various causes, from climate-driven habitat changes to overhunting to extraterrestrial impacts, have been cited for these extinctions. But new research looking at fossils of large herbivores such as bison, horses and llama supports the idea that a worldwide uptick in moisture was a main driver of the extinction trend.

08 Sep 2017

Asymmetrical fossil feathers fill in timeline of flight

To get off the ground and evolve into flying birds, dinosaurs got a lift from asymmetrical feathers, which are more aerodynamic than symmetrical feathers. The discovery of a new species of asymmetrically feathered dinosaur in northeastern China from the Early Cretaceous is helping fill in the timeline of adaptations that led to flight.

29 Aug 2017

A mammoth king: Was the legend of King Hygelac in "Beowulf" inspired by a fossil find?

Some literary and scientific sleuthing suggests that the eighth-century discovery and misidentification of fossil mammoth bones on the Rhine-Meuse River Delta could have led to the monsters and characters of “Beowulf.”
20 Aug 2017

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